On July 14, 2015, the anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) released the first of 14 deceptively edited videos smearing Planned Parenthood.
To mark the one-year anniversary of its deceptive campaign, the anti-choice group released a “video overview of the past year” that purported to show “senior-level Planned Parenthood leadership negotiating the sale and haggling over the price of aborted baby body parts.”
Despite the fraudulent nature of CMP’s claims, right-wing media seized on the opportunity to attack Planned Parenthood. CMP’s smear campaign served as the catalyst for a year of media-driven misinformation about Planned Parenthood, including efforts to defund the organization and ongoing congressional witch hunts against abortion providers and medical researchers.
By the numbers, here’s what a year of anti-choice deception looks like:
10: Fox News Devoted 10 Separate Segments To CMP In One Day Of Coverage
After CMP published its first video in July 2015, right-wing media were among the first to consistently give a platform to the anti-choice group’s misinformation.
Following the release of CMP’s second video on July 21, 2015, Fox News dedicated 10 segments across seven separate programs to hyping the deceptively edited footage in a single one day. According to a Media Matters count of Fox News programming on July 21, 2015, America’s Newsroom aired three segments on CMP’s smear videos, while both Special Report and The O’Reilly Factor discussed the allegations across two separate segments on each program. The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson, On The Record with Greta Van Susteren, and The Kelly File each devoted one segment to CMP.
Another recent Media Matters study found that during a 14-month period from January 1, 2015, through March 6, 2016, Fox News’ evening news programs relied on extreme anti-choice figures and misinformation to help promote CMP’s smear campaign. For example, Fox host Bill O’Reilly called for an FBI investigation into Planned Parenthood while network correspondent Peter Doocy claimed that he “searched the Planned Parenthood website for fetal baby part prices” but didn’t get any results because the practice is a “well-kept secret.”
9: Reported Harassment Of Abortion Providers Increased Ninefold Following CMP’s Baseless Attacks
According to the National Abortion Federation, in 2015 there was a “dramatic increase in hate speech and internet harassment, death threats, attempted murder, and murder” of abortion providers -- likely inspired by CMP’s incendiary allegations and rhetoric. NAF president and CEO Vicki Saporta noted that the ninefold increase in harassment and threats of abortion providers since the release of CMP videos was “unprecedented.”
In September 2015, the FBI released an intelligence assessment that warned of an uptick in violence against abortion providers and clinics. This prediction was tragically borne out in November 2015 when suspected shooter Robert Dear killed three people and injured several more at a Colorado Planned Parenthood health care center.
Planned Parenthood has not been the only target of this violence and harassment. In December 2015, Scott Anthony Orton was arrested for making death threats against employees of StemExpress, the biomedical company targeted in several of the discredited CMP videos. As reported by The News Tribune, Orton posted more than 18 different threatening messages that led to his arrest. In April 2016, Orton pleaded guilty to threatening StemExpress employees.
8: CMP Has Targeted Eight Planned Parenthood Providers By Name In Smear Videos
Since July 2015, Media Matters has extensively documented the deceptive edits and misleading information in CMP’s videos. Throughout the 14 videos, CMP has targeted eight Planned Parenthood providers by name. In a July 14 post announcing the release of its one-year anniversary video, CMP reiterated the names of these providers and provided links to each of their deceptive videos. By recording abortion providers without their consent and identifying them by name, CMP not only exposed the targeted providers to increased threats of violence, but also raised the spectre of anti-choice violence against all reproductive health care providers.
For example, after Dear allegedly carried out his deadly attack on a Colorado Planned Parenthood, MedStar Washington Hospital Center barred abortion provider Dr. Diane J. Horvath-Cosper from publicly speaking about the need for great abortion access. The hospital’s medical director issued the gag order after the Planned Parenthood attack “out of concerns for security,” saying he didn’t want to draw attention to MedStar’s abortion and reproductive health care services.
Nina Liss-Schultz reported for Mother Jones that the November Planned Parenthood attack “highlighted a fact of life that abortion providers and clinic staff have known for decades: Sophisticated and extensive security are necessary to protect both providers and patients.”
7: Congressional Select Panel Included Seven Documents Sourced From CMP In One Letter
The congressional Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives was formed in October 2015, several months after CMP began releasing deceptively edited videos in an attempt to smear Planned Parenthood.
Since the select panel’s inception, the media have criticized its actions as a politically motivated “witch hunt” and a “Benghazi treatment” of Planned Parenthood. In its 10 months of operation, the select panel has found no substantiated evidence of wrongdoing, prompting numerous lawmakers to call for its disbandment. Although select panel Chairman Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) has insisted Republicans are on a “fact finding mission,” Media Matters has sourced numerous documents used by the select panel as “evidence” to CMP’s website and deceptive videos.
