In a new video, a Planned Parenthood manager is seen assisting someone who claims he is a pimp involved with the sex trafficking of children as young as 14. She rather cheerfully and eagerly finds way to assist him with information about abortion and medical exams and contraception. When he asks about abortions for underage girls, she gives him the name of another clinic with lower protocols than hers. She warns him off of a nurse who cares more about the rules than she does (calling her an unprintable and horribly misogynistic name). You can watch the released excerpt or the full, unedited video here. It is absolutely horrifying -- particularly about midway through -- and includes crass language and distasteful subject matter. Now let's look at the media coverage. It actually began last week with an "exclusive" from the Associated Press. Reading between the lines, it was pretty clear that Planned Parenthood was trying to get in front of a story that might prove difficult:
Planned Parenthood, a perennial protest target because of its role in providing abortions, has notified the FBI that at least 12 of its health centers were visited recently by a man purporting to be a sex trafficker but who may instead be part of an attempted ruse to entrap clinic employees.
In each case, according to Planned Parenthood, the man sought to speak privately with a clinic employee and then requested information about health services for sex workers, including some who he said were minors and in the U.S. illegally.
Planned Parenthood's vice president for communications, Stuart Schear, said the organization has requested an FBI probe of the man's claims and has already fielded some initial FBI inquiries. However, Schear said Planned Parenthood's own investigation indicates that the man has links with Live Action, an anti-abortion group that has conducted previous undercover projects aimed at discrediting the nation's leading abortion provider.
That's exactly what I would have done if I were a Planned Parenthood official who realized that some employees may have just been caught assisting a child sex operation. The reporter didn't seem terribly incredulous about what might have happened in such a sting, but I suppose it's difficult to report the story without any evidence of unethical behavior on the part of Planned Parenthood employees.
But now there is some of that evidence. How is it being reported? Hard to say.
The videos were released two days ago. I saw some mainstream coverage yesterday. The news was all over the pro-life blogosphere, of course. On Wednesday, when Planned Parenthood fired the employee caught in the sting, the coverage increased.
First let's look at how NPR treated the news. The best thing I can say about it is that they at least wrote something about the news, unlike many of their mainstream counterparts. However, there were multiple problems with their report. They ended up retracting their claim that Lila Rose and Live Action -- the group behind the sting -- were affiliated with the individuals who exposed the ACORN group last year.
The headline was "Group Behind ACORN Undercover Videos Sets Up Planned Parenthood 'Sting.'" Not entirely sure why "sting" is in scare quotes, but the first part of the headline is inaccurate. They have since admitted that. The new headline is still problematic:
"Conservative Group Sets Up Planned Parenthood 'Sting.'
Now maybe in the NPR newsroom, all opposition to abortion is considered "conservative." But the group does not self-identify as anything -- conservative, liberal, etc. -- except for pro-life. LiveAction responds to both headlines here.
Other early reports, such as this from Reuters, simply noted the release of the videos with statements from the national Planned Parenthood organization that dismiss them. You can tell a lot about what the New York Times thinks of independent journalism by what it thinks is most important in this lede:
An anti-abortion group seeking to discredit Planned Parenthood released an undercover video on Tuesday that appears to show a clinic manager advising a sex trafficker how to get medical care for prostitutes as young as 14.
Is it that aiding and abetting a criminal child sex operation is less important than the motivations of pro-lifers? I would lead the other way, even if I do think it's important to note that Live Action has been busting Planned Parenthood in such sting operations for years, as part of its mission.
Anyway, the story changed once the Planned Parenthood, Amy Woodruff, was fired. Here's the lede to the Washington Post account:
The Planned Parenthood employee caught on tape giving inappropriate advice to a couple posing as a pimp and a prostitute has been fired, the organization announced Wednesday.
Which Planned Parenthood employee? Which tape? You will not know the answers to those questions from any previous story at the Washington Post. It's bizarre. It actually kind of reminds me of how newspapers didn't report on a few other controversies, including the Van Jones situation, until it was far too late to do readers any good.*
The Washington Post piece is fine, although it relies a bit too heavily on Planned Parenthood assertions for my taste. If you're looking for just a good straight news report about the matter, check out this one from NJ.com. It seems less concerned with spin -- one way or the other -- and more with just reporting what's interesting about the videos.
ABCNews is reporting that New Jersey Attorney General is asking the state Division of Criminal Justice to investigate whether the manager should be charged with a crime in the incident.
*Apparently the Washington Post did have a previous story on the matter, that they disappeared down the rabbit hole for some reason. HoyStory has the image of it and it follows the general approach that the Times took as well.