After Twitter briefly prevented Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s (R-TN) Senate campaign from promoting an ad on the platform featuring an “inflammatory” and inaccurate claim about Planned Parenthood, Blackburn made the rounds on Fox News to push the ad’s anti-abortion talking point about “baby body parts,” which came from the discredited Center for Medical Progress (CMP). This isn’t anything new: Fox News has a long history of promoting anti-abortion lies from both Blackburn and CMP.
Twitter briefly prevented Blackburn’s campaign from promoting an ad that relied on anti-abortion lies from CMP
Blackburn claimed Twitter was censoring her ad including the phrase “baby body parts” after the platform wouldn’t let her campaign post it as paid, promoted content. On October 9, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) claimed that Twitter was censoring a video announcing her run for retiring Sen. Bob Corker’s (R-TN) seat. In the video, Blackburn alleged that she “fought Planned Parenthood, and we stopped the sale of baby body parts” in reference to her time as chair of the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives -- which was convened following the release of the Center for Medical Progress’ (CMP) deceptively edited videos about Planned Parenthood. Twitter initially refused to let Blackburn’s campaign pay for the video to appear as promoted content but backtracked the next day. [Media Matters, 10/12/17]
CMP’s claims have been consistently debunked, and the organization now faces multiple legal challenges
CMP’s videos have been consistently debunked as deceptively edited. CMP claims that its videos show covertly recorded conversations with Planned Parenthood personnel and employees of private, for-profit biomedical procurement companies discussing the sale of fetal tissue or “baby body parts.” An independent analysis commissioned by Planned Parenthood and conducted by forensic experts found that CMP’s videos “contain intentionally deceptive edits, missing footage and inaccurately transcribed conversations” to suggest Planned Parenthood engaged in the illicit sale of fetal tissue. Several media outlets have called out CMP for its deceptive footage. [Media Matters, 8/31/15]
Multiple federal and state investigations have cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing. The CMP videos prompted more than a dozen states to conduct investigations into whether Planned Parenthood illegally sold fetal tissue for profit. Investigations by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and 13 states -- Massachusetts, Indiana, South Dakota, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Florida, Missouri, Washington, Kansas, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, and South Carolina -- found no wrongdoing on the part of Planned Parenthood or any violation of federal law. [Media Matters, 8/2/17]
CMP head David Daleiden was fined and held in contempt for violation of a court order for releasing prohibited videos. On May 25, CMP circulated an unlisted YouTube video that contained footage of conversations that were previous barred by a federal injunction due to a court’s concerns about harassment and violence the individuals in the video could encounter. U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick fined CMP head David Daleiden and his attorneys for the breach of the injunction and found them in contempt of court. [Media Matters, 5/26/17; Rewire, 9/1/17]
Fox News extensively covered Blackburn’s censorship claims and hosted her several times to push anti-abortion lies
On Fox News Tonight, Blackburn repeated that she and the select panel “stopped this practice of selling baby body parts.” On October 9, Blackburn went on Fox News Tonight to promote the inaccurate information in her campaign ad. Blackburn argued that the select panel had taken on Planned Parenthood and “stopped this practice of selling baby body parts.” In response, host Brian Kilmeade brought up an ad that Twitter accepted from NARAL Pro-Choice America concerning the 20-week abortion ban recently passed by the House, stating, “That seems like it might be a sensitive topic” and calling the differing approaches a “double standard” by Twitter. Kilmeade concluded the segment by telling Blackburn, “Twitter rejected you, but we said yes.” From the October 9 edition of Fox News’ Fox News Tonight:
BRIAN KILMEADE (HOST): Congresswoman, as a lawmaker, very few people outwork you, whether it’s the convention you are putting together, or an agenda you are looking to push forward, with you in the minority or the majority. I’ve seen it up close. Now you're making the decision to jump in and become the next senator from Tennessee and replace Sen. Corker. And to do that you got to run ads. And you choose to run this ad on Twitter -- let's watch.
[BEGIN VIDEO CLIP]
MARSHA BLACKBURN: I’m Marsha Blackburn. I’m a hard-core, card-carrying Tennessee conservative. I’m politically incorrect and proud of it. I'm 100% pro-life. I fought Planned Parenthood, and we stopped the sale of baby body parts. Thank God.
