Enough media attention for Dr. Kermit Gosnell murder trial?
The trial of abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell offers the latest example of the power of social media to draw attention to an issue and drive coverage. Conservative bloggers claim that mainstream news sources were ignoring the case.
The murder trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell is as grisly as it gets. The Philadelphia abortion doctor is charged with the deaths of seven babies and one woman. But the trial, in its fifth week, is making headlines now because of an ongoing war of words over how the trial itself is being covered in the mainstream media.Skip to next paragraph
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Conservative commentators have lambasted liberal news sources for what they call a culture of ignoring unpleasant facts about abortion, while liberal news sources respond that conservatives have done no better and are only drawing attention to the case now in hopes of bolstering anti-abortion sentiment.
Whether the charges are true, The New York Times, as well as Fox, MSNBC, the Washington Post, and other major news outlets have since increased their presence at and coverage of the Gosnell trial. The criticism had been percolating in the blogosphere for weeks before landing full force in traditional media when commentator Kirsten Powers, who often represents the left on Fox News, lashed out last Thursday in a USA Today column at what she dubbed a "media blackout" of the case.
The fracas has become a study in the power of social media to promote an issue, but more important, it reinforces a culture of division that makes compromise on critical issues ever more challenging, says Ron Bishop, professor of culture and communication at Drexel University.
"Polarized is the new normal," he says.
According to a timeline presented in a Slate article posted late Monday night, the pressure began with a twitpic from PhillyBurbs.com columnist J.D. Mullane. On April 11, he noticed the largely empty media gallery in the courtroom and tweeted and then retweeted a cellphone snapshot of the empty chairs.
The social media pot was further stirred by Operation Rescue’s Troy Newman. In an effort to break what he dubbed the “Gosnell media blackout,” the anti-abortion activist launched a Twitter and Facebook campaign, leading to more than 100,000 tweets that included graphic descriptions, taken from the grand jury report, of “severed feet in jars” and “urine stench" at the clinic.
“We are going to make 'new media' work on behalf of Kermit Gosnell's innocent, helpless victims,” Mr. Newman wrote on his Facebook posting.