Journalist Carl Cannon: Media Censor Gosnell Case Because Abortion is Newsroom's 'Sacred Cow'

"[I]n the end, Kermit Gosnell’s house of horrors exposed more than the grim reality of late-term abortion. It also revealed what happens when journalists act as though 'sacred cows' are more important to us than our sacred duty to follow the story wherever it leads, irrespective of how uncomfortable it makes us -- and regardless of the political fallout. Even in these polarized times, I hope this lesson will endure."

That is how Real Clear Politics Washington editor Carl M. Cannon concluded his April 17article  "Abortion: Journalism's Most Sacred Cow." Cannon began his piece with a personal story about his experience at the San Diego Union-Tribune when his liberal colleagues protested their publisher who, as a devout Catholic was pro-life and thereby refused to run an advertisement for a local Planned Parenthood clinic. As Cannon explains, his colleagues cloaked their complaints in terms of a journalist's aversion to censorship, but as Cannon says he came to discover, it is the liberal media that regularly censors the grisly, bloody reality of abortion (emphasis mine; h/t my colleague Matt Hadro):


In my early 20s, I played for a company softball team called The Sacred Cows. The company was the San Diego Union-Tribune, so the name was supposed to be self-deprecating. In time, I would learn that the joke was on us.

Our publisher, Helen Copley, had refused to run a paid advertisement from Planned Parenthood. Mrs. Copley was a strong Catholic -- she gave a lot of money to the local diocese and to a parochial college on the hill overlooking our newspaper -- and the working assumption in our newsroom was that Helen was obeying the wishes of the local bishop.

A petition was circulated, which reporters and editors signed, and the local television stations were tipped off. The dissidents met to buck each other up -- and to choose a spokesperson to go on camera. They approached me. It seemed an odd choice, and I told them why: Although I’d signed their petition, I wasn’t involved in the protest, and at 24 I was one of the youngest reporters on staff. Also, when it came to the issue of abortion, I harbored pro-life sympathies.

“We know that,” the ringleader told me.

“That’s why we want you,” she added. “This is not really about abortion. It’s about censorship.”

So I went on television and reluctantly criticized my own employer. Looking back, we were not wrong about the need for a newspaper to encourage the free flow of ideas. But on the issue of abortion, we quite wrong about which side really wanted to chill honest and open discussion. That was our real sacred cow.

No one ever put it quite this way, but the traditional media in this country were about to embark on an extraordinary exercise in self-censorship. It is a social experiment that has lasted up until this week, until our industry’s shame over a refusal to cover the Kermit Gosnell murder trial brought this issue to a crucible.

In newsrooms of the 1970s and 1980s, a general consensus emerged on two fraught political issues. The first, affirmative action, was understandable. Expanding the pool of what had been a white male-dominated profession was not only a laudable social goal, it was a logical business imperative for newspapers seeking to expand their reach. And it was even more than that. If you worked for any major news organization, including the sprawling newspaper chains that dominated the landscape, it was also official corporate policy.

The second issue, in a sense, grew out of the first. That issue was abortion, or in the vernacular adopted by the media, “abortion rights.” To say that big city editors and reporters were “pro-choice” is to understate the case. Mostly, it went without saying: Roe v. Wade was the law of the land, and any reporter or editor who harbored doubts about it -- and those who voiced them aloud -- was considered a sexist, or perhaps a religious nut.

Later in his piece, Cannon got to the heart of the matter. Why are pro-choice journalist so deathly afraid of reporting on the Gosnell case and others like it? It's simple (emphasis mine):

It is possible to read that entire grand jury report -- and to cover this man’s murder trial -- and still believe strongly in the need for women in our society to maintain control over their reproductive rights. But the elite media seem to have been unwilling to take that chance.

Gosnell’s actions pull back the curtain on this procedure and allow Americans to contemplate a disquieting prospect: that abortion itself is an inherently violent act, the grisly details of which remain hidden even from the patients in the operating room -- and that if those specifics were.

For the full piece, visit RealClearPolitics.com.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters