Just over 25 years ago, the Los Angeles Times’ media writer, David Shaw, did a four-part series on media bias covering abortion. This landmark effort, by a reporter who didn't hide his support for abortion rights, took 18 months and involved 100 interviews with journalists and activists on both sides. It concluded that there was consistent mainstream-media bias favoring the abortion-rights side.
For an elite mainstream news publication to admit that fact was unusual, to say the least.
More than two decades and numerous court rulings later, the Times has come out with another package on abortion, but this time it’s an investigation into how the Center for Medical Progress did a lot more coaching with their undercover agents on how to get Planned Parenthood officials to make inflammatory statements than was first thought.
The Times had student journalists with an investigating reporting program at University of California at Berkeley help them with the research. It begins thus:
She was subdued and sympathetic on camera. Her recollections of collecting fetal tissue and body parts from abortion clinics in northern California lent emotional force to the anti-abortion videos that provoked a furor in Congress last summer.
In footage made public last July, Holly O’Donnell said she had been traumatized by her work for a fetal-tissue brokerage. She described feeling “pain ... and death and eternity” and said she fainted the first time she touched the remains of an aborted fetus.
Unreleased footage filed in a civil court case shows that O’Donnell’s apparently spontaneous reflections were carefully rehearsed. David Daleiden, the anti-abortion activist who made the videos, is heard coaching O’Donnell through repeated takes, instructing her to repeat anecdotes, add details, speak “fluidly” and be “very natural.”
“Let’s try it two more times,” he told her at one point.
Later, O’Donnell protested: “I don’t want to tell that story again. Please don’t make me again, David.”
For more than two years, Daleiden and a small circle of anti-abortion activists went undercover into meetings of abortion providers and women’s health groups. With fake IDs and tiny hidden cameras, they sought to capture Planned Parenthood officials making inflammatory statements. O’Donnell cooperated with the filmmakers, offering an inside view of the fetal tissue trade.
Now here is what the Times thinks is particularly damning:
Now, Daleiden, head of the Irvine-based Center for Medical Progress, and his associates contend that they were acting as investigative journalists, seeking to expose illegal conduct. That is one of their defenses in lawsuits brought by Planned Parenthood and other groups, accusing them of fraud and invasion of privacy.
But unpublicized footage and court records show that the activists’ methods were geared more toward political provocation than journalism.
The Times and the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley took a detailed look at published and unreleased video footage, sworn declarations, excerpts of recorded dialogue and other court records from the lawsuits against Daleiden.
Read through it all. The piece raises more questions than it answers.
Why is coaching someone on what to say a fabrication, as opposed to a tactic that would be questionable in television news? Does this invalidate the contents of her story?
Meanwhile, political candidates are coached all the time and believe me, if you don’t believe that some of the candidates didn’t slip and slide around various questions, you weren’t watching the debates.
The article raises the point the words like “full intact fetuses” were put into the mouths of Planned Parenthood staff. Yet, they used the term in the eighth video and in the 12th video. The Los Angeles Times may be unhappy with how the investigation was done, but the staff actually did use that term. If you need a compilation of what in all the videos, the Federalist has it here.
Are these videos spotlighted because the videographers belong to an unpopular group, yes one containing lots of conservative religious believers? One reason why DaLeiden and his group investigated these clinics is because no newspaper (or TV network) would do it. Remember the Lila Rose videos from five years ago where Planned Parenthood employees encouraged her to lie about her age? (Rose also said she was a student journalist who heard that Planned Parenthood wasn’t asking any questions about under-age girls having abortions. If a girl is under 16, it’s statutory rape).
Since I subscribe to the Times, I did a search of their site for Lila Rose (after all, she did operate around southern California so the Times should have been on it) and only found one mention and that a derogatory one by a columnist.
Also, where was the Times when NARAL Pro-Choice America, an abortion giant, made undercover videos of crisis pregnancy clincs? I didn't see the Times marshall journalism students on that one.
Folks may ask: Why didn't the Daleiden folks tape these conversations in a more ethical way?
Abortion was one of the many topics I covered at the Washington Times and yes, there was a time when someone gave me the opportunity of going undercover at a National Abortion Federation conference. But my supervisors were queasy about the ethics of it all and decided against me doing it.
I did try to attend a Planned Parenthood function in Baltimore in the spring of 2010 using my real name. Guess who got tossed out on her ear at the door? Moi, because I was a reporter. So for those of you who say undercover videos are awful and that information can be gotten by other means, just know that some of us have tried the above-board route and it got us nowhere.
Also, lots of people covering abortion had heard about the rumors: Under-aged girls, fetal parts and Kermit Gosnell. Why then, did no secular media outlet cover the first two and had to be shamed (by this blog -- as in M.Z. Hemingway -- among others) into covering the Gosnell horror story?
Speaking of undercover videos, did any media mount a shame campaign with PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) for their undercover work? Someone, please, show me where the Times enlisted the help of UC journalism students to go after them.
Below the comments section, the Times has links to other back-listed pieces. One is on “abortion clinic violence” by people opposed abortion, not the abortionists themselves; a lawsuit; the shooting suspect at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic and more. Am I imagining it or do those stories all have a common theme?
If Shaw was to do his study today, he’d find far more bias than was evident in 1990. The better question is: Would the Times allow him to write such a series today?