1. The fourth in a series of surreptitiously obtained videos depicting Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of fetal body parts for research has been released. The Center for Medical Progress is the anti-abortion group that has created these videos: it defines itself as a “citizen journalist” project. Since these videos have been made using deception and without the safeguards of established journalism ethics by untrained and non-objective journalists, Ethics Alarms has consistently held that they are the result of unethical conduct, regardless of the motives behind them or what they show.
I am, reluctantly, reversing that verdict. The reason is the now undeniable refusal of the mainstream media and professional journalists to do their duty regarding the abortion issue in general and Planned Parenthood in particular. Despite the significance of these videos, the attack on Planned Parenthood and the fact that abortion is the most contentious and least resolved moral-ethical issue of our time, the news media, broadcast and print, have intentionally and unconscionably avoided covering the Center for Medical Progress videos and the issues they raise. The average American who does not monitor the news over the internet probably isn’t aware of the videos at all, and certainly has no sense of their content.
Journalism ethics codes state that deception and surreptitious means are only justified as investigative methods of reporting when more open and transparent reporting cannot obtain the facts. When professional journalists shrink from their duty to obtain the facts and report the truth, citizen journalists must take over, because democracy requires truth and transparency. Journalists should have made these videos. Because reporters abdicated their duties, those who picked up the dropped banner of probing investigative journalism regarding vital national issues should not be condemned. They should be praised, and by everyone, including journalists. If a fire fighter refuses to enter a burning building to rescue a child, and a citizen knocks down a door to do the job, I don’t want to see that citizen charged for the cost of the door, or criticized for acting. The videos are a public service, and necessary perspective on our society’s war against the unborn.
2. The continuing refusal of the networks, and the major news organizations to report on the videos and the issues they raise is a major breach of professional ethics. It is yet another smoking gun in the case against mainstream media fairness and objectivity. Journalists have long treated abortion as a sacred cow among their deeply revered liberal beliefs, and the practice is bolstered, protected and celebrated, seldom criticized or challenged. Newsbusters calculated that the networks spent more time on Cecil the lion’s demise in one day that they gave to coverage of the videos over the past two weeks. There is no defending that. It is pure public opinion manipulation and biased reporting.
3. The effort by Republicans to de-fund Planned Parenthood is appropriate, which is not to say I would vote to de-fund it. A full airing of how the organization sees its role and is managed can only be healthy and useful. How many citizens know Planned Parenthood receives substantial federal funding? The issue isn’t, or shouldn’t be, whether Planned Parenthood does good things: obviously it does. The issue is whether this organization, with this leadership, can or should be trusted with millions of dollars of federal funds. The videos raise legitimate questions in that regard.. Those questions should be answered, and with more than protests, indignation, deflection and bluster—which is what we have heard so far.
4. The reaction by Democrats, on the other hand, has not been impressive; in fact, it has been craven and evasive. Hillary Clinton was asked by the New Hampshire Union Leader if she had seen the videos, and she said that she had “seen pictures from them and I obviously find them disturbing.” This sounds like a bluff to me, and if it isn’t a bluff, she will really find the audio—you know, all the stuff about crushing and crunching–“disturbing.” Clinton couldn’t be bothered, as an alleged feminist, to critically examine evidence that challenges her own assumptions and those of her supporters. That’s some qualification for a President, isn’t it?
In 1996, the New York Times wrote that “particulars of any abortion procedure is something no one who supports abortion rights really wants to talk about.” This means, in essence, “our minds are made up, and don’t challenge us with facts.”
Posts The Daily Beast: “Clinton’s campaign hasn’t responded to requests for clarification about her statement or questions about what, exactly, she found disturbing or why she hasn’t seen the full videos.” Yeah, maybe it will all blow over.
Martin O’Malley, meanwhile, told Fox, “I haven’t seen the videos. And I don’t generally make a habit of responding to right-wing videos.” Yes, he’s an utter hack. So if a video produced by a conservative organization showed footage of ISIS infiltrating the Defense Department, O’Malley wouldn’t be curious enough to watch it, correct? Is this really what American leaders have become? Narrow ideologues who refuse to even subject their brain to non-conforming data?
Bernie Sanders was no better. He referred to the videos as being part of a “smear campaign.” “Smear campaign is usually a pejorative spinning term to suggest that there is something dishonest or unfair about uncovering and publicizing uncomplimentary facts that the public has a right to know. Earlier, he said Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards was right to apologize for the “tone” of the videos. I discussed the “tone” apology earlier, which was a weasel apology. Richards said that the “tone” of the recorded comments of Deborah Nucatola failed to convey the organization’s compassion, but there is no compassion within the organization for the aborted, just for the women demanding the abortions. The “tone” that everyone (with a heart, a brain and a soul) finds horrifying in the videos is the cold callousness toward the tiny creatures whose livers are being harvested, not the mothers. Richards apologized for nothing, but did it in ambiguous and misleading terms. They worked for Bernie, presumably because he approves of the deceit.