[END VIDEO CLIP]
KILMEADE: Well, Twitter said that is too inflammatory; we will not run that ad. What’s your reaction?
BLACKBURN: It is astounding to me that Twitter, which is an important outlet, would choose not only to censor a political ad, but that they would censor a pro-life message. This is a pro-women, pro-baby, pro-life message. And, yes indeed, as chairman of the select investigative panel, the work that our committee delivered stopped this practice of selling baby body parts. It's something that people wanted to see shut down. And you know what is so amazing? Twitter can go out there and allow all of this showing, take a knee during the national anthem but they will not allow a pro-life, pro-woman, pro-baby message.
KILMEADE: And what was their explanation?
BLACKBURN: Their explanation was it was too inflammatory. And that it would evoke a negative response. But if I were to take that out, then -- omit the pro-life part -- then they would allow us to push forward that video.
KILMEADE: So, we just found this. This is advertised, Twitter accepted this from NARAL -- “The GOP's 20-week abortion deal will harm women and families and criminalize doctors for providing routine care.” That doesn’t -- that seems like it might be a sensitive topic that might -- that some people might deem as hate content. Maybe you. But they took that money -- double standard.
BLACKBURN: Yes, it is a double standard. And while they doubled down and issued a second statement today, not disallowing -- they disallowed my video. I said, “Look, I’m just doubling down on the fact that yes, I am pro-life and I stand by my message.”
KILMEADE: Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us today, staying up late.
BLACKBURN: Good to be with you, thank you.
KILMEADE: Twitter rejected you, but we said yes. So, at least you end on a happy note. [Fox News, Fox News Tonight, 10/9/17]
Fox News’ Martha MacCallum: “You fought hard, as you say, to ban the sale of baby body parts.” Even after Twitter reinstated her campaign ad, Blackburn appeared again on Fox News, this time on the October 10 edition of The Story With Martha MacCallum. MacCallum told Blackburn, “You fought hard, as you say, to ban the sale of baby body parts,” which MacCallum said was “a difficult phrase even to say.” MacCallum questioned Twitter’s policies, noting that she couldn’t “imagine that they would believe [the ad] was worth banning.” Blackburn said Twitter told her the ad could be run as paid content if she left the “inflammatory” language out, which she characterized as Twitter having “doubled down on censoring me.” From the October 10 edition of Fox News’ The Story With Martha MacCallum:
MARTHA MACCALLUM (HOST): What did [Twitter] say to you? Tell us what happened here.
BLACKBURN: You know, Martha, I think that what has happened, the American people rose up. They are sick and tired of the liberal elites and the liberal media telling them what they are going to listen to and what is going to be pushed forward and broadcast and what is not. And in this example it was Twitter. And they decided that to talk about pro-life, pro-woman, pro-baby was inflammatory and would evoke a negative response. And they said if I chose to leave that wording out, they would allow it to serve, so they doubled down on censoring me. So, I doubled down on standing for life and fought them back on this. And now they have reversed their decision after the American people have joined me in standing up to them, and they are going to allow the video to stand and us to push it forward.
MACCALLUM: I mean, when you see some of the stuff that floats around on Twitter, it's pretty shocking that this is what they consider to be overly sensitive for people's eyes as they are scanning through Twitter. You fought hard, as you say, to ban the sale of baby body parts. I mean, it’s just -- it's such a difficult phrase even to say, and I think you have fought very hard for it and perhaps that phrase tripped them up, but if they really thought about it, I can't imagine that they would believe that was worth banning.
BLACKBURN: Here's the thing. They won't go out and ban people who are in sex trafficking or human trafficking or help us fight -- to find ISIS, but they will come in and do this. They didn't take down any of the pro-abortion things when we were doing the pain-capable child bill. They don't take down things when people are promoting kneel during the national anthem. I stand for the national anthem, and I kneel at the cross. And this is something that most American people agree with and they are sick of outlets like Twitter saying, “We are going to decide what you hear and what you don’t.” [Fox News, The Story With Martha MacCallum, 10/10/17]
On Fox & Friends, Blackburn stated that “the American people” agreed with her “pro-life message” about the sale of “fetal body parts.” During the October 11 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, the hosts repeatedly referred to “baby body parts” in an interview with Blackburn. Co-host Steve Doocy opened the interview by asking Blackburn, “Twitter did not like the fact that you referred to the sale of baby body parts, did they?” Later, fellow co-host Ainsley Earhardt stated that “it’s a tough topic to think about baby body parts.” During the interview, Blackburn also said that Twitter’s reversal was “our first Senate conservative victory” and happened because the “American people just have risen up.” She continued that “the American people” agree with the “pro-life message” about “what was transpiring with the sale of these fetal tissues and fetal body parts.” From the October 11 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:
STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): Congresswoman, Twitter did not like the fact that you referred to the sale of baby body parts, did they?
