Leaked Emails Reveal NPR Refused To Allow Ad That Called Kermit Gosnell an 'Abortionist'


Producer John Sullivan contacted National Public Radio recently about purchasing a sponsorship on on the program “Fresh Air” as a way to promote his upcoming film.

Set to premiere in theaters next month, the film — “Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer” — explores the case of abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell.

Following a trial that included graphic depictions of botched abortions and the murder of multiple babies born alive, Gosnell was sentenced to life behind bars in 2013.

As The Daily Beast reported, NPR informed Sullivan in an email that in describing his film, he could not refer to the film’s central figure as an “abortionist.”

The term was in the initial script Sullivan presented last month.

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“Support for this NPR program comes from the film ‘Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer,'” the proposed copy read. “The film is the true story of abortionist Kermit Gosnell. A story the mainstream media tried to cover up because it reveals the truth about abortion.”

NPR sent that draft back for a rewrite, telling Sullivan that, among other things, that the “word ‘abortionist’ will also need to be changed to the neutral word ‘doctor.'”

Sullivan attempted to use “abortion doctor” to describe Gosnell in a revised draft and received a similar rejection email.

The only acceptable term for broadcast, NPR said, was “Philadelphia doctor Kermit Gosnell.”

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In explaining its decision, the public broadcaster said that sponsorship credits “are required to be value neutral to comply with FCC requirements and to avoid suggesting bias in NPR’s journalism.”

Despite that position, The Daily Beast cited multiple examples of NPR’s own reporters using the term “abortion doctor” to accurately describe a profession.

One of the film’s producers noted that the distinction is especially important in informing audiences about its subject.

“Our movie isn’t about a podiatrist or a cardiologist or a proctologist,” Phelim McAleer said. “It’s specifically about a doctor who performs abortions.”

NPR sent an email with approved language for the sponsorship script.

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“Hat Tip Distribution, with the film ‘Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer,’ based on the true story of Philadelphia doctor Kermit Gosnell. Out Friday.”

The film is set to hit theaters on Oct. 12. Considering the trouble producers have had in promoting the film, McAleer said that lawmakers might be interested in taking a closer look at NPR.

“If they’re so well-funded that they’re turning away advertisers like us, maybe they don’t need government subsidies any more.”

Another of the film’s producer, Ann McElhinney, said that NPR’s public funding means that its leaders “have a duty to push aside their own prejudices and opinions and apply fair and consistent standards and allow paid advertising even if the ads are promoting something they would rather remain hidden from their listeners.”

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Chris Agee is an American journalist with more than 15 years of experience in a wide range of newsrooms.
Chris Agee is an American journalist with more than 15 years of experience in a variety of newsroom settings. After covering crime and other beats for newspapers and radio stations across the U.S., he served as managing editor at Western Journalism until 2017. He has also been a regular guest and guest host on several syndicated radio programs. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona, with his wife and son.
Texas Press Association, Best News Writing - 2012
Bachelor of Arts, Journalism - Averett University
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