New York Times Defends Its Insubstantial Coverage of Gosnell Trial

Opinion   |   Rob Schwarzwalder   |   Apr 19, 2013   |   12:44PM   |   New York, NY

Abortion champion Andrew Rosenthal, who happens to be editorial page editor of what historically has been the nation’s flagship daily, The New York Times, has written a peevish, “how dare you question the Great Oz”-type op-ed defending his paper’s insubstantial coverage of the Kermit Gosnell trial.

About his piece is the air of a young child, his hand stuck firmly in the cookie jar, who rather than regretting his error is infuriated at being caught.

Unable to bring himself to describe the crimes “Dr.” Gosnell committed – such things as snipping the necks of crying babies – instead, Rosenthal reduces these little persons to “viable fetuses.” How very medical, distant, pristine, and deadly.

Mr. Rosenthal indicts Gosnell for his “appalling crimes” (what makes them appalling, Mr. Rosenthal? You regard Dr. George Tiller, who did the same things as Gosnell only in unsoiled conditions, as a hero) and links to a piece about them. However, he cannot bring himself to describe these crimes. To do so would demand intellectual integrity and moral courage, since it would involve an acknowledgement of the humanness of the unborn baby – a bridge the stolid advocates of unrestricted access to abortion on demand cannot cross. The insistent recreation of moral reality means holding one’s ground, even if it is crumbling beneath his feet.

In the 1930s, Lady Astor confronted Stalin on his unimaginable enterprise of mass murder, asking him, “When are you going to stop killing people?” He responded, “When it is no longer necessary.” Read Mr. Rosenthal’s article and ask if this same spirit does not seem latent in every line. Abortion is, for him and those on his side, not the loss of a life or the scarring of a woman’s body. It is a post-modern rite, a baptism not of water or the Spirit but of death, an act of defiance and self-exaltation which does not represent purging from sin but the calcification of the soul.

Mr. Rosenthal’s concern is not for the unborn and born children slaughtered like chubby pigs by Gosnell and his minions, or the women whose lives were lost and health misshapen because of grotesque treatment they received. Rather, Mr. Rosenthal’s major complaint is the unsanitary conditions of Gosnell’s clinic.

It is nice to see Mr. Rosenthal’s mellifluous outrage over Gosnell’s inattention to the germ theory. I’m sure the good editor keeps Purell on his desk and sanitary wipes in his car.

With audacity so great it stifles the cry of honesty, Mr. Rosenthal goes on to write, “Last I checked, there’s no rule that a newspaper, or that paper’s editorial page, has to run one piece about a bad clinic for every piece celebrating a good one.”

Fair point. But I wonder why the Times, as it did with the trial of Tiller murderer George Roeder, did not cover such things as jury selection or pronounce endlessly on the assorted issues involved in the Gosnell case.

Finally, here is Rosenthal’s peroration:

Dr. Tiller was performing safe and legal abortions when he was gunned down in the foyer of his own church. The reopening of his clinic, which will not perform late-term abortions, is an act of courage on the part of Julie Burkhart, a former colleague of Dr. Tiller, and others. She is already receiving death threats from people who believe that murder is an acceptable way of protesting legal, constitutionally protected abortions. Through this sort of intimidation and through legitimate political action, anti-abortion forces have been alarmingly successful in restricting women’s access to reproductive health services, including birth control, cancer screening and other services. That is the real issue.

Making “this sort of intimidation” (which is roundly condemned by the pro-life movement and always has been) equivalent to “legitimate political action” is so inflatedly unctuous the reader is reminded of a passage in Wodehouse in which Jeeves is chided for burning Bertie Wooster’s toast. It’s sort of like saying, “cyanide and aspirin are both drugs,” technically accurate but essentially, and gravely, misleading.



“The real issue” is access to birth control, not the murder of children? As others have written, no one asks, “Is your fetus a boy or a girl? Have you given the fetus a name? Is the collection of blood and tissue and DNA growing in your womb your first?”

The term is baby. The issue is murder. The culprit is Kermit Gosnell, and not because he didn’t use clean forceps.

Calling an unborn child a “fetus” makes him or her no less human. Indignation over cleanliness (is it truly next to Godliness, Mr. Rosenthal?) and predation as one’s fundamental response to moral horror is like the man who was offended he couldn’t wear a hat to his hanging. It rather misses the point.

I am as troubled by Mr. Rosenthal’s stentorian resistance to calling murder “murder” as I am by the absolutist position he takes on abortion itself. When a public opinion-leader can stare at transparent evil and pronounce it benign, does “civilization” itself have any continued meaning? Rob Schwarzwalder is with the Family Research Council.