Selective Outrage

We drink in our news from the sources we trust, through the lens we feel comfortable with, amidst the people with whom we fit.

I think I have something bad to say about the liberal media. Until I read this piece in The Atlantic, I doubted one existed. I know that the news media comes at their subjects with some pre-formed conclusions, that Rachel Maddow and Bill O’Reilly view the same facts through different lenses. I know that Fox leans right and MSNBC left, the Times left and the Wall Street Journal right. And I thought that even with this bias, the news gets out to the people, and some of the more critically minded count themselves among the well-informed, and the business of life goes on.

Admittedly, I consider myself a liberal leaning lefty. Beyond alliteration, I align my political views with the social policies of the day: gay rights, women’s equality and the increasing misalignment of the socio-economic classes in this country. I’m anti-death penalty, pro-gay marriage, and have discussed at length my stance on gun control. But I’ve never written about abortion. I have my views and they fit neatly within the political party I identify with. They would surprise no one.

But I don’t talk about it. Because even if I support a woman’s right to choose, it’s ugly. And heartbreakingly sad. Yet, I believe that that right is necessary and that it is a personal choice to be made. The circumstances that lead to this choice vary in the myriad ways that people vary. We would be hard-pressed to find two identical stories, but we can connect with each other over the experiences we all share. The emotional toll on the abortion debate is high. For those who oppose it, it is nothing less than the murder of innocents. I don’t dismiss that view, even if I don’t concur.

Like the gun issue, I think it’s bigger, if there is something bigger than human life. I think to consider the issue, we need to incorporate lots of other issues, especially how we marginalize and discriminate against the poorest and darkest among us, about how the first things to go are the social safety nets and not the tax breaks, and about how if women are forced by people who are pro-life to have babies they cannot take care of, they are abandoned too by a country whose concern for them extends only as far as their gestation. Beyond that, they need to pull themselves up by their bootie-straps.

Violence abounds with this issue and voices lower to whispers among the like-minded.  Yet, something gets lost when that happens. In Pennsylvania, so much was lost.  For years, laws were broken, racism abounded in a dirty abortion clinic, and bureaucratic red tape was sidestepped because this issue is too political to get involved with. Pro-choice people, like myself, have stated our cases so strongly that abortion clinics in Pennsylvania stopped getting regulated. They moved on. And a monster of a man named Kermit Gosnell murdered fetuses and babies and women. He spread venereal diseases with filthy instruments, performed a grisly amount of illegal late-term abortions, delivered live babies he then murdered, and employed underaged, under-supervised, and under-trained people to administer medication. He pawned his black patients to that staff, and let his white girls see “the doctor.” Some of them died. And though several people alerted authorities over the years, the complaints weren’t followed up on. So many agencies dropped the ball. Might it be because the clientele was primarily non-white and poor?

This was isolated. His practice doesn’t represent a single other doctor, or human being, other than himself. But the lack of media coverage highlights something. The way that I heard the name Kermit Gosnell was in an article tweeted by the Atlantic with the details of the grand jury trial and the case being made for more media coverage. Conor Friedersdorf compared the coverage that Rush Limbaugh’s reaction to Sandra Fluke received in the media with the details of this case. It has all the gruesome makings for a front page, but it hasn’t been one. Not the way Limbaugh’s “slut” comment was.

We’ve all chosen our sides by now. We know where we stand and are ready to defend those positions from wherever we are: in the news, on social media, in coffee shops and bars. We drink in our news from the sources we trust, through the lens we feel comfortable with, amidst the people with whom we fit. Religion and politics have long since been discarded as subjects we don’t talk about in polite conversation at the dinner table. Polite conversations went out long ago with the dinner table. We’re informed and opinionated, but the middle ground has been sacrificed in the social civil war of a dialogue that pits us for or against each other.

Certain segments of the media has chosen sides as well. Was the underreporting of Gosnell a case of the liberal media not wanting to lose political points because abortion is one of the absolutes? Criticizing abortion has so much consequence that connecting something so heinous with something we support will undoubtedly bring fallout. Yet, the conservative media, mainly Breitbart News  and The Heritage Foundation, are full of criticism of the lack of coverage, yet they hadn’t covered it either. Marco Rubio tweeted, “Media blackout of Kermit #Gosnell case is shameful but not surprising. Powerful example of msm bias in America today.” Rather than addressing the moral corruption of a story like Gosnell’s, the right is circumventing it in order to fry bigger fish: the left, who is now, with names like Anderson Cooper  and vehicles like Salon, on the story. Turns out, Slate’s Double XX column has been covering it since 2011.

