Are Live Action's Videos a Form of Journalism, Advocacy, or Lying?

By now, you’ve probably heard about the video in which an unseen man and woman ask a clinic manager at a New Jersey Planned Parenthood clinic for advice. They want to know how to obtain medical care and abortions for underage prostitutes without getting into trouble with the law. The clinic manager tells advises them.  

On Feb. 1 Live Action, an anti-abortion group, released a video of this conversation, which has since spurred heated reactions from both pro-life and pro-choice advocates. The debate is fueled, in part, by the fact that the man and woman to whom the clinic manager offered this advice were actors visiting the clinic on behalf of Live Action, and they were secretly recording the session. A representative for the New Jersey clinic told the New York Times that the clinic staff later reported the visit to prosecutors.  However, the clinic also fired the manager and described her behavior as “completely unacceptable.”

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Live Action’s video, one of several in which the group used hidden cameras in an attempt to expose immoral or illegal activity at Planned Parenthood, was labeled a hoax in the Times article, but it has been viewed by some pro-life advocates as a kind of heroism, a valiant effort to protect the unborn and the safety and health of women. Others, however, disagree. Included in this group are those who support of the rights of the unborn and are concerned about the endangerment of women, but do not approve of Live Action’s methods.

When I viewed the tape I was appalled by the clinic manager’s seeming willingness to gloss over the facts and to go along with the plan to cover up the abuse of minors. On that level, the video is effective. It made me wonder: How widespread is this behavior? Live action has posted six other videos in this series regarding trafficking. But I was also made uneasy by the fact that Live Action gave the clinic manager’s full name in a press release and showed her face in the video (fortunately, in the full-length footage, faces of patients in the waiting room are blurred). There is something unsettling about Live Action advocating for the safety of young women and the unborn through the use of methods that show little regard for the safety of this particular woman.

Live Action states on its Web site that they use “investigative journalism to expose threats against the vulnerable and defenseless.” Let me be clear: I am in favor of ending threats against the vulnerable and defenseless. But if Live Action hopes for its work to be accepted as true journalism, it must hold itself to a higher standard. (Yes, there are news organizations that fall short of this ideal, as well, but that’s not a reason to justify lax standards here.)

In a radio interview, Live Action's president, Lila Rose, offered a possible answer to my initial question when she stated that the fewer-than two dozen videos created by Live Action have exposed an “across-the-board institutional” problem with illegal activity in Planned Parenthood. It's possible that she is correct, but if so, then Live Action has a responsibility to offer additional proof. The claim is a serious accusation, and should be backed by in-depth research that goes beyond the use of hidden cameras. Whether Live Action members consider themselves advocates, journalists or both, they have a responsibility to present the truth, in full, to readers and viewers.

Again, let’s be clear: the incidents caught on tape are not insignificant. And I’m not arguing in favor of abortions, or encouraging underage women to find loopholes that allow them to obtain abortions, or supporting sex trafficking, or any of the things Live Action alleges Planned Parenthood has done. I’m not even arguing that every law with which Planned Parenthood does comply is a just law. But I will argue that the hidden camera footage alone—which features footage from about 3 percent of the Planned Parenthood clinics in the U.S.—is not sufficient proof that, as Rose claimed in a radio interview, that “Planned Parenthood knows that they have an institutional crisis on their hands from the top down, and they're doing anything they possibly can in some kind of a smear campaign to shut up the evidence and to keep it away from the public."

From a journalistic point of view, I’m left wondering: What percentage of Live Action’s visits to Planned Parenthood clinics do these videos represent? Did every visit by Live Action to a Planned Parenthood clinic result in the exposure of illegal activity by Planned Parenthood? If so, viewers should know that. Have any of Live Action’s undercover operations resulted in evidence of Planned Parenthood workers following the legal protocol during the counseling session? If so, viewers should know that, too. Live Action must put its own actions into perspective. If the group has, in fact, accurately assessed the scope of the alleged illegal activity at Planned Parenthood, then that’s all the more reason for it to use in-depth reporting that goes beyond the sensational “gotcha” mentality inherent in the use of a hidden-camera.

Most journalists agree that hidden cameras should be used only a last resort, and not as part of an attack. Thousands of people work to combat abortion, and the injustices surrounding it, without stooping to the use of deception.

Of course, it can also be argued that Live Action isn’t really trying to produce journalism; it’s simply trying to further the pro-life cause. But, in an interesting article on Public Discourse, Christopher O. Tollefsen argues that Live Action’s method of combating abortion—lying—is, in fact, contrary to the very heart of that cause. He writes,

[F]or all the good that may come of these videos, the way in which Live Action has made its mark is itself extremely troubling, for it is predicated on a form of falsity, which is exercised in an unloving way. Promising and welcome as the effects of these videos might be, they represent a real and dangerous corruption of the pro-life movement itself by endangering the pro-life movement’s commitment to its ideals of love and truth.

