A Media Matters review found that cable news shows and leading newspapers around the country remained largely silent on arson attacks that targeted Planned Parenthood clinics following the release of a series of deceptively-edited, anti-choice videos smearing the health care provider. Prime-time cable news shows and the nation's three highest-circulation newspapers dedicated minimal coverage to the arson attacks. The LA Times and Spokane's Spokesman Review provided the most coverage of the attacks.
Four Planned Parenthood Clinics Targeted By Arsonists Following Release Of Deceptively-Edited Anti-Choice Videos
Four “Terroristic” Arson Attacks Over 74 Days At Planned Parenthood Clinics. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reported October 2 that four separate Planned Parenthood clinics across the country have been the targets of “terroristic” arson attacks since the “release of controversial videos in July by a group linked to anti-abortion extremists” :
Arson is behind a fire this week at a Planned Parenthood clinic in California - the fourth terroristic attack of its kind since the release of controversial videos in July by a group linked to anti-abortion extremists.
The firebombing of the clinic in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Wednesday came 28 days after an almost identical arson at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Pullman, Wash., home of Washington State University.
In both cases, authorities say, rocks were used to smash out windows before a petroleum-based accelerant was thrown inside before ignition. Arson attacks also occurred on July 19 at a clinic in Aurora, Ill., and on Aug. 1 involving a vehicle parked at a clinic under construction in New Orleans.
The latest attack came the same week that Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, told a congressional hearing that the organization did not break the law.
“Planned Parenthood has been in the news recently because of deceptively edited videos released by a group that is dedicated to making abortion illegal in this country,” Richards told a House panel. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 10/2/15]
Attacks Followed Release Of Series Of Videos Smearing Planned Parenthood From Anti-Choice Center For Medical Progress. Since July 14, a previously unknown anti-choice group called the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) has released 10 videos containing undercover footage of discussions with Planned Parenthood personnel and staff members of private, for-profit biomedical procurement companies. The videos purport to show, and the accompanying press releases allege, that Planned Parenthood is illegally selling fetal tissue and altering abortion procedures in order to profit from the sale of fetal tissue. Scores of media outlets have reported that the combined footage shows no illegal behavior by, or on behalf of, Planned Parenthood, and that the words of Planned Parenthood personnel who were secretly filmed have been “grossly [taken] out of context.” [Media Matters, 8/31/15]
CMP's Founder, David Daleiden, Has A Long History With Discredited Conservative Groups. CMP's founder, David Daleiden, has a long history with discredited conservative groups. Daleiden was the director of research for the discredited anti-abortion group Live Action, which has also been criticized for deceptively editing undercover footage of abortion clinics in an attempt to smear Planned Parenthood. Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, serves on CMP's board of directors. Newman once called the murder of an abortion clinic doctor a “justifiable defensive action.” In a 2003 press release, Newman defended Paul Jennings Hill, who was executed by lethal injection for murdering abortion doctor John Britton in Pensacola, FL. Newman argued that Hill should have been able to defend himself by classifying the murder as justifiable. Daleiden has said he drew inspiration for his undercover videos from the anti-choice Life Dynamics, whose claims about fetal tissue sales were debunked by Congress. [Media Matters, 7/15/15, 9/24/15]
Anti-Defamation League: Anti-Abortion Violence Is A Form Of “Domestic Terrorism.” The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has explained that the patients and doctors of health facilities that offer abortion services are at risk across the country. As explained by the ADL following a 2012 attack on a Wisconsin Planned Parenthood clinic:
The recent arrest in Green Bay, Wisconsin, of Francis Grady, 50, for allegedly setting off an incendiary device at a Planned Parenthood clinic serves to remind Americans of another form of domestic extremism: anti-abortion violence. Like environmental and animal rights violence, anti-abortion violence is a form of single-issue extremism. Typically, single-issue extremism emerges as an ultra-radical wing of a much broader social or political movement, a wing so agitated about its chosen cause that its adherents may come to believe that violence in the service of that cause is justified or even required.
