The Fox Effect And Planned Parenthood

On February 1, 2011, anti-abortion rights propagandist Lila Rose and her activist group, Live Action, released a heavily edited video that purported to expose “Planned Parenthood's cover-up of child sex trafficking.”

But Rose's video didn't back up the damning allegation -- Planned Parenthood had actually reported the “potential sex trafficking” to law-enforcement officials a week before the release of the first video. The video -- as well as others subsequently released by Live Action -- was quickly discredited.

But the fact that Rose's video was exposed as a fraud didn't stop Fox News from relentlessly hyping her work and giving her repeated opportunities to appear on air to push her false “sex trafficking” claim. A dishonest smear that would have gone largely unnoticed was instead amplified by Fox's megaphone, leading to real consequences for Planned Parenthood and the hundreds of thousands of women who rely on the organization's services.

In their new book, The Fox Effect, Media Matters' David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt explain how Fox News has launched and promoted a seemingly endless series of attacks against progressive leaders and groups based on “distortions, smears, and heavily edited video, often used out of context.” The book identifies how Fox seized on dishonest, heavily edited videos of the now-defunct community activism group ACORN to illustrate how the network attempts to stir up controversy based on the false attacks of right-wing activists.

In similar fashion, Fox would devote relentless coverage of the deeply dishonest videos released by Live Action in its campaign against Planned Parenthood, nearly leading to disastrous effects for the group.


Fox immediately seized on Rose's video hoax the day it was launched, with Bill O'Reilly and John Stossel discussing it on that evening's episode of The O'Reilly Factor. After that, Fox pushed a near-daily stream of coverage of the videos, advancing the falsehood that Planned Parenthood was “covering up underage sex trafficking.” Rose herself repeatedly appeared on Fox to push her false claims both in the immediate aftermath of the video's release and in the months that followed.

Fox's coverage was relentless, unabashedly hostile to Planned Parenthood, and deeply misleading. For example, the February 2, 2011, edition of Special Report promoted the video but failed to note that Planned Parenthood reported “sex trafficking” to the FBI. Laura Ingraham, guest-hosting the February 4 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, said that “the Lila Rose folks ... should get a Pulitzer” for their videos.

On the February 8, 2011, edition of The O'Reilly Factor, producer Jesse Watters ambushed a Planned Parenthood official and advanced the smear that the organization was “covering up underage sex trafficking.”

Fox continued to push the smear for weeks following the release of Live Action's initial video. Then-Fox News host Glenn Beck devoted his entire February 18, 2011, program to Rose's videos while never noting that Planned Parenthood had contacted the authorities and hosting Rose to distort the statements of a Planned Parenthood vice president. Later that night, O'Reilly interviewed a former Planned Parenthood employee to attack the organization. In March, Beck hosted Rose to complain that Attorney General Eric Holder wasn't investigating Planned Parenthood over the videos.


Fox's promotion of the smear campaign against Planned Parenthood came amid a renewed push by House Republicans to cut off federal funding of the organization. In fact, Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), who introduced an amendment to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funds, seized on the Fox-hyped Live Action videos in an effort to promote his campaign against Planned Parenthood. On February 8, Pence thanked O'Reilly for his coverage of the Live Action videos.

Senate Democrats eventually blocked Pence's effort, but House Republicans continued to attack Planned Parenthood. In September 2011, Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) opened an investigation into the group, “requesting reams of financial information and details on how the women's health organization keeps federal funds separate from abortion services.”

In January 2012, the nation's leading breast-cancer charity, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, cited Stearns' investigation as the reason it ended its funding of Planned Parenthood -- a move Komen later reversed. Komen's decision could have affected access to breast cancer screenings and other cancer-related services for thousands of women, as Komen funds have allowed Planned Parenthood to provide 170,000 breast exams and 6,400 mammogram referrals in the past five years.

Fox News figures cheered Komen's initial decision and even used the opportunity to attack Planned Parenthood's efforts to fight cancer. For example, O'Reilly claimed on February 9 that Planned Parenthood “doesn't really do much” in the area of cancer prevention. Fox's Sandy Rios called Komen's initial decision “fabulous,” stating that Planned Parenthood does “nothing to prevent breast cancer. They don't even do mammograms. ... They're taking money from Susan G. Komen under false pretenses.”


As Brock and Rabin-Havt write in The Fox Effect:

While it is completely appropriate for a news organization to investigate malfeasance by political appointees and major groups, instead of seeking to get to the bottom of these stories, Fox based its work on distortions, smears, and heavily edited video, often used out of context. These “news” stories had little to no journalistic value and were simply aired to harm progressives. Too often, these efforts were successful.

Indeed, Fox based its attacks on Planned Parenthood in early 2011 on “distortions, smears, and heavily edited video.” The “sex trafficking” claims made by Live Action in its videos were quickly discredited. The network's relentless attacks on Planned Parenthood -- combined with a furious assault on the organization by congressional Republicans -- nearly cost Planned Parenthood millions of dollars in funding and grants.

Not only was Planned Parenthood nearly a victim of Fox's coverage, but so, too, were the thousands of women who could have lost access to vital health care procedures provided by Planned Parenthood, had the smear campaign against the organization been successful.


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