BLACKBURN: They didn't like it at all, so they decided to censor it and say you can't promote it on our platform and block me from their ads platform. So they said that it was something that would be inflammatory, that it would cause a negative response. We went back to them, and they said if you take out that pro-life language, then you can put it back up. So they doubled down on censorship, and I said fine; I will double down on standing by my words and double down on pro-life.
KILMEADE: So I had a chance to talk to you a couple of nights ago. And what has happened since you brought this to light and let the world know how you stand and how you're being treated?
BLACKBURN: Brian, I have to tell you, the American people just have risen up, and I said this is our first Senate conservative victory. Because we stood firm and Twitter reconsidered, and they are going to allow us to put my campaign announcement back up to push it out on their platform, which is exactly what we're going to do. Social media and Twitter are important platforms. But the liberal left cannot continue to think they have the right to censor free speech. And especially with campaign messages with which they disagree. And this is not the first time they have censored a pro-life message. They blocked -- the mainstream media blacked out some of the coverage on the [Kermit] Gosnell trials back in 2013. And [Rep.] Steve Scalise [(R-LA)] and I sent a letter about that at that point in time. And this is just a continuation of the left trying to censor and trying to determine what people are going to see on their platforms.
AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): Well, clearly it's a tough topic to think about baby body parts. I know it's a tough topic. But you strongly believe it's something that we need to discuss. Why?
BLACKBURN: Ainsley, preserving the sanctity of life and making certain that we protect women, we protect babies, and that we carry forward with this pro-life message. It is vitally important. And it's something that the American people agree with. And they agree that we should protect life, and they were very much opposed to what was transpiring with the sale of these fetal tissues and fetal body parts.
KILMEADE: But you did win, and Twitter is running it, so that is a victory.
BLACKBURN: Yes. Yes, it is. It is a victory for conservatism, a victory for free speech. And we’re going to continue that fight every single day to make certain that we preserve our ability to have free speech in this country. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 10/11/17]
Blackburn returned to Fox News following comments from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg about the ad. In an interview with Axios’ Mike Allen on October 12, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg commented that while Twitter initially did not allow Blackburn’s campaign ad to be run as paid content, Facebook would have allowed the ad on its platform. On October 13, Blackburn returned to Fox News to praise Sandberg and repeat her “pro-life” message. America’s Newsroom co-host Sandra Smith described Blackburn’s ad as her saying she “would stop the sale of baby body parts.” Blackburn said, “The ad is accurate. It is a pro-life, pro-woman, pro-baby message. It is work the House of Representatives did. And I cited that work,” referring to her time as chair of the select panel. From the October 13 edition of America’s Newsroom:
SANDRA SMITH (CO-HOST): Congresswoman, we heard from you earlier this week with this battle with Twitter and their censorship of that -- of that ad you had put out. They determined that it could not be displayed on their social networking site. Well, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg is speaking up on the matter. I want to listen to that.
[BEGIN VIDEO CLIP]
SHERYL SANDBERG: And in that ad, there’s a lot of positions that people don’t like, that I don’t like. But the question is, should the -- should divisive political or issue ads run?
MIKE ALLEN (INTERVIEWER): It sounds like you’d be fine with it?
SANDBERG: Well, our answer is yes, because when you cut off speech for one person, you cut off speech for all people.
[END VIDEO CLIP]
SMITH: In that ad, congresswoman, you said that you would stop the sale of baby body parts. Twitter then said that that amounted to inflammatory language that is likely to evoke a strong negative reaction. They took it down. You went to them on multiple occasions. They finally put it back up. But hearing from Sheryl Sandberg, your thoughts?
