The press (news media) is very good at covering big stories. News managers decide what stories are big enough to warrant extended coverage with multiple reporters bringing a wide variety of angles to the stories. Notice the words – “news managers decide.” That’s a key to understanding why the national press has decided not to cover the Gosnell trial as a BIG story.
I was a news manager for more than 30 years, so I know the process well. Whether extended news coverage is the idea of the news manager or a member of the news team, the news manager has the final say in what’s covered and how it’s covered. That makes the lack of national media coverage of the murder trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell all the more difficult to understand. The story has all of the elements of a major story that news managers are looking for each day. It’s a high-profile case with lots of viewer/listener/reader interest. It’s controversial with high emotional intrigue. The Gosnell trial also gives 24-hour news organizations something to report about across all day parts. The story has many built-in angles that would supply reporters and news producers with plenty of support stories to go along with the primary trial coverage.
One of the most important “angles” to the Gosnell story is the issue of late term abortion. How would a news manager and reporter cover that part of the story objectively? By objectively, I mean a story that looks at the facts fairly, fully and without injecting personal opinion into the report. Here are some thoughts about how that can be done, even with a story as controversial as abortion.
One of the major aspects of late term abortion is the issue of personhood – when the “unborn” become a human person. The Pro-Choice/Pro-Abortion group has long claimed that an unborn baby is a non-person. That is why they do not believe abortion is murder, because the killing of a non-person is not murder. The Pro-Life/Anti-Abortion group has long claimed that an unborn baby is a person. That is why they believe abortion is murder, because the pre-meditated killing of a person is murder.
I remember this argument in the early days of legal debate in Roe v. Wade. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun wrote this as part of the Court’s majority opinion – “If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant’s case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the Amendment.” The longer quote from Blackmun’s majority opinion is:
“The appellee and certain amici argue that the fetus is a “person” within the language and meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment. In support of this, they outline at length and in detail the well-known facts of fetal development. If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant’s case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the Amendment. The appellant conceded as much on reargument.” University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law
This statement is often referred to as “Blackmun’s Hole.” Justice Blackmun seemed to be stating that if the personhood of an unborn child could be proven, then the baby would find protection in Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
Blackmun also wrote this about the medical implications of when a person becomes human.
“Texas urges that, apart from the Fourteenth Amendment, life begins at conception and is present throughout pregnancy, and that, therefore, the State has a compelling interest in protecting that life from and after conception. We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.
It should be sufficient to note briefly the wide divergence of thinking on this most sensitive and difficult question…Substantial problems for precise definition of this view are posed, however, by new embryological data that purport to indicate that conception is a “process” over time, rather than an event, and by new medical techniques such as menstrual extraction, the “morning-after” pill, implantation of embryos, artificial insemination, and even artificial wombs.” University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law
Notice Blackmun’s words – “at this point in the development of man’s knowledge.” Blackmun mentions “new embryological data” and “new medical techniques” that were part of man’s knowledge in 1973: “menstrual extraction, the ‘morning-after’ pill, implantation of embryos, artificial insemination, and even artificial wombs.”
What about the last 40 years since Roe v. Wade? At what point are we in 2013, “in the development of man’s knowledge”? Medical science has added DNA paternal testing and ultrasound to “the development of man’s knowledge.” Even as the Supreme Court majority used the available knowledge of man in 1973, shouldn’t the Supreme Court of the United States now use the available knowledge of man in 2013 to reconsider the earlier decision? It seems only right that if a majority of Supreme Court Justices used the available science of 1973 to determine the personhood of an unborn child, the current Supreme Court Justices should use the available science of 2013 to determine the personhood of an unborn child. Since much of Roe v. Wade was decided on available medical science, it would seem that the Court would be sensitive to the advancement of science into the issues of pregnancy and personhood.
The definition of “personhood” is fairly simple – “The state or fact of being a person.” (Dictionary.com) The definition of “person” is even simpler – “human being.” (Dictionary.com)
As we reported in an earlier post about paternal DNA testing, unborn children can be proven to be “human” during the first trimester of a mother’s pregnancy. DNA testing was not available when the Supreme Court heard arguments in Roe v. Wade in 1973, but it is available now and has been for many years. So, why hasn’t the Supreme Court reconsidered its initial ruling based on evidence that the personhood of an unborn child within the first trimester has been proven scientifically?
Good question, but not one the national press is asking. Since it is the job of the press to cover news factually and fairly, we ask then why news managers and reporters are not covering the aspect of personhood during the Gosnell trial? It seems like a “natural angle” to the story.
I think the answer is obvious – bias on the part of the press. What else can it be? The scientific/medical facts are laid out for all to see. An unbiased press would report the facts and follow them through to the point of asking the tough questions news managers, reporters and producers do every day. It’s not hard to do. In fact, asking tough questions is one of the best parts of being a journalist. Some of my best memories of being a reporter were turning on the camera and asking tough questions of powerful people. Isn’t that what reporters do? or should do?
Why is the press biased about abortion? Some members of the news media have strong, personal beliefs about the right of mothers to choose what happens to their body and they do not want that choice taken away from them. Others have had their journalistic judgment clouded by philosophical arguments that do not belong in the rational, reason-oriented, fact-finding atmosphere of a working newsroom (or what it should be).
“Just the facts” has always been a good philosophy of news gathering and reporting and it’s needed in the press and news media coverage of the Gosnell murder trial.
Fact: Medical science has advanced tremendously since the Supreme Court’s majority ruling in 1973.
Fact: DNA paternal testing proves that the unborn are human persons from the first trimester of pregnancy.
Fact: The U.S. Constitution and Amendments protect the rights of human persons.
Fact: Based on science and legal precedent, the U.S. Constitution and Amendments should then protect the right of unborn human persons.
What will the national press do with these facts?
As for late term abortion – how can the abortion of a child in the third trimester of his/her mother’s pregnancy be anything but murder since DNA testing proves the child is a human person as early as the first trimester? It can’t be anything other than murder. A human child in the first trimester of pregnancy doesn’t somehow become a non-person in the third trimester. That’s not logical, rational or reasonable. The press needs to cover that vital part of the story – NOW.
It can be done. National news managers, reporters and producers can decide to cover the Gosnell trial if they want. They can decide to cover the trial factually, fully and fairly. They have the training and skills. They can bring to light every issue of importance to the trial. They have the experience. The national press and news media can make a difference in our country – a difference they were meant to make from the founding of our great nation.