During the May 31 edition of Tonight with Tucker Carlson, host Tucker Carlson and his guest, anti-choice extremist Lila Rose, promoted yet another smear video from the discredited Center for Medical Progress (CMP) -- despite a federal judge’s order that the footage be removed from the internet out of concern for abortion providers’ safety.
On May 25, anti-choice and right-wing media circulated an unlisted YouTube link to a smear video from CMP. Although CMP was ultimately forced to remove the video -- which violated a court order -- right-wing media outlets and personalities quickly re-posted it in full and urged followers to watch.
In February, federal Judge William Orrick extended a preliminary injunction for the duration of ongoing legal proceedings against CMP, barring the release of any footage depicting National Abortion Federation (NAF) members or meetings. In the decision, Orrick explained that this injunction was necessary, writing, “It is not speculative to expect that harassment, threats, and violent acts will continue to rise if defendants were to release NAF materials.”
Rose noted that by asking for a protective order, NAF had merely demonstrated that it was “very afraid of what is on these tapes” -- rather than afraid for the lives of its members. Rose also argued that actions like Orrick’s’ were having “a chilling effect right now on journalism.” Carlson claimed that Orrick was biased and had “ordered that the video be suppressed, saying, in effect, the First Amendment doesn’t exist.” He asked, “How in the world, and in what country, could a judge unilaterally decide that you’re not allowed to show them?”
In reality, media experts have agreed that CMP’s work is not journalism -- despite right-wing media claims to the contrary. In fact, in Orrick’s February ruling, he detailed why CMP’s efforts “thus far have not been pieces of journalistic integrity,” noting that CMP founder David Daleiden did not “-- as Daleiden repeatedly asserts -- use widely accepted investigatory journalism techniques” (emphasis added):
The context of how defendants came into possession of the NAF materials cannot be ignored and directly supports preliminarily preventing the disclosure of these materials. Defendants engaged in repeated instances of fraud, including the manufacture of fake documents, the creation and registration with the state of California of a fake company, and repeated false statements to ... numerous NAF representatives and NAF members in order to infiltrate NAF and implement their Human Capital Project. The products of that Project – achieved in large part from the infiltration – thus far have not been pieces of journalistic integrity, but misleadingly edited videos and unfounded assertions (at least with respect to the NAF materials) of criminal misconduct. Defendants did not – as Daleiden repeatedly asserts – use widely accepted investigatory journalism techniques. Defendants provide no evidence to support that assertion and no cases on point.
During Carlson and Rose’s discussion, Carlson failed to mention anti-choice violence -- an omission that is not uncommon among prime-time cable news hosts. A recent Media Matters study found that during 12 months of coverage about abortion and reproductive rights, only four segments out of a total 354 on Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN even mentioned the topic.
Former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly (ousted earlier this year after public reports that he sexually harassed multiple colleagues) spent years spreading misinformation about reproductive rights and openly bullying abortion providers. A frequent target of O’Reilly’s invective was Dr. George Tiller, who was assassinated in 2009 by anti-choice extremist Scott Roeder. O’Reilly often referred to the doctor as “Tiller the baby killer” and insisted there was “a special place in hell for this guy.” May 31 marked the eighth anniversary of Tiller’s murder.
In April, Fox’s The Five co-host Greg Gutfeld -- who moved to prime time after O’Reilly’s departure -- encouraged anti-choice advocates to engage in violence to protect their views, saying, “If you are pro-life and you believe it is murder, you should be willing to fight” and “start a war” over the issue.
During the May 31 segment on Tonight with Tucker Carlson, Carlson claimed he was “proud” to elevate the barred footage and said people have the right to “say what you think is true.” Although he hedged on the issue somewhat, saying that he was not “advocating for this,” he strongly implied that the footage should be shared in spite of the court order because “if there was ever a time for civil disobedience, it seems like some might think this would be the time.”
Meanwhile, incidents of targeted harassment of abortion providers, patients, and clinics continue to rise. According to a recent report from NAF, in 2016, there was “an increase in a wide range of intimidation tactics meant to disrupt the provision of health care at facilities, including vandalism, picketing, obstruction, invasion, trespassing, burglary, stalking, assault and battery, and bomb threats” as well as “an escalation in hate speech and internet harassment, which intensified following the election in November.”
There is a real risk to circulating this footage. In 2015, Robert Lewis Dear opened fire inside a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic, killing three people and injuring nine more. After his arrest, Dear used the statement “no more baby parts” -- a phrase that Fox News and Fox Business had used more than any other network between the release of CMP’s first video and the Colorado attack. Furthermore, as the New Republic noted, “The narratives [Dear] learned from Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones and Bill O’Reilly and countless far-right web sites meshed perfectly with his paranoid delusions, misogynist beliefs, and violent fantasies.”
Although Carlson, Rose, and many anti-choice outlets are protesting the removal of CMP’s latest video as “censorship,” Orrick has already refuted claims about the supposed public value of these videos and demonstrated why such a protective order was necessary in the first place. By not only elevating the barred footage, but also encouraging viewers to actively spread it themselves, Fox News is engaging in dangerous and irresponsible behavior.