On March 30, the Los Angeles Times published an investigative report calling out the fraudulent work by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) -- Media Matters' 2015 Misinformer of the Year -- as a smear campaign “geared more toward political provocation than journalism.” Despite right-wing media's claim that CMP's work should be considered journalism, the Times' review of “unpublicized [smear video] footage and court records” reaffirms statements and findings by journalists, a judge, and a jury that CMP's dishonest attacks on Planned Parenthood “can be called many things, but 'journalism' probably isn't one of them.”
Right-wing media have long been carrying water for CMP's appeals to First Amendment protections. When CMP founder David Daleiden was indicted by a Houston, Texas, grand jury -- an investigation that also cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing -- right-wing media figures immediately objected, calling the indictment a “political hit job,” “madness,” and echoing CMP's claim that Daleiden was merely using “the same undercover techniques that investigative journalists have used for decades in exercising our First Amendment rights.”
But new investigative work from the Los Angeles Times confirms federal Judge William H. Orrick's prior ruling that CMP's efforts “have not been pieces of journalistic integrity, but misleadingly edited videos and unfounded assertions ... of criminal misconduct.”
According to the Times, previously unseen footage from CMP's deceptively edited videos -- filed in a civil court case -- reveals that Daleiden and his associates coerced and falsified evidence in their ideologically motivated campaign against Planned Parenthood. The Times pointed to two examples from the unreleased footage: a clip of Daleiden coaching CMP's star witness -- a former for-profit tissue research lab technician named Holly O'Donnell -- through the “testimony” she gave in three of the videos CMP released, and a second clip demonstrating CMP's efforts to “loosen the tongues of abortion providers with alcohol” so they could coerce and “plant phrases” directly into otherwise benign conversations.
Holly O'Donnell is featured in three of the deceptively edited videos CMP has released. In these videos, CMP uses O'Donnell's testimony to wrongly argue that Planned Parenthood supports a “black market in baby parts” and uses its “illicit pricing structure” to profit from fetal tissue donations. Although O'Donnell's testimony has already been discredited for being highly edited and taken out of context, the Times' new footage further undermines the authenticity of her account. According to the paper, the unreleased footage shows that “O'Donnell's apparently spontaneous reflections were carefully rehearsed” and that off-camera, Daleiden can be heard “coaching O'Donnell through repeated takes ... add details, speak 'fluidly' and be 'very natural'” :
Unreleased footage shows that over the source of successive takes, Daleiden asked O'Donnell to repeat anecdotes or add details such as the gender of an aborted fetus and whether she “said goodbye” to a dissected fetal cadaver before placing it in a bio-hazard container.
“So you want to make it really dramatic?” she asked.
At one point, she laughed and said to Daleiden: “You're all like, 'Say it like this! Let me possess your body and I'll say it for you.'”
Daleiden protested that he was not coaching her, but as he asked O'Donnell to recount her experiences, her telling grew more dramatic and emotional.
In an early take, she says into the camera: “I got into the medical field because I wanted to help people, not steal fetal tissues.”
On the third try, she says: “I got into the medical field to help people, not to steal dead baby parts and sell them.”
The Times also pointed to CMP's targeting of particular providers who Daleiden and his associates “thought might be susceptible to alcohol.” Citing court documents, the Times explained that in unreleased footage Daleiden can be seen instructing an associate -- believed to be a woman named Sandra Merritt -- to corner a specific provider “now that she's been drinking.” In another section, Daleiden suggests that they talk to a provider who had “consumed 'a little wine'” and said that he believed she was “the one for our purposes.” In another piece of unreleased footage, Daleiden and Merritt can be heard gloating, laughing about having perfected their act and saying they are “so good” that they could “go knock on the door of the Sacramento Planned Parenthood tomorrow morning” and be welcomed in.
After comparing this unreleased raw footage to the deceptively edited CPM videos, the Los Angeles Times concluded “that Daleiden edited out material that conflicted with his premise that Planned Parenthood-affiliated clinics profit from the sale of fetal tissue for research purposes.”
There are real consequences to allowing CMP to masquerade as a journalistic entity with any credibility. Since the organization first started releasing deceptively edited videos in its effort to smear Planned Parenthood, right-wing media and anti-choice legislators have repeated CMP's misinformation about Planned Parenthood in an ongoing attempt to attack and defund the organization.
There are many places in the country where, whether because of the geographic isolation of rural communities or a patient's lack of income, Planned Parenthood is the only accessible health care provider for women. In states like Texas and Indiana, where Planned Parenthood has been forced to close clinics or refuse services due to state-level defunding efforts, low-income and rural communities have already experienced a loss of access to vital cancer screenings, HIV outbreaks, and increased rates of pregnancy and self-induced abortion. In Indiana's case, the Planned Parenthood clinic did not even perform abortions -- and the organization was the only provider to offer HIV testing to both men and women in the part of the state that was the center of the outbreak.
Following CMP's lead, Republicans in Congress have been giving Planned Parenthood the "Benghazi treatment" -- establishing the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives to investigate the baseless claim that Planned Parenthood profits from fetal tissue donations. Despite the increasing number of state investigations that have cleared Planned Parenthood, the select panel has already conducted one hearing -- relying on deceptive “evidence” taken straight from CMP's website.
Even more concerning, the select panel has issued wide-ranging subpoenas targeting not only abortion providers but also “researchers, graduate students, laboratory technicians, and administrative staff who are in any way involved in fetal tissue research.” Democrats and reproductive rights advocates are warning that by collecting these names “Congress could be putting lives in danger.”
There is a long history of anti-choice violence against abortion providers, and since CMP's deceptively edited videos came out, there has been a marked uptick in threats, violence, and hateful rhetoric. As just one example, in November 2015 there was a deadly shooting at a Colorado Planned Parenthood; after his arrest, the accused shooter in this attack, Robert Lewis Dear, used the phrase “no more baby parts” to explain his actions before later calling himself a “warrior for the babies.”
In a press statement released after the latest round of subpoenas, NARAL called the select panel a “dangerous” and “partisan, taxpayer-funded witch hunt.” The organization concluded that “no one should have to fear when seeking health care or conducting vital research, but that's the position the GOP members of this committee have put these individuals in.”