BLACKBURN: I appreciate Sheryl’s thoughts on this, and she’s right. If you’re going to protect the First Amendment and have free speech, you cannot have a group censoring a political ad. And what they did was to basically say, we consider this to be inflammatory. The ad is accurate. It is a pro-life, pro-woman, pro-baby message. It is work that the House of Representatives did. And I cited that work. And I was not going to change my position. It was astounding that Twitter came back and said, you take out this pro-life language and we'll put this up. And I said no, because I am pro-life, and I stand with my words, and I stand with the work that we did. And I'm not going to change my mind.
SMITH: Well, the defense from Sheryl Sandberg there -- she’s in your corner, clearly.
Fox & Friends repeated the inaccurate “baby body parts” claim in another segment about Blackburn’s ad. On October 10, Fox & Friends hosted Laura Ingraham-- who is set to get her own Fox News show at the end of October -- to discuss Blackburn’s ad. Earhardt repeated Blackburn’s inaccurate claim, saying, “Remember when Planned Parenthood was selling baby parts,” to which Ingraham responded, “Oh, yeah. They were exposed for doing that.” Ingraham concluded that she was not surprised Twitter took the ad down because “the left really never wanted to talk about what abortion is." (Earhardt also mistakenly said that Blackburn is running for re-election; instead she is seeking to move from the House to the Senate.) From the October 10 edition of Fox & Friends:
EARHARDT: I want to ask you about Marsha Blackburn -- she's running for Senate re-election in the Nashville area, and she put together a video, a campaign video, talking about, remember when Planned Parenthood was selling baby parts. And they --
LAURA INGRAHAM: Oh, yeah -- exposed for doing that.
EARHARDT: Yes, they were exposed for doing that. She talked about it, and then Twitter decided it was going to be too offensive to put --
KILMEADE: She put an ad together, yeah.
DOOCY: Too inflammatory, Twitter says, and they took it down.
INGRAHAM: Well, they don’t -- the left really never wanted to talk about what abortion is. It's very uncomfortable. It sure is. And the procedure of partial birth abortion, what it is, what happens to innocent life. So it's nice to hear all these Democrats talk about we need to be nicer to each other and more compassionate, and this is all about respecting life. But when you really talk about what it is, they want to just say, oh, no, it's woman's reproductive health; it’s pro-choice. No, there's a human life involved. And good for Marsha Blackburn. Good for Marsha Blackburn. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 10/10/17]
During her radio show, Ingraham repeated her anti-abortion misinformation in an interview with Blackburn. Ahead of her debut as the host of a Fox News show, Ingraham used anti-abortion talking points during her radio program, The Laura Ingraham Show, in an interview with Blackburn. During the October 11 interview, Ingraham characterized Blackburn’s campaign ad as describing “Planned Parenthood’s disgusting -- trying to sell baby body parts” and again repeated that the “the left” does not want to “confront their own facilitation of this … heinous crime of abortion.” From the October 11 edition of Courtside Entertainment Group’s The Laura Ingraham Show:
INGRAHAM: [Blackburn] found herself in the middle of the left's censorious push to clamp down against conservative speech the other day when Twitter decided to remove her post where she referred to Planned Parenthood’s disgusting -- trying to sell baby body parts. Now Twitter has reversed its decision to do that, which is a huge victory for her and already she’s racking up the victories. Congresswoman Blackburn, how are you? Good to talk to you.
BLACKBURN: It is so good to talk to you, Laura. And yes, I said standing down Twitter was my first Senate conservative victory. So, there you go.
INGRAHAM: Well, congresswoman, I love how the left refuses to -- to acknowledge the reality of the devastation that abortion has perpetrated on humanity. They don't -- they don’t want to because to force them to confront what a partial-birth abortion is is to confront the barbarity of the procedure, is to confront their own facilitation of this -- of this heinous crime of abortion. And so -- so, they want to demonize the people who actually tell the truth about it. So, you -- you, they hoped, was -- were going to be this -- one of these individuals who were cowed in the corner and going, “OK, I won’t do it again, Twitter. Please leave me alone.” And instead, what did you do? Instead you said, “No way. I’m going to keep speaking the truth.”
