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.