5. Richards has now doubled down with an op-ed piece in the Washington Post that should be used as a case study in dishonest punditry and demagoguery. It really is remarkable: the controversy over the videos is, first and foremost, their display of a disgusting attitude completely discounting any humanity on the part of the butchered fetuses, and the lack of any qualms at all about their deaths. Her essay doesn’t refer to the aborted offspring once. It doesn’t use the term abortion in a way to suggest what is aborted, or that anything –or anyone—is. Typically, like her organization, she only sees and cares about one side of the equation, or perhaps wants to hide it. The other side, the helpless side, those tiny lives that abortion supporters like to pretend don’t exist, and that procedure “that no one who supports abortion rights really wants to talk about” are invisible. Her entire article is a massive straw man, defending an imaginary target, and pretending the real one doesn’t exist.
“These attacks are not about us. They are about the ability of women across the country to access health care. Period,” she writes. Despicable, and a lie. Nobody, literally nobody, wants to limit women’s access to health care. Many, however, want the nation to confront the abortion issue honestly, and decide on compassionate and ethical abortion policy while fairly assessing what abortion is, what it involves, what the costs are, how many human beings it kills, and whether all of them have to die.
While falsely framing the exposure of how her organization’s officials talk and think–that is, like butchers and ghouls—as an attack on anything but the culture and trustworthiness of her organization—the Planned Parenthood President desperately musters the same deflections, rationalizations and false logic I have exposed in previous essays.
“These extremists created a fake business, made apparently misleading corporate filings and then used false government identifications to gain access to Planned Parenthood’s medical and research staff with the agenda of secretly filming without consent,” she writes.
Attacking the messenger, nothing more. Gee, sorry you got found out, Cecile, but the issue is how your staff behaved, what they said, and how they think.
“… then heavily edited the footage to make false and absurd assertions about our standards and services. “
Yes, there is the “heavily edited” canard once again, though the raw footage is also available, and disproves none of what the shorter versions suggest. It’s a perfect excuse, however, for uncritical abortion allies like Clinton and O’Malley who want to discount the videos without viewing them.
National Review’s Ian Tuttle summarized one macabre moment the latest installment in the multipart series of investigative videos:
“At the 10:22 mark of the Center for Medical Progress’s latest video, released today, there is a picture of a hand. By the curve of the thumb and the articulation of the fingers, one can see that it is a right hand. It was formerly the right hand of an 11.6-week-old fetus; it is now part of the various organic odds and ends being sifted through on a plate in the pathology lab of a Planned Parenthood clinic.”
How can that heavy editing create a false human hand, Cecile?
“While predictably these videos do not show anything illegal on Planned Parenthood’s part, medical and scientific conversations can be upsetting to hear…”
The Compliance Dodge: yes, okay, maybe there’s nothing illegal. Abortion is legal. Lots of things were once legal that were really wrong. The videos show who abortion may be really wrong. Cecile’s brushing off the revulsion we feel–or should feel–when a Planned Parenthood official discusses the best way to crush the life out of unborn babies while preserving useful livers and other body parts, as no more than the same visceral reaction we would have to watching a hip replacement shows is exactly where the callousness toward human life comes from. Her, and the organization itself.
The rest of the op-ed is avoidance, misdirection and deflection:
“One in five women has relied on Planned Parenthood for health care in her lifetime.”
The issue is aborted children, Cecile, and the callousness of policies and abortionists that intentionally ignore the question of life.
Those women are the victims here.
No, actually it is the previous owner of those little hands and livers, Cecile
Planned Parenthood patients turn to us not just because they know we uphold the highest medical standards of care but also because we are part of their local community. More than half of Planned Parenthood’s health centers are in rural or medically underserved areas. And for many low-income women, Planned Parenthood health centers are their sole source of medical care.
All of which is completely irrelevant to the issue at hand. The problem is not the good things Planned Parenthood does, The issue is its cavalier attitude toward the lives of the unborn, and whether the nation, the public and the culture will continue to ignore it.
6. An honest, open, fair debate about abortion and how to develop the most humane and ethical policies for all concerned—child, mother, family, and society–is long overdue. These videos, if the news media will allow it, can be a catalyst for that. The fact that abortion advocates don’t want such a dialogue to take place speaks volumes about the soundness of the ethical foundation underlying current abortion law and policy.