The radical anti-abortion movement emerged in the 1980s; its violence peaked in the early 1990s with dozens of bombings, arsons, murders and attempted murders. The frequency of anti-abortion violence began to ebb in the mid-1990s, but never dissipated entirely. Anti-abortion violence has actually remained a consistent, if secondary, source of domestic terrorism and violence, manifesting itself most often in assaults and vandalism, with occasional arsons, bombings, drive-by shootings, and assassination attempts. As one anti-abortion extremist, while serving a prison sentence for anti-abortion arsons, put it in 2010: “Abortionists are killed because they are serial murderers of innocent children who must be stopped, and they will continue to be stopped.” [Anti-Defamation League, 9/4/12]
Cable News All But Ignored The Attacks, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Aired The Only Segment On Planned Parenthood Arsons. A Media Matters analysis of prime-time cable news coverage, including Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN transcripts, found that cable news dedicated almost no prime-time coverage to the arsons from July 19 through October 5.Of all three networks, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow was the only prime-time host to cover the arsons, in a September 8 segment.
MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Connects Pullman, Washington Clinic Fire To National Debate Over Planned Parenthood Funding. On the September 8 edition of MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show, Maddow reported on the September 4 arson in Pullman, Washington, connecting it to the national debate over federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Maddow described the attack as “one of those news stories that doesn't look like a national story at first glance, but it is,” alluding to the “anti-Planned Parenthood rhetoric out there right now ” amid the fight to defund the women's health organization:
RACHEL MADDOW: This is one of those news stories that doesn't look like a national story at first glance but it is. In this case it was arson.
On Friday, a Planned Parenthood clinic in eastern Washington state was burned down. The clinic is still partially standing but apparently support beams were burned through. The fire department says the building is now structurally unsafe.
This happened in Pullman, Washington. It's where Washington State University is. It's about 75 miles south of Spokane. It's just over the state line from Moscow, Idaho.
But the arson designation for that fire at that Planned Parenthood clinic, that is something to watch, not only for its own sake but because Planned Parenthood is about to become the center of the Republican political universe again.
Congress came back to work today. The deadline to pass a bill to fund the government as Senator Durbin said earlier this hour, that deadline is the end of this month. So far, dozens of congressional Republicans say they will not agree to fund the government unless Congress also somehow cuts off all funding that goes to Planned Parenthood.
Presidential candidate Ted Cruz is making noises again about wanting to lead the fight for a government shut down over the issue of Planned Parenthood.
Presidential candidate Rand Paul is going to headline an anti-Planned Parenthood rally in Washington, D.C. the day after tomorrow.
But in the background now of all of that is this one clinic, this one Planned Parenthood clinic that burned in Washington on Friday. I should tell you that particular clinic does not even provide abortions, but it's not like the anti-Planned Parenthood rhetoric out there right now is appreciative of that kind of nuance.
The local fire department and the joint terrorism task force for that part of the northwest, they now say that that clinic burned down because of arson. They do not have anybody in custody. They are investigating.
But because of the history of domestic terrorists targeting abortion providers, it's not going to be just a local police investigation in eastern Washington state. This is going to be the FBI and ATF, as well. [MSNBC, The Rachel Maddow Show, 9/8/15]
Washington Post Only Briefly Mentioned One Arson Attack. The Washington Post covered the arson attacks only once, briefly mentioning CNN's report on an attack on a clinic in Thousand Oaks, California during an October 2 daily news roundup:
Planned Parenthood clinic fire called arson in California. From CNN: “A Planned Parenthood Health Center was targeted by an arsonist who broke a window and threw an accelerant that ignited a small fire near midnight Wednesday, authorities said. Investigators say the fire was arson at the Planned Parenthood clinic in the Los Angeles suburb of Thousand Oaks ... There were no suspects as of Thursday. ... The fire was short lived because the sprinkler system extinguished it by the time firefighters arrived.” [The Washington Post, 10/2/15]
New York Times Briefly Mentioned Clinic Arson In One Article. The New York Times reported on the arsons only once, briefly mentioning the New Orleans, Louisiana, attack in a September 1 article about the impact of the national push to defund Planned Parenthood in Louisiana:
Despite threats to a big share of its funding, Planned Parenthood is continuing construction on a larger center in New Orleans to replace the existing clinic.
