A Reuters article on a recent Planned Parenthood legal victory in Utah gave equal weight to both discredited claims by Republican Utah Gov. Gary Herbert that Planned Parenthood had violated fetal tissue laws and the truth: Planned Parenthood Association of Utah had not violated the law.
Last August, Republican Utah Gov. Gary Herbert instructed the state’s Department of Health to stop distributing federal funds to Planned Parenthood Association of Utah (PPAU), citing videos produced by the anti-choice Center for Medical Progress (CMP) -- Media Matters’ 2015 Misinformer of the Year -- that used misleadingly edited footage to baselessly accuse Planned Parenthood of engaging in illegal activities. In September, PPAU sued the state for blocking its funding and argued that the governor’s attack was motivated by his position against abortion. On July 12, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s decision, allowing PPAU to continue to receive funding for STD testing and sex education programs.
As reported by The Salt Lake Tribune, the 10th Circuit concluded that “the governor's personal opposition to abortion could likely be demonstrated as a motivation for blocking Planned Parenthood's funds.” The court determined it was “undisputed that at no time has [Utah’s Department of Health] complained about the services provided by PPAU” or alleged that PPAU was misusing the funding. The court also noted that none of the multiple state and federal investigations into Planned Parenthood yielded evidence of illegal activity and that “no evidence was found to support the CMP videos’ claim” of illegal actions. Moreover, the court explained that Gov. Herbert had already admitted that PPAU was not engaging in illegal behavior (citations removed):
During the press conference on August 17, 2015, Herbert acknowledged that the events depicted in the video “may not have happened in Utah.” And in opposing PPAU’s motion for preliminary injunction in the district court, Herbert made more specific admissions. To begin with, he admitted that the CMP videos involved other affiliates of Planned Parenthood and not PPAU. Herbert further admitted that “there is no evidence, or even accusation, that PPAU has ‘colored outside’ of any lines, including because PPAU does not participate in any program that provides fetal tissue for scientific research.” … In addition, Herbert admitted that the accusations made by CMP in the videos regarding Planned Parenthood and its other affiliates had not been proven and indeed were false.
Yet despite the court’s conclusion that claims in CMP’s videos were unproven and false, Reuters framed CMP’s claims as “he said/she said” rather than relying upon the facts found by the court:
In ordering the cutoff, Herbert, an abortion opponent, cited secretly recorded videos provided by the Center for Medical Progress that allegedly showed out-of-state Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of aborted fetal tissue.
Planned Parenthood has said it did nothing wrong and that the videos were heavily edited to distort their content.
In contrast to Reuters, other media outlets directly described the falsity of CMP’s videos and claims. The Salt Lake Tribune wrote that “the videos … were determined to be inaccurate and misleading,” while The Associated Press noted both that multiple investigations have cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing and that a Texas grand jury indicted CMP’s founder and his associate. Even the local Fox affiliate in Salt Lake City, Fox 13, reported that “the videos have been widely discredited as noted by the court decision calling them ‘unproven and in fact false.’”
Media Matters has extensively documented the deceptive edits and misleading claims made in all of CMP’s videos. In February, a federal judge also found the videos “misleadingly edited” and said they included “unfounded assertions.” And since CMP put out the first video nearly a year ago, numerous media outlets have repeatedly demonstrated their deceptive nature.
In March, the Los Angeles Times published an investigative report showing that the unreleased footage from CMP revealed CMP’s founder “coaching” answers from a supposed “documentary” testimony and trying to “plant phrases” in the mouths of targeted individuals.In May, the Columbia Journalism Review wrote that CMP founder David “Daleiden’s video footage and commentary did not reveal any attempt to profiteer [from illegal activity], and his editing sensationalized the evidence that he actually had.” The Washington Post’s editorial board also concluded that “as we now know, those videos are bunk, neither accurate nor reliable” while The New York Times’ editorial board wrote that CMP’s “charges against Planned Parenthood were completely bogus.”
Given that CMP’s allegations have been so thoroughly disproven it’s beyond time for all media outlets to stop relying on false balance and just use the actual facts: The videos were deceptively edited in order to lodge false allegations against Planned Parenthood.