It’s Not a Conspiracy, It’s a Culture

The silence about Kermit Gosnell’s trial demonstrates the dominance of the culture of death and moral deafness.

I don’t take in much baseball or golf, but I do usually watch some of the World Series and portions of the Master’s golf tournament. As sporting events, both have a certain timeless quality (I won’t get carried away and use the empty word, “magical”), but also a fair share of sporting drama. Besides, they are mostly free of discussions about politics, although they tend to be increasingly politically correct. Regardless, it was interesting to watch and listen to some of the serious arguments and intense discussions that commenced once news broke that Tiger Woods had dropped a ball (after his tee shot went into the water on the 15th hole on Friday) a full two yards behind his original spot, which led to a two stroke penalty. Mayhem insued, and there were some folks insisting that the #1 golfer in the world should have disqualified himself.

Reflecting on the spectacle of adults arguing over 72 inches of turf, I tweeted the following about 24 hours after the Tiger story broke:

Google news search brings up 39,000 links for “Kermit Gosnell”+”trial” but 145,000 for “Tiger Woods”+”penalty”. MSM should be disqualified.

Unless you watch only CNN or read only the New York Times, you know about the story about the non-story within the story of the murder trial of abortionist Kermit Gosnell. The trial has been going on for nearly a month in Philadephia, but has received even less coverage from the mainstream media (MSM) than did the celebration of Easter. One could glibly joke that Gosnell would have garnered far more attention if he was a junior high boy pretending to shoot fellow students with a crooked twig during recess, except that story would have undoubtedly made it on the MSM radar within hours, if not minutes. Last Thursday, CWR’s managing editor, Catherine Harmon, explained the particulars of the story and noted the media silence, which was itself fast becoming a story. Since then, the uproar—via e-mails, tweets, Facebook, and so forth—from outraged Americans (and others, I presume) rose to the point that the New York Times finally relented and published an editorial this past weekend on the subject of abortion doctors, abortion clinics, and the fight for goodness and truth:

Wichita, a city of about 400,000 people, has been without any abortion services since Dr. Tiller’s murder. Women needing abortions have had to travel long distances, stealing time away from jobs and family, to exercise their constitutionally protected right to one of the nation’s most common medical procedures.

The new clinic, called the South Wind Women’s Center, will not be performing late-term abortions as Dr. Tiller did. But the fact that it has opened at all is remarkable, and is a tribute to the perseverance and courage of those involved in the project, especially Julie Burkhart, a former colleague of Dr. Tiller who directs the Trust Women Foundation, which owns the clinic. Her struggle to open the facility after the murder, and now to keep it open in the face of continuing threats and acts of intimidation, and amid escalating efforts in Kansas and other Republican-led states to stigmatize and restrict abortion in defiance of Roe v. Wade and subsequent Supreme Court rulings, is both inspiring and instructive.

Uh, whoops, sorry—that was actually from the April 13th editorial in the Greying Lady about Dr. George Tiller, who was murdered in May 2009 while serving as usher at the Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita. Of course, that murder was immediately, rightly, and loudly denounced and condemned by pro-life leaders. Yet the New York Times seemingly has no editorial opinion on the murders allegedly commited by Dr. Gosnell, and the newspaper has apparently run only one piece on the story in the past two years. So says the newspaper’s public editor, Margaret Sullivan:

Since 2011, it amounted to three full-length pieces and a number of shorter ones. The most recent on March 19 was a thorough setup piece as the trial began, which included coverage of opening statements. The longer pieces were written by Times journalists; the shorter pieces were from The Associated Press.

Dr. Gosnell, an abortion doctor, is charged with eight counts of murder. Prosecutors charge that he plunged scissors into the necks of seven viable fetuses and cut their spinal cords. He is also charged with murder in the death of a pregnant woman. He could get the death penalty if he is found guilty.

The national editor Sam Sifton told me on Friday that further coverage was very likely. Then I wrote a couple of messages on Twitter. I wrote that The Times’s coverage had been “not insubstantial,” but that there certainly could be more. I added that there would probably be more to come from The Times.

It caused a little storm of reaction from those who believe that The Times is part of a vast, left-wing media conspiracy to ignore the trial because it may threaten abortion rights.

Actually, it is worse than a conspiracy. A conspiracy involves the secret, coordinated actions of a select and usually small group of individuals. But that is not what is at work here. No, this is an example of how a vast, secularist culture has ignored the trial because it doesn’t fit into its understanding of what is happening and, more importantly, what should happen in this country and the world at large (hint: abortion on demand, anywhere and anytime). A conspiracy, at least in theory, can be exposed and perhaps thwarted; it is like a cancerous tumor that, if caught in time, can be addressed and removed from the body. But a culture is the body, or at least (to continue the analogy) the blood and life of a society and civilization. To speak of a “conspiracy” here is sadly naive, for it fails to comprehend just how bad the situation really is and just how deep the sickness goes and widely spread are the resulting weaknesses and debilitations.

Ms. Sullivan says the media silence is really about “chaos theory”, not conspiracy theories, which is a dubious claim, at best (using mathematical theories to explain cultural shifts is trendy, but rarely helpful). But the more revealing part of her piece is the following:

Mr. Sifton said that he sees this as a trial about murder, not abortion.

“Every story we cover could warrant more,” he said “People who are questioning our motives, saying that this trial offends our liberal pieties are wrong.”

That view is backed by Greg Mitchell of The Nation, who noted on his blog that the conservative press has also been largely missing: “With rare exceptions, conservative media also ignored the case until recently,” he wrote. “As Paul Farhi at The Washington Post pointed out … The Weekly Standard ‘hadn’t published anything on the trial, according to a search of the Nexis database.’ Neither did Ross Douthat. Or The Wall Street Journal right-wing editorial page.”

If this really is about murder (and it surely is), then why the silence about the murder of children? As many others have noted, if the story was about a lone, crazed shooter killing seven young children at a school or mall, it would be everywhere, instantly, incessantly. But when the story is about the killing of seven young—unborn—children, well, that’s not the same. Why? Talking about “left-wing” this and “right-wing” that doesn’t really get to the heart of the problem, which is that the culture of death and deafness is dominant within American society, especially (but not limited to) within key institutions: media, academics, government, etc. The barbarians are not at the gates, mostly because there are no gates.

Times’ columnist Ross Douthat takes a more nuanced stance in his Sunday column, but ends up being very critical:

“Leading the conversation” is how you end up with the major Sunday shows somehow neglecting to invite a single anti-amnesty politician on a weekend dominated by the immigration debate. It’s how you end up with officially nonideological anchors and journalists lecturing social conservatives for being out of step with modern values. And it’s how you end up with a press corps that went all-in for the supposed “war on women” having to be shamed and harassed — by two writers in particular, Kirsten Powers in USA Today and Mollie Ziegler Hemingway of GetReligion — into paying attention to the grisly case of a Philadelphia doctor whose methods of late-term abortion included snipping the spines of neonates after they were delivered.

As the last example suggests, the problem here isn’t that American journalists are too quick to go on crusades. Rather, it’s that the press’s ideological blinders limit the kinds of crusades mainstream outlets are willing to entertain, and the formal commitment to neutrality encourages self-deception about what counts as crusading.

The core weakness of the mainstream media, in this sense, is less liberalism than parochialism. The same habits of mind that make bipartisanthink seem like the height of wisdom also make it easy to condescend to causes and groups that seem disreputable and to underplay stories that might vindicate them.

In other words, the press’s dominant support for abortion is accepted as doctrinal truth, while the infallble dogma of “neutrality” is used as a magisterial fence to protect said doctrine from being questioned or discussed. In the end, as Russell Kirk, Josef Pieper, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and others have so often and eloquently argued, culture is about “cult”—that is, religious belief and theological premises, from which flow moral principles and ethical systems, upon which are established essential institutions. The erosion of those institutions today, which has been in full force for decades now, reflects the bad thinking (relativism, for example) and immoral actions (sexual depravity, for instance) that have come to be accepted as “normal”, even “healthy”.

In a previous age, many decades ago, Dr. Gosnell’s actions would have inspired widespread outrage and univeral condemnation. In an earlier time, a few decades ago, his actions would have at least inspired a public debate and a largely negative reaction. Today, it appears, his actions and his trial inspire a combination of silence, confusion, and political jousting. We need a robust and honest media, but that requires a confidence in the nature of reality and the objectivity of moral truth. It makes me long for the good old days of grand, vast conpiracies, when truth at least had a fighting chance to make the front page, while golf tournaments were on the sports page only and not treated like matters of life and death.

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About Carl E. Olson 1207 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.