“We're planning to be able to double the amount of patients that we're able to see to meet the need,” said Raegan Carter, a senior official for Planned Parenthood of the Gulf Coast. For the first time in 31 years, it will also offer abortions.
Not without controversy, though. A small fire at the site on Aug. 1 is under investigation by local and federal officials. And on the adjacent lot, a sign with a photograph of a baby reads, “Planned Parenthood Sells Abortion ... and They Plan to Sell More Here.” [The New York Times, 9/1/15]
Wall Street Journal Failed To Mention Arsons At All. The Wall Street Journal failed to report on any of the attacks.
Local Newspaper Editorials Connected Arsons To Debunked Claims Against Planned Parenthood By Anti-Choice Group
Los Angeles Times Editorial Explained That CA Clinic Arson Followed Claims Made In Manipulated Anti-Choice Videos. An October 2 editorial by The Los Angeles Times reported on the arson attack against the Thousand Oaks, California Planned Parenthood and included the important context that although “there is no evidence” the attack “was a direct result of the anti-Planned Parenthood fervor,” the incident happened in the midst of the controversy, and “as long as abortion has been legal in the U.S., abortion clinics throughout the country have been subject to arson and bombings. Abortion providers have been murdered” :
Ventura County sheriff's officials had no definitive answerThursday as to why someone broke a window at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Thousand Oaks on Wednesday night, then threw gasoline into the office and ignited it. But the firebombing comes after weeks of angry rhetoric and overheated allegations against Planned Parenthood, which has been mired in controversy since the release of a spate of videos purporting to show its staff discussing the sale of tissue from aborted fetuses.
Yet the highly edited videos do not show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of fetal tissue for profit; what they apparently do at a handful of clinics is donate it -- with the permission of the woman having the abortion -- for scientific research. The organization's officials say they recoup their costs but never sell the tissue. Donating fetal tissue for research purposes is completely legal and scientifically valuable, albeit controversial.
But rational explanations have not stopped antiabortion rights activists and conservative members of Congress from denouncing the family planning provider, using what Sen. Dianne Feinstein called “toxic rhetoric.”
There is no evidence that the Thousand Oaks attack was a direct result of the anti-Planned Parenthood fervor. And it is certainly true that opponents of abortion and critics of Planned Parenthood have every right to speak their minds. Still, it is important to remember that as long as abortion has been legal in the U.S., abortion clinics throughout the country have been subject to arson and bombings. Abortion providers have been murdered. Now, in the midst of renewed anti-Planned Parenthood sentiment, the Thousand Oaks clinic -- which does offer abortions -- has been attacked. [Los Angeles Times, 10/2/15]
Spokesman Review Editorial Noted That Arson Attack “Raises The Fear That It Was Motivated” By CMP's Deceptively-Edited Videos. A September 13 editorial by the Spokesman Review reported on the arson attack against the Planned Parenthood clinic in Pullman, Washington, saying that although “we simply don't know at this point” what the motivation behind the attack may be, it “raises the fear that [the attack] was motivated by the protests of abortion clinics around the country after a series of surreptitious videos showed discussions about supplying fetal parts for medical research” :
The arson attack on the Planned Parenthood clinic in Pullman raises the fear that it was motivated by the protests of abortion clinics around the country after a series of surreptitious videos showed discussions about supplying fetal parts for medical research.
Though the topic is unpleasant, the videos did not show any illegal activity. Congress has voted to allow such research, with many “pro-life” representatives voting yes, and supplying clinics are allowed to recoup their costs.
The charge that Planned Parenthood is “selling” fetuses goes too far. Women who have abortions must consent, just as people do when they donate organs. Research universities and medical clinics are also involved, and they haven't been targeted by activists. So it's reasonable to assume the protests are just another chapter in the long-running effort to shut down Planned Parenthood.
On Sept. 4, somebody tossed a flammable object through a window at the Pullman clinic. The early-morning blaze caused extensive damage that will keep the clinic closed for about a month. Speculation, of course, is that the heightened anti-abortion protests sparked this crime.
But we simply don't know at this point.
