Sunday, April 14, 2013

Kermit Gosnell, Murdered Newborns, and the Media

Kermit Gosnell, Murdered Newborns, and the Media
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Imagine a clinic in the United States that murdered hundreds of newborns by severing their spinal cords with scissors, had jars of severed baby feet, and engaged in racist medical malpractice—with massive government oversight failures allowing this to continue for well over a decade. Sound like front-page material for the United States? It wasn’t.

Isn’t the Kermit Gosnell Case Newsworthy?

A man named Kermit Gosnell ran the clinic accused of the horrible crimes I mentioned, and is now on trial for those crimes. The case didn’t get that much media attention until Kirsten Powers wrote her op-ed piece about the lack of media coverage in USA Today on 2013-04-11-TH. The op-ed article noted that since the trial began March 18, there has been very little coverage of the case, and that a Lexis-Nexis search confirms that none of the news shows on the three major television networks mentioned the trial, with the only exception being where Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan hijacked a segment in Meet The Press to briefly mention it. Quoting from the op-ed:
The Washington Post has not published original reporting on this during the trial and The New York Times saw fit to run one original story on A-17 on the trial's first day. They've been silent ever since, despite headline-worthy testimony.

Let me state the obvious. This should be front page news. When Rush Limbaugh attacked Sandra Fluke, there was non-stop media hysteria. The venerable NBC Nightly News' Brian Williams intoned, "A firestorm of outrage from women after a crude tirade from Rush Limbaugh," as he teased a segment on the brouhaha. Yet, accusations of babies having their heads severed — a major human rights story if there ever was one — doesn't make the cut.
Another thing about the clinic was the gross medical malpractice, e.g. it had only one bona fide doctor (Kermit Gosnell himself) and not even one nurse. From the grand jury report on the case:
There was blood on the floor. A stench of urine filled the air. A flea-infested cat was wandering through the facility, and there were cat feces on the stairs....Investigators found the clinic grossly unsuitable as a surgical facility. The two surgical procedure rooms were filthy and unsanitary – Agent Dougherty described them as resembling “a bad gas station restroom.” Instruments were not sterile. Equipment was rusty and outdated. Oxygen equipment was covered with dust, and had not been inspected…. Employing unlicensed, untrained workers in a facility that was grossly inadequate and unsanitary, his operation made a pretext of providing health care.
If nothing else, government oversight agencies that are supposed to monitor such health care situations should have caught on to this years ago. There were women “moaning in the waiting room or the recovery room, where they sat on dirty recliners covered with blood-stained blankets.” The unqualified staff, dirty and unsanitary conditions, shoddy medical equipment, and other factors made the clinic a deadly threat to women, in some cases resulting in death, including a woman named Karnamaya Mongar. The medical malpractice was also tinged with racism. The report:
Only in one class of cases did Gosnell exercise any real care with these dangerous sedatives. On those rare occasions when the patient was a white woman from the suburbs, Gosnell insisted that he be consulted at every step. When an employee asked him why, he said it was “the way of the world.”…. Tina Baldwin told the Grand Jury that the untrained medical assistants, without supervision by Gosnell, routinely administered even the final dose of sedation just before the procedure – unless the patient was white…. Tina Baldwin also testified that white patients often did not have to wait in the same dirty rooms as black and Asian clients. Instead, Gosnell would escort them up the back steps to the only clean office – Dr. O’Neill’s – and he would turn on the TV for them.
The grand jury report says that among the reasons nobody acted to investigate the clinic was “because the women in question were poor and of color, [and] because the victims were infants without identities.” All this strikes me as pretty newsworthy (not to mention that one of the ironies behind Gosnell’s racist medical malpractice is that the man himself is African-American).

One More Thing...

One more thing I’ve left out of this case: the accused man, Kermit Gosnell, was running an abortion clinic called the “Women’s Medical Society.” I’ve already mentioned my views on abortion when I wrote about Judith Jarvis Thomson’s famous violinist thought experiment, but really one’s views on abortion shouldn’t matter here. Even if you are pro-choice, to keep abortions legal and safe we should be concerned that some abortion clinic got away for so long endangering so many women, and we should be concerned about the failure of government oversight agencies to protect these women.

It shouldn’t matter whether this man was running an abortion clinic; the murdered babies, racist medical practices, endangered and exploited women, and many government failures not only make the case extremely newsworthy but also constitute something we shouldn’t turn a blind eye to. Americans should be concerned (among other things) about the failure of oversight that didn’t catch this horrible thing sooner. This is also the sort of newsworthy case that Americans should have known about sooner when the trial first started. So why didn’t this happen? Before answering that question, I’ll go into a bit more detail about the case so we can see how bad the problem is. I’ve already mentioned the crimes, but I’ve so far been vague about how exactly the government dropped the ball here. I’ll briefly sketch that next.

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