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April 26, 2013

Abortion doc's trial deserves coverage

The Daily Star
The Daily Star

---- — The coverage of Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell’s trial, in which he is accused of delivering live babies before killing them, has come under fire from anti-abortion activists who have accused to media of a conspiracy of omission.

The debate took a nasty turn two weeks ago when Washington Post reporter Sarah Kliff was confronted by critics who thought the story was underreported, and responded: “I cover policy for the Washington Post, not local crime.”

Kliff’s comment sparked anger among abortion foes – and snark from one of Kliff’s Washington Post colleagues, conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin. When the Boston Marathon was bombed by terrorists April 15, Rubin tweeted: “Not writing on Boston. It’s a local crime story for now.”

Tasteless potshots aside, the Rubin/Kliff tiff raises a point about what constitutes a local or national news story. Here at The Daily Star, Kermit Gosnell’s trial hasn’t made the front page, but has received a modest amount of coverage on our national news pages. We can’t speak for other newspapers, but we see some news value in the story, even if it doesn’t directly affect readers in our coverage area.

But when Kliff characterizes the Gosnell trial as a local crime story, however shocking or horrifying, she’s correct. No matter how stunning Gosnell’s alleged crimes were, the story remains one of a single abortion clinic in Pennsylvania gone horribly wrong, and to imply otherwise is an unsubstantiated cheap shot against abortion doctors. If a regional or national abortion provider were accused of such crimes on a systematic basis, that argument would have merit.

That’s not to say that shocking, horrifying local crime stories don’t deserve some national attention. The tales of Wisconsin-based cannibal killer Jeffrey Dahmer, for example, were purely local in scope, but so shocking they became newsworthy to media outlets around the country in the early 1990s.

Here in our coverage area, the recent murder-suicide of a Walton couple and eventual discovery of a third victim (Police: Man dead ‘days’ before Walton fire, Feb. 27) was so stunning and unusual that The Associated Press deemed it worthy of a story on its news wire service.

Part of the role of journalists is to objectively determine what news value each story has, and the sort of treatment it deserves. There are some readers who wouldn’t be satisfied with anything less than the Gosnell trial leading Page 1 of our newspaper each day, while others may think Gosnell is nothing more than “a local crime story.”

If you feel the Gosnell story hasn’t been given enough space in our paper, that’s probably because of the number of other national stories that merit space on a particular day. It’s certainly not the product of a media conspiracy to conceal information about abortion clinics from our readers.