Center for Medical Progress

Classic M.Z. -- Once again, two elite newsrooms offer slanted coverage on a big abortion story

Classic M.Z. -- Once again, two elite newsrooms offer slanted coverage on a big abortion story

Honestly, there was a time about a decade ago or so when I briefly thought that mainstream journalists were making progress when it comes to offering balanced, accurate, fair-minded coverage of abortion issues. At one point there even seemed to be a growing awareness that abortion was not one of those issues that could be labeled as a strictly GOP vs. Republican issue. I mean, there are pro-life liberals out there.

During that time, I had a chance to ask the progressive Catholic pundit E.J. Dionne a question related to this topic during a Pew Forum event inside the Beltway, focusing on faith and politics. I asked him why laws and court decisions here in America protecting abortion rights at all stages of pregnancy were stronger than those in Europe. I think my phrase was "how did America end up to the cultural left of Sweden on abortion?"

A key element of Dionne's answer was that abortion-rights supporters here continue to feel threatened by the strength of their opposition, especially among conservative religious groups. Thus, they resist all efforts at compromise. There is no middle option as, to some degree, there is in parts of Europe.

The news media plays a key element in this fight, of course. You can really see this whenever there is a new threat to the current abortion-rights regime. Take, for example, the the coverage of Catholic activist David Daleiden and the undercover videos released by his Center for Medical Progress project.

Honestly, in this case your GetReligionistas have needed some kind of standing art or logo pointing readers toward the classic "Abortion Bias Seeps Into News" series back in 1990 by media critic David Shaw of The Los Angeles Times. Once again, let me note that Shaw was a supporter of abortion rights and it's crucial that his work was published in a mainstream newspaper.

I could write another piece contrasting the level of press coverage of a grand jury in Texas indicting Daleiden with the coverage produced by the news that all of the charges had been dropped.

I could do that, but I really don't have to -- because M.Z. "GetReligionista emerita" Hemingway has already done a slam dunk on this issue, over at The Federalist.

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The Los Angeles Times on abortion: Does media bias bother anyone any more?

The Los Angeles Times on abortion: Does media bias bother anyone any more?

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.”

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Essay on CNN.com asks: Should journalists who go undercover doing research be worried?

Essay on CNN.com asks: Should journalists who go undercover doing research be worried?

Yes, this is a post about legal issues linked to the Planned Parenthood videos. But that is not where I want to start.

If you followed the twisting legal arguments surrounding the Westboro Baptist Church protests -- especially the horrible demonstrations at the funerals of military veterans -- you know that most of the headlines focused on freedom of speech.

However, journalists had a lot at stake in this fight, too (whether they felt comfortable about that or not). Why is that? Here is how I described the crucial press-freedom issue in a post -- "Why journalists love Westboro Baptist" -- back in 2010. I asked readers to glance at the coverage of Westboro's arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court and:

Then answer these questions. In addition to telling the story of the grieving family, which is essential, does the report in your local news source tell you (a) that the protests were moved to another location that was not in view of the church at which the funeral was held and that mourners did not need to pass the demonstration? Then, (b) does it note that the grieving father's only viewing of these hateful, hellish demonstrations took place when he viewed news media reports or read materials posted on the church's website? Those facts are at the heart of this case, when you are looking at the legal arguments from a secular, legal, even journalistic point of view. This is why so many mainstream news organizations are backing the church.

In other words, when push came to shove journalists had to defend their own right to cover these hateful demonstrations. People who thought of themselves as "liberals" kept shooting at Westboro and hitting the First Amendment, instead. As a statement at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press put it, in 2011:

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Media blackout? What media blackout!? Planned Parenthood case is front-page news — this time

Media blackout? What media blackout!? Planned Parenthood case is front-page news — this time

When the secretly recorded Planned Parenthood videos were released last summer, some accused the media of ignoring them.

Others said "thoughtful and substantive coverage" couldn't be rushed.