BLACKBURN: Well, that’s right. I doubled down on being pro-life. They doubled down on the censorship, and I doubled down on being pro-life. I said, fine. I will not alter my statement. They wanted me to take out the line about I was 100 percent pro-life, and I had chaired the select panel, and we ended the sale of baby body parts. All of which is true. It was congressional work, a congressional investigative committee. I did 15 criminal referrals against these abortion clinics and these entities that were selling fetal body parts, and we put a stop to this.
And you know the thing, Laura, and you remember this. You remember in 2013 during the Gosnell trials, when the mainstream media blocked those -- the coverage of the [Kermit] Gosnell trials and the Planned Parenthood lobbying in Florida on the infanticide issue. And [Rep.] Steve Scalise [(R-LA)] and I wrote a letter, at that point, to bring that to light and to push for coverage on what was happening with Gosnell, because you had babies and women that had lost their life, and that is murder. And what we did was to call them out, so this is a continuation of the liberal elite thinking they can compromise pro-life speech. They can compromise -- they can stand us down. And I just said, “I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to change.” [Courtside Entertainment Group, The Laura Ingraham Show, 10/11/17]
Fox News guest: There are “entire tapes” of Planned Parenthood talking about selling “baby body parts.” On the October 11 edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom, Democratic strategist Michael Starr Hopkins and TheBlaze’s Lawrence Jones discussed Twitter’s initial refusal to allow the promotion of Blackburn’s ad. When Hopkins mentioned that Blackburn’s claim about “selling baby parts” was “a pretty disgusting comment,” Jones stated, “Well, it’s true.” Hopkins countered that there had “never been any actual proof that Planned Parenthood has sold baby body parts,” but Jones said that there were “entire tapes” of it, in reference to CMP’s videos. From the October 11 edition of America’s Newsroom:
MICHAEL STARR HOPKINS: I think [Twitter] made a mistake by blocking it in the first place, and I think they corrected it. I will say, I think the Marsha Blackburn comment about selling baby parts is a pretty disgusting comment, but she has the right to say it --
LAWRENCE JONES: Well, it's true.
HOPKINS: -- in a campaign ad. There has never been any actual proof that Planned Parenthood has sold baby body parts. And, in fact --
JONES: They was an entire tapes of them doing it.
HOPKINS: And that tape was actually proven to be false.
JONES: And there was bragging while they were eating salads, talking about getting Lamborghinis and all that. There was an entire unedited video released that shows that. [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 10/11/17]
Fox News has a history of promoting anti-abortion lies from the Center of Medical Progress
Blackburn’s select panel provided “advance copies” of documents from Planned Parenthood investigation to Fox News. Following the initial release of deceptively edited CMP videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood selling fetal body parts, the House formed a committee in 2015 called the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives (chaired by Blackburn) that sought to verify CMP’s claims. During the investigation, Fox News received advance copies of letters detailing the select panel’s allegations against abortion providers -- a day before the letters were publicly released -- and aired an “exclusive” interview with Blackburn about the contents. Subsequently, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) wrote in a letter that she was “deeply concerned” that the letters had been released to Fox News before the Democratic members of the panel or even the Department of Health and Human Services were allowed to see them. [Media Matters, 6/6/16]
Fox News aired an hour-long special in support of CMP’s videos. In September 2015, Fox News aired a one-hour special that offered an uncritical and supportive promotion of CMP’s claims. Before its airing, Troy Newman -- head of the extreme anti-abortion group Operation Rescue and a CMP board member -- said, “I expect the documentary will be very much on our side” and, “This information really made [Fox News anchor] Shannon Bream emotional.” [Media Matters. 9/1/15]
Fox News consistently reported more inaccurate information about CMP’s videos than any other outlet. In analyzing prime-time cable news coverage of abortion in 2016, Media Matters found that Fox News overwhelming aired more segments promoting CMP’s inaccurate claims that Planned Parenthood was selling “baby body parts” than any other outlet. In 2016, Media Matters found that Fox News ran almost all of the total cable segments about CMP and that 80 percent of Fox News’s statements about CMP, abortion funding rules, Planned Parenthood’s essential services, and later abortion were inaccurate. In 2015, Fox News hosted CMP founder David Daleiden at least seven times and was the only network to host him in 2016 -- once on Hannity. Daleiden also was a guest on Tucker Carlson Tonight on June 9, 2017. [Media Matters, 6/1/16; 6/2/16; 4/18/17; 6/9/17]