The arson attack is disturbing enough, and there is a long history of violent attacks on Planned Parenthood. White supremacists bombed the Spokane clinic in 1996. Since 1976, 40 clinics have been bombed and 186 acts of arson have been committed against abortion providers, according to the National Abortion Federation.
Two weeks before the Pullman fire, protesters gathered outside Planned Parenthood in north Spokane. State Rep. Matt Shea compared the clinic's work to that of notorious Nazi doctor Josef Mengele.
Talk like that may not necessarily light a fuse, but it sure is irresponsible. [Spokesman Review, 9/13/15]
New Orleans' Times-Picayune Did Not Cover Local Clinic Fire. The Times-Picayune did not cover the local clinic arson.
Local Media Offered Scattered Coverage Of Attacks: Spokesman Review And LA Times Provided The Most Detailed Coverage
Spokane, Washington's Spokesman Review Included The Most Coverage, Reporting OnThe Pullman, Washington Attacks In 5 Articles, Including One Editorial. The Spokesman Review provided the most coverage of the arson attacks. The Review published five total articles about the Pullman, Washington, clinic fire, including one brief mention in a news round-up and two reports, as well as one editorial and one article that each provided the context that the fire followed anti-choice videos attempting to smear Planned Parenthood. A September 4 article noted that “the fire follows a recent wave of protests at Planned Parenthood clinics across the country,” and, “According to local news accounts, many referenced [the] series of videos” released by anti-choice CMP. [The Spokesman Review, 9/4/15, 9/9/15, 9/11/15, 9/13/15, 9/30/15]
The LA Times Covered Thousand Oaks, CA Arson Attacks In Three Detailed Articles, Including One Editorial. The LA Times published a total of three articles on the arson attack at the Thousand Oaks, CA clinic, including one editorial, and two articles that connected the attack to the scrutiny facing Planned Parenthood following the release of CMP's deceptively-edited smear videos. An October 2 article explained, “The attack on the facility comes in the midst of a heated debate over Planned Parenthood after an undercover video surfaced this summer,” which “politicians have warned ... could spark attacks against facilities and clinics. [The Los Angeles Times, 10/1/15, 10/2/15, 10/2/15]
The Chicago Tribune Reported On The FBI Investigation Into The Aurora, Illinois Clinic Fire. The Chicago Tribune covered the arson attacks once, reporting July 29 that “the FBI is 'looking into' a fire outside the Aurora Planned Parenthood building,” and quoting the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Illinois calling the fire a “scare tactic,” and saying, “We do not know if this incident is related to recent media events” :
The FBI is “looking into” a fire outside the Aurora Planned Parenthood building, according to FBI spokeswoman Diane Carbonara.
The fire on July 19 was outside the front door of the organization's health center on East New York Street near Oakhurst Drive, according to Planned Parenthood of Illinois officials.
No one was in the building at the time, and no one was injured, according to the organization.
Carbonara said the FBI is looking into whether the fire involved any violations of federal law. No charges had been filed concerning the fire as of Wednesday, she said.
Carbonara declined to elaborate on the fire because no charges have been filled. She said the investigation into the incident is continuing.
Carole Brite, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Illinois, called the fire a “scare tactic” in a news release.
“While we do not know if this incident is related to recent media events, our primary concern is always for the safety and well-being of our patients and staff,” she said in the statement. [The Chicago Tribune, 7/29/15]
Methodology: Media Matters searched LexisNexis transcripts and articles from July 19-October 5, 2015, for “Planned Parenthood” associated with the following terms: “fire,” “arson,” “thousand oaks,” “california,” “pullman,” “washington,” “new orleans, ” aurora," “illinois,” or any form of “burn” -- which includes: “burning,” “burned,” and “burns.” Transcripts included prime-time shows on CNN, Fox, and MSNBC. LexisNexis archives for the The Washington Post and The New York Times were searched, as well for the largest print publication with the closest proximity to each targeted clinic: The Times-Picayune, The Spokesman Review, The Los Angeles Times, and The Chicago Tribune.
For all Wall Street Journal articles, a Factiva search was conducted using the terms “Planned Parenthood,” “arson,” and “fire.”
Michaela Halnon and Cydney Hargis contributed research to this post.