GetReligion highlighted both arguments in a July 2015 post.

Six months later, nobody's claiming a media blackout this time.

As one GetReligionista put it:

The angle everyone is talking about is the fact that the videos drew almost zero MSM coverage, especially in elite (think NYTs) ink, but the indictment moved as a flash bulletin, with major coverage everywhere....

In case you (somehow) missed the big twist in the Planned Parenthood case, here's the lede from today's Page 1 story in the Houston Chronicle:

A grand jury convened to investigate whether a Houston Planned Parenthood clinic had sold the organs of aborted fetuses on Monday cleared the clinic and instead indicted the undercover videographers behind the allegations, surprising the officials who called for the probe and delighting supporters of the women's health organization.
The Harris County grand jury indicted David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, both of California, on charges of tampering with a governmental record, a second-degree felony with a possible sentence of up to 20 years in prison. It also charged Daleiden, the leader of the videographers, with the same misdemeanor he had alleged – the purchase or sale of human organs, presumably because he had offered to buy in an attempt to provoke Planned Parenthood employees into saying they would sell.
Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson announced the indictments in a statement, noting the probe had lasted more than two months.
"As I stated at the outset of this investigation, we must go where the evidence leads us," said Anderson, a Republican. "All the evidence uncovered in the course of this investigation was presented to the grand jury. I respect their decision on this difficult case."

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Washington Post meets David Daleiden, whose Catholic faith is less important than his socks

Washington Post meets David Daleiden, whose Catholic faith is less important than his socks

This post will be shorter than usual because it focuses on the religion content in one of the major stories of the day. I am referring to the large Washington Post news feature that ran under this headline: "Meet the millennial who infiltrated the guarded world of abortion providers." 

The "millennial" in question is, of course, David Daleiden, the young Catholic activist behind all of the hidden-camera Planned Parenthood videos released by his front organization, the Center for Medical Progress (click here for its homepage). 

The word "meet" in the headline made me think that this would be an in-depth profile of this man. Thus, as I read it, I kept waiting for fresh material about this life, faith and motives that I didn't already know from reading -- naturally -- religious-press coverage of this work. This is, after all, a "conservative news" subject.

But one of America's most important mainstream newspapers landed an interview with this man. Surely there would be fresh insights and information, right? Hold that thought.

The key to the story is that is framed primarily in terms of, you got it, political activism. The assumption is that Daleiden's motives for taking on Planned Parenthood are primarily political, Thus, readers are given this summary of why he is important:

Daleiden, 26, is the anti­abortion activist who masterminded the recent undercover campaign aimed at proving that Planned Parenthood illegally sells what he calls aborted “baby body parts.” He captured intimate details of the famously guarded organization, hobnobbing at conferences so secretive that they require background checks and talking his way into a back laboratory at a Colorado clinic where he picked through the remains of aborted fetuses and displayed them luridly for the camera.
Daleiden’s videos landed like a bomb in Washington this summer, providing fodder for a crowded field of Republican presidential contenders and energizing social conservatives on Capitol Hill.

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Planned Parenthood reporting 'done right' -- the name on this byline won't surprise you

Planned Parenthood reporting 'done right' -- the name on this byline won't surprise you

Yes, Sarah Pulliam Bailey used to write for GetReligion. 

Yes, we're biased when it comes to her important work for the Washington Post. 

Yes, it's awkward when we start praising a friend and former colleague. (We've admitted as much.) We know that you know that we know that you know that.

But no, that's not going to stop us from calling attention to a story Sarah wrote this week related to the Planned Parenthood videos:

Antiabortion activists see new undercover videos of Planned Parenthood as their biggest opportunity since the 2011 Kermit Gosnell trials to energize support for the issue.
Planned Parenthood, which many antiabortion activists see as the face of abortion, has long been under attack, but the videos have set off renewed debate over its federal funding.

In fact, we're not the only ones who were impressed. Tom Breen, a former Associated Press newsman who did excellent work on the Godbeat, tweeted:

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Planned Parenthood video Stage 3: New York Times explores an ethics question!

Planned Parenthood video Stage 3: New York Times explores an ethics question!

I don't avoid the world of advocacy journalism online, but I also strive not to live there. However, I often bump into links that take me into liberal and conservative "news" sites and, every now and then, you hit some interesting info worth exploring (especially when there are URLs to original documents and sources).

If journalists are willing to do that kind of thing, this work could be part of what I called -- in an earlier post -- the Stage 3 coverage of the Planned Parenthood video story.

One such site is The Blaze, which actually has a piece online pointing toward some interesting trails. Click here to go there. Let's start here:

While activists have doubled down, Planned Parenthood responded ... by dismissing the allegation and claiming that its clinics simply help women who wish to donate the tissue of aborted fetuses to scientific research. On the other hand, Snopes.com, a fact-checking website, labeled the claim against Planned Parenthood by the Center for Medical Progress, a pro-life group, as “undetermined” based on the evidence.

Precisely! "Undetermined," as in journalists cannot avoid doubting and exploring the truth claims offered by Planned Parenthood and the same goes for its critics. What we need here is old-school journalism, which requires showing some skepticism after reading the press releases on both sides.

The Blaze team then talked -- wonder of wonders -- to a pro-life activist outside of the New York City-Washington, D.C., corridor who has (gasp) not made his mind up when it comes to judging the final outcome of this case.

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Planned Parenthood video: Stage 3 news offers voices of reason vs. politicians

Planned Parenthood video: Stage 3 news offers voices of reason vs. politicians

I've been in New York City the past day or so taking part in a conference focusing on Plato, Augustine, Machiavelli and Obergefell. Sort of.

I haven't really had time to dig into the whole Planned Parenthood video media storm, but have followed some of the debates (hello @MZHemingway, hello @spulliam). In a way, the entire affair has followed a very familiar pattern.

Stage 1: Activist group on the cultural right releases advocacy journalism piece making strong claims that clash with the views of most mainstream journalists and focus on charges that are almost impossible to verify in a matter of Internet minutes.

State 2: Mainstream press either (a) ignores the story or (b) says that the heart of the story is something like "right-wing group's video goes viral in conservative media, leading to outrage among sane people who support the abused liberal group." How many headlines did you see with that tone?

Stage 3 is where we are now. Many, but not all, elite publications are covering the story, in part because the offended group -- Planned Parenthood in this case -- has put out a press release and started returning calls from journalists. The story is now legit.

This leads to another formula that has been seen many times in the past: Short restatement of right-wing accusations, followed by lengthy coverage of the response from liberal group, followed by -- here is the key -- lots and lots of reactions from Republican lawmakers courting the religious- and values-voter base, which means this whole affair is simply a matter of politics.

Business. As. Usual. #MovingOn.

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Aborted baby parts for sale: Did journalists drag their feet on Planned Parenthood story?

Aborted baby parts for sale: Did journalists drag their feet on Planned Parenthood story?

By now, you've seen THE VIDEO.

It's been the talk of social media, particularly among pro-life advocates, for a full day now.

Given the subject matter, it's no surprise that GetReligionista emeritus Mollie Hemingway — now a senior editor with The Federalist — has been all over the issue.

Six hours after the video began making waves, Mollie wrote at The Federalist:

This is a story that requires thoughtful and substantive coverage. That the media are beginning by ignoring it is not a good sign that they have learned a single lesson from crapping the bed with their coverage of the monstrous abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell.

But can "thoughtful and substantive coverage" be produced immediately? While understanding Mollie's frustration, I sympathize, too, with the perspective of another former GetReligionista: Washington Post religion writer Sarah Pulliam Bailey.

On Twitter, Sarah made the case that, hey, real reporting takes a little time:

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