We’re looking for a demon, someone to blame in the face of an unimaginable crime born of ugly circumstance. That crime doesn’t fit the narrative of the liberal media. Yet, the conservative media, instead of focusing on the devil in front of us, is trying to win political points by blaming the left, when they should blame, rightfully, Kermit Gosnell.

I came to my political beliefs because I believe there was a moral imperative and a right side (on the left.) It is something supported by my conscience, a way to root for the little guy, the huddled masses, those traditionally discriminated against. It’s because I think as a country we are as strong as our weakest link and by supporting women’s right to choose, I can reconcile those beliefs. My support hasn’t changed, but my absoluteness has.

I have been afraid of a lot lately. Gunfire, mostly, since Newtown. Not for me, but for my kids. But I’ve also been afraid of being wrong. That fear often keeps me from considering what the other side has to say. It has me looking to dismiss impassioned arguments from those I disagree with.

But worse than that, it has kept me quiet. In choosing staunch and irresolute sides, we lose the nuance of our beliefs.  And in the case of Kermit Gosnell, we lose our humanity.

Author: Jaime Franchi

Jaime Franchi is a freelance writer living on Long Island. Her work can be found on Salon.com, Milieu Magazine, Punchnel's and the New York Times. www.JaimeFranchi.com

11 thoughts on “Selective Outrage”

  1. Great piece Jaime! I had never heard of Gosnell, so horrific. Not just in this case, but in general, I think you are brave to consider all sides. I wish more people were that open.

  2. i have to admit i just heard about gosnell for the first time yesterday, and i don’t know enough about it to engage in a conversation. but your piece makes me realize i need to go find out more. excellent writing, jaime.

  3. You’re right, and not just about the media. I’ve seen articles about Gosnell but avoided them, which says something (unfortunately) about my partisanship. This is a wonderful essay, Jaime.

  4. I came back for a second comment because I’ve been thinking about this a lot. The rampant partisanship of the country, our insistence on seeing everything in black and white, often blinds us to the weaknesses of our own positions and the strengths of the opposition’s and prevents us from pursuing a middle ground (often ensuring that nothing gets accomplished). It’s also true that people one admires or defends politically are capable of doing crappy things (in which case we circle the wagons), and that people one opposes politically are capable of doing good things (I was embarrassed, for example, by how many liberals were disdainful of Rob Portman when he endorsed same-sex marriage, as if his support was tainted).

    This may be going off on a tangent, but I started reading an article this afternoon about a “stand your ground” case and realized that the Treyvon Martin story could be a conservative equivalent of the Gosnell story. It’s not enough for them to just defend George Zimmerman on legal grounds; they have to demonize Treyvon (oh look, he posted a FB picture giving the middle finger, he must be a punk!), despite all evidence to the contrary, because to see him as an innocent victim would force them to confront nuances, and we know partisanship has no room for nuance.

  5. @Richard – I think the Treyvon Martin comparison is spot on. It’s interesting how we can rationalize something from our “side” and condemn it on the other. My feelings about Eliot Spitzer probably echo that. Is that hypocrisy or nuance? I’d like to say that it’s nuance, that other things factor into who or what we support and why. Either way, it’s interesting to consider. Thanks for your comment(s).

  6. Interesting thought, Jaime, that fear of being wrong keeps us hanging around people who share our opinions and perspectives. We lose a lot of plasticity when we entrench. The metaphor of evolutionary adaptation comes to mind – species that can adapt to different environments are less fragile than those that become highly specialized.

    You got me thinking, and it’s only Monday. Here’s to plasticity. Great article.

  7. I must say, I wasn’t even familiar with this story until I read your post. As usual, you write to inform, and most of all, make us think.

  8. I disagree with a few minor points of your essay, but agree with the overall message. I’m generally conservative, but make a point to not shut out my liberal friends or refuse to consider their viewpoints. I’ve been to countries where opposition is shut down, and innocents are murdered in the streets over political differences. We don’t want America to become that kind of country. If we could accept that there are many honestly good conservatives and honestly good liberals, we’d reopen communication and reduce tension between family members, neighbors and countrymen.

  9. At last! A conscientious takedown of Gosnell by an intelligent and articulate writer, and also of the enormous problem of black-and-white thinking of the sort that blocks out whole huge parts of the human experience for the sake of solidarity over ethics and morality. Great, courageous piece! Carry on!

  10. I’ve been following this in a light fashion, I’m skimming the grisley details, for quite a while now. It showed up in the Yahoo news feed so it hasn’t been hidden that deep, I think no one paid attention because no one famous was involved and it is pretty gruesome. I am so ashamed of the people that knew about him and allowed it to continue. I hope they are brought up on charges as accessories.

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