Abp. Chaput remarks on “media lethargy” in coverage of Gosnell trial

I saw and read Abp. Chaput’s new column just a few minutes after posting some of his Foreword to Russell Shaw’s new book on the Catholic Church in the U.S. Titled “The Gosnell story and its lessons”, the column recounts some of the details of the trial in Philadelphia and then focuses ont the connection between media failure and lost state of the culture at large:

The continuing debate over legalized abortion is a hot-button national issue that drew half a million pro-life demonstrators to Washington in January. The battle over abortion restrictions continues in every state. Forty years after the Supreme Court’s Roe v Wade decision, resistance to permissive abortion remains high. And the vivid details of the Gosnell clinic tragedy have the kind of salacious appeal that few national media would normally avoid — if the issue were anything else. But abortion is too often, and in too many news rooms, exactly the kind of topic that brings on a sudden case of snow blindness.

The real story in the Gosnell trial is bigger than the ugly allegations against Gosnell himself; it includes the failure — the allergic disinterest — of some of our most important national media. A headline in The Atlantic magazine, April 12, states the obvious: “Why Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s Trial Should Be a Front-Page Story: The dead babies. The exploited women. The racism. The numerous governmental failures. It is thoroughly newsworthy.”

The Atlantic story by Conor Friedersdorf is worth reading. But don’t stop there.  Read this by Kirsten Powers, columnist for The Daily Beast, in USA Today. And these excellent analyses by journalists Terry Mattingly, Mollie Hemingway and George Conger.

The irony is that much of the media’s lethargy in covering the Gosnell case really doesn’t surprise. It’s part of the fabric of a culture that simply will not see what it doesn’t want to see about the realities of abortion. And it leads to the kind of implausible claim made recently by one local commentator that “no sense of guilt is warranted” by the media because “there is no causal connection between coverage of [the Gosnell] case and bias.” It’s hard to imagine a more untenable alibi.

As I noted in my April 15th editorial, “It’s Not a Conspiracy, It’s a Culture”, the New York Times‘ public editor admitted that the Grey Lady had been a bit slack in its journalistic duties before she took a pot shot at 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.” I wrote:

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 debilitation

Read the Archbishop’s column here and my editorial here.

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About Carl E. Olson 1190 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.