6: Six Democrats On The Select Panel Have Called For An End To The “Witch Hunt”
The Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives is comprised of eight Republican and six Democrat members. The Democrats on the select panel include: Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA), Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), and ranking member Rep. Janice Schakowsky (D-IL).
Since the panel’s inception, the Democrat members have consistently voiced their concerns about the methods and motivations of the Republican members. Commenting on the Republican member’s interim report, Schakowsky pointedly criticized the panel’s work, stating, “Never before have I witnessed such a disconnect between allegations and the facts.” Schakowsky previously called out the select panel as a “dangerous witch hunt” against abortion providers.
5: Five Supreme Court Justices Ruled Against Restrictive Anti-Choice Legislation Cheered By CMP And Others
On June 27, the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 that Texas’ extreme anti-choice law HB 2 was unconstitutional because it imposed an “undue burden on abortion access.” Supporters of HB 2 argued that the law’s requirements were medically necessary to protect the health and safety of women during abortions. In reality, these restrictions were based on anti-choice myths about abortion, offered no medical benefits to patients, and substantially burdened women’s ability to access safe and legal abortion.
In reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision, CMP’s founder David Daleiden issued a press release calling it a “nearly incoherent abortion ruling” that was “little more than a naked power grab that calls into question the Court’s continued adherence to the rule of law.” Daleiden maintained that CMP’s work would have convinced the Supreme Court otherwise if it were not under “a gag-order from the federal court in San Francisco.”
4: Four Of CMP’s Videos Make Up Its So-Called “Documentary Web Series”
Out of CMP’s 15 videos -- including the anniversary recap video -- four are labeled a “documentary web series” called the Human Capital Project. CMP described the four videos as a documentary-style expose that “integrates expert interviews, eyewitness accounts, and real-life undercover interactions to tell the story of Planned Parenthood’s commercial exploitation of aborted fetal tissue.”
Throughout the four Human Capital Project videos, CMP relied heavily on the testimony of former StemExpress employee Holly O’Donnell to falsely allege that Planned Parenthood participated in the illegal sale of donated fetal tissue and to make other unproven allegations of improper conduct.
In reality, the claims in the so-called “documentary” videos have been thoroughly debunked. Citing previously unseen footage, the Los Angeles Times released an investigative report in March that confirms “O’Donnell’s apparently spontaneous reflections were carefully rehearsed” and that off-camera, Daleiden can be heard “coaching O’Donnell through repeated takes.”
3: Three Lawsuits Have Been Filed Against Daleiden And CMP
Since CMP began its smear campaign against Planned Parenthood last July, there have been three lawsuits filed against the anti-choice group, its founder David Daleiden, and his various associates.
In a comprehensive look at the impact of CMP’s campaign of deception, Rewire’s Jessica Mason Pieklo and Imani Gandy summarized the charges and timeline of each of the lawsuits filed against Daleiden and his co-conspirators. According to Peklo and Gandy, Daleiden and CMP face suits from StemExpress -- the biomedical tissue procurement company that previously partnered with Planned Parenthood and has been depicted in some of CMP’s videos -- the National Abortion Federation, and Planned Parenthood.
2: Daleiden Was Indicted On Two Charges By A Grand Jury In Houston, Texas
In addition to the lawsuits they face, Daleiden and one of his associates were indicted by a grand jury in Houston, Texas. In January 2015, a Harris County, Texas, grand jury indicted Daleiden on a felony charge of “Tampering with a Governmental Record” and a misdemeanor charge of “illegally offer[ing] to purchase human organs.” Although the misdemeanor charge was dismissed on a technicality in June, Daleiden still faces the felony charge for using a “fake driver's license during his efforts to investigate Planned Parenthood.”
CEO of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast Melaney A. Linton told Mother Jones that as the indictment process has progressed, “It's become totally clear that the only people who engaged in wrongdoing are the criminals behind this fraud, and we will allow the court to hold them accountable.”
1: One Year Later, Still No Evidence That Anyone Except CMP Broke The Law
One year later, CMP’s deceptively edited videos have been repeatedly discredited while multiple state investigations have cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing. During this time CMP has earned the title of Media Matters’ 2015 Misinformer of the Year, been indicted for fraud by a grand jury in Houston, TX, been subject to lawsuits, and had its work soundly rejected by multiple judges and journalists alike.
After a year CMP still has little to show in the way of evidence to substantiate their claims, while Planned Parenthood has emerged even stronger. In a statement to the Huffington Post, Planned Parenthood executive vice president Dawn Laguens explained that, despite the difficulties of the past year, the reproductive health organization remained confident about the future. She said, “We’re stronger today than we were a year ago … The extreme anti-abortion activists behind the videos are on a mission to ban abortion in this county -- they failed.”