The Kermit Gosnell Multiple Murder Trial

Conor Friedersdorf and Megan McArdle write about this at The Atlantic and The Daily Beast, respectively; an excerpt from Friedersdorf’s item:

The grand jury report in the case of Kermit Gosnell, 72, is among the most horrifying I’ve read. “This case is about a doctor who killed babies and endangered women. What we mean is that he regularly and illegally delivered live, viable babies in the third trimester of pregnancy — and then murdered these newborns by severing their spinal cords with scissors,” it states. “The medical practice by which he carried out this business was a filthy fraud in which he overdosed his patients with dangerous drugs, spread venereal disease among them with infected instruments, perforated their wombs and bowels — and, on at least two occasions, caused their deaths.” …

Until Thursday, I wasn’t aware of this story. It has generated sparse coverage in the national media, and while it’s been mentioned in RSS feeds to which I subscribe, I skip past most news items. I still consume a tremendous amount of journalism. Yet had I been asked at a trivia night about the identity of Kermit Gosnell, I would’ve been stumped and helplessly guessed a green Muppet. Then I saw Kirsten Power’s USA Today column. She makes a powerful, persuasive case that the Gosnell trial ought to be getting a lot more attention in the national press than it is getting.

The media criticism angle interests me. But I agree that the story has been undercovered, and I happen to be a working journalist, so I’ll begin by telling the rest of the story for its own sake. Only then will I explain why I think it deserves more coverage than it has gotten, although it ought to be self-evident by the time I’m done distilling the grand jury’s allegations. Grand juries aren’t infallible. This version of events hasn’t been proven in a court of law. But journalists routinely treat accounts given by police, prosecutors and grand juries as at least plausible if not proven. Try to decide, as you hear the state’s side of the case, whether you think it is credible, and if so, whether the possibility that some or all this happened demands massive journalistic scrutiny….

Here is the grand jury on oversight failures:

Pennsylvania is not a third-world country. There were several oversight agencies that stumbled upon and should have shut down Kermit Gosnell long ago. But none of them did…

The first line of defense was the Pennsylvania Department of Health. The department’s job is to audit hospitals and outpatient medical facilities, like Gosnell’s, to make sure that they follow the rules and provide safe care. The department had contact with the Women’s Medical Society dating back to 1979, when it first issued approval to open an abortion clinic. It did not conduct another site review until 1989, ten years later. Numerous violations were already apparent, but Gosnell got a pass when he promised to fix them. Site reviews in 1992 and 1993 also noted various violations, but again failed to ensure they were corrected.

But at least the department had been doing something up to that point, however ineffectual. After 1993, even that pro form a effort came to an end. Not because of administrative ennui, although there had been plenty. Instead, the Pennsylvania Department of Health abruptly decided, for political reasons, to stop inspecting abortion clinics at all… The only exception to this live-and-let-die policy was supposed to be for complaints dumped directly on the department’s doorstep. Those, at least, would be investigated. Except that there were complaints about Gosnell, repeatedly.