Media Bias Weekend

This weekend, Twitter was on fire about the Gosnell case. First, Kristen Powers complained about the lack of media coverage of the Gosnell in USA Today. But I think Conor Friedersdorf really lit the fuse by writing at the Atlantic that it was shameful that the mainstream media was ignoring the Gosnell case. That article has 133,000 likes on Facebook, which gives some indication of the amount of traffic that the article generated. David Weigel followed up on Slate. On Twitter, there was heavy debate going on between Mollie Z. Hemingway, Elizabeth Scalia, Katha Politt, and just about everybody. 

I read about Kermit Gosnell and his Jeffrey Dahmer-like abortion clinic a couple of years ago. I can't remember where I read about the details of the case. I read pretty broadly, so it could have been in either the liberal or conservative press. I haven't read anything recently, but I haven't searched for details either. It's such a gross story that one or two articles were enough for me. The guy was clearly a psychopath who deserves a life sentence at a maximum security prison. 

So, why haven't we read more about the Gosnell case? Was it a conspiracy by liberal media to cover up an inconvenient story that would undermine abortion rights? That was the claim of media critics this weekend.

I've been on the fringes of the media world for the past year. The super young, earnest news editors (is every digital news editor under 30?) don't seem to be strongly motivated by a particular political ideology. They primarily want to bring in the traffic. Their jobs depend on articles that gather the links on Twitter and Facebook. Whatever it takes.

If anything there is a slight youth bias in the media, because of the age of the editors. They love articles that deal with 20-something issues, like urban life, college loans, and dating. 

But nobody quite knows the formula for bringing in the audience. There are tricks in crafting headlines that can boost numbers. There are certain topics that always seem to be winners. But it's more guess-work than science. That's why so many online magazines cover their bets by including columnists from the right and the left and why there is just so much content produced today. They hope that by producing lots of words from lots of different viewpoints something will stick, and traffic will flow in, and they'll be able to keep their operation afloat for another year. 

The media did run stories about Gosnell case in 2011, but it probably didn't lead to much traffic, because the details were just too gross. There also was no evidence that it was a nation-wide phenomenon. 

It's interesting that this case came back to the front pages not because of Gosnell himself. This weekend's twitter and op-ed storm was about media bias. That's the topic that brings the traffic. 

A number of people that I respect do believe that there is an anti-Catholic, pro-choice bias in the press. That might be true, but in the case, I think that the lack of coverage of Gosnell in 2012 was simply about traffic patterns. 


5 thoughts on “Media Bias Weekend

  1. “The media did run stories about Gosnell case in 2011, but it probably didn’t lead to much traffic, because the details were just too gross.”
    Wasn’t that true of Newton, too?
    “There also was no evidence that it was a nation-wide phenomenon.”
    But how do we know, if the media hates covering this type of story, and if the local government doesn’t want to enforce normal health and safety laws? Among other things, Gosnell seems never to have been certified as an OB/GYN. He was operating outside his scope of practice.
    As somebody pointed out, if somebody had shot Gosnell, it would have been a huge national story from the get-go.

  2. Alternatively, if a GOP politician had said something asinine about the case, then THAT would’ve been a story.

  3. For what it’s worth, the story was heavily covered in Philadelphia when it came out. I know, because I was living there, and it was covered in all of the papers- both the mainstream ones and the local weeklies. My understanding is that’s still happening, but as I don’t live in Philadelphia anymore, I can’t say first-hand. It strikes me as largely a local story that has gotten very good local coverage, and some national coverage, just as one would expect. Beyond that, I think that Kevin Drum is more or less completely right here:

  4. If anything, the lack of media coverage is a sign of a conservative viewpoint. Do the anti-abortion people really want to draw attention to how people who are exploited and who have few/no choices will resort to back-alley abortions? That was what was happening before abortion was decriminalized.

  5. Irin Carmon pretty much demolishes this idea. I found her from Scott Lemieux.

    If you’ve never heard of the Gosnell story, it’s not because of a coverup by the liberal mainstream media. It’s probably because you failed to pay attention to the copious coverage among pro-choice and feminist journalists, as well as the big news organizations, when the news first broke in 2011. There would be something rich, if it weren’t so infuriating, about these (almost uniformly male, as it happens) reporters and commentators scrambling to break open this shocking untold story. You know, the one that was written about here[The Nation], here[CBS News] and here[NPR], to name some disparate sources.

    As another Salon writer asked, where were conservative activists before last week?

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