It is tempting to refer to the “pimp” character in Live Action’s videos as an “actor.” But this is misleading. Actors perform for willing and aware audiences who realize they are watching a fiction. The “pimp,” rather, lied, repeatedly and pervasively, in his conversation with the Planned Parenthood worker: he presented himself as other than he truly was, and his purpose in doing so was clearly to deceive.

In so presenting himself, the “pimp,” and all those who abetted him, did damage to his own integrity, creating for himself an appearance in the world deliberately at odds with his inner self. But integrity—a unity of one’s acting self in all its aspects—is a great good, and we destroy that unity in a lie only at a great cost to our wellbeing (this cost is recognized in feelings of guilt and in our attempts to ensure that we do not present a false face to the world).

Of course, the makers of the Live Action video could argue that the end—the good sought—justified a morally problematic means. But such a form of argument is a centerpiece of those arguments for abortion which acknowledge the “special respect and value” owed the unborn child, but which still justify his or her destruction for the sake of the consequences. “Do no evil that good may come about” should be central to the pro-life movement’s ethos.

Nor can it be said that Live Action’s behavior towards the Planned Parenthood workers was loving. Under most circumstances, to speak the truth to another just is a demand of love. But under all circumstances, to seek to deceive is to create a relationship with another based on falsity, and this seems inevitably to be unloving. While often undesired, it is a paradigmatically loving thing to do to make known to another the moral wrongness of what they are doing. Indeed, those who protest and pray outside abortion clinics are acting lovingly in speaking the truth. But to encourage wrongdoing through falsity does no good for the deceived agent.

So, while the increased scrutiny of Planned Parenthood is a good thing, and will conceivably lead to the even greater good of a general defunding of this morally bankrupt organization, I can take no joy in Live Action’s approach. They seem to have “fought fire with fire,” combating deceit and lack of charity with more of the same. The pro-life movement must be better than that, always, and it must be willing to engage in self-criticism when it fails to meet its own exacting standards.

Since the article was published, a online debate about lying has ensued. Counterarguments have been written, and Tollesfen has defended his stance in a second piece. Many questionshave been raised: Is lying different from deception? Is it always wrong? Both sides make for thought-provoking reads. What’s your stance? Is Live Action’s video campaign a form of journalism? Is it advocacy? Is it justified?

Kerry Weber

 

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Martin Gallagher
6 years 9 months ago
Vince,

Obviously, no one will ever convince you that PP did anything worng.  The videos are clear to me.   For me, it's preposterous that a "counselor" could listen to to a presuemd sex trafficker talk about his underage and undocumented prostitutes and then bliithely explain how to circumvent parental notification laws.  We'll just have to disagree.  The  best thing readers can do is to go to Live Actions web site, watch the entire videos and decide for themselves. http://liveaction.org/

Kerry is right, though, the interpretation of the videos was not the heart of her question. 

Kerry,

I think you do ask some good questions.  In my opinion, LA is acting as an advocacy group, not journalists.  If they were journalists, I would want them to disclose how many PP facilities they investigated and how many did not fail to proetect children - as you said.  Of course, I would also appreciate the same consideration from mainstream journalists when they report on the Catholic Church! 

Is it a good tactic?  It may be if the goal is to give politicians the impetus to defund PP.  Is this our ultimate goal?  I found it interesting that Abby Johnson is endorsing LA.  I heard her state something to the effect that quiet prayerful witness is the best tactic to use in the pro life movement.  Do the LA undercover tactics harm or help this?  I think they could supplement the effort as long as they did not become the focus.  I don't think the charges of  LA "lying" or being "unloving" holds any more water any more than they would in an undercover police operation.
Vince Killoran
6 years 9 months ago
Brett:

I probably contribute a bit too much, but, good grief Brett, you post A LOT, i.e., you even "double post" and reply to your own replies.  As long as you and the rest of the bloghogs are hard at work I'll be here, but thanks for thinking of me.

My argument is that you cannot equate Planned Parenthood ca. 2011 with eugenics simply because Margaret Sanger endorsed eugenics one hundred  years ago (BTW, real historians debate the extent of this endorsement).  THis is true just as I can't make the easy conclusion that the GOP today is bases its positions and practices on eugenics because its standard bearer in the 1920s liked eugenics.

p.s. Your concern for my mental health has given me an idea: how about both of us take one week-a full seven days-off from providing comments to IAT? C'mon-let's do this!  We can hold out fire, read and think about what other bloggers have to say. Are you in?
ed gleason
6 years 9 months ago
Nothing new here. The make believe 'pimp' video thing was used to destroy ACORN and make a mess of Catholic funding of inner city advocacy groups. With ACORN's scalp on their belt, it no wonder that the it was tried again. However the ACORN scalpers were subsequently arrested invading a congresspersons district office. FOX news wants more red meat than peacefully praying at an abortion clinic. That's a given..   
6 years 9 months ago
I am going to ignore the comment on "political organizing" as my one little line in my last post hardly qualifies as such.

In any case, here is Robert George of Princeton - a top conservative Catholic legal mind - on why the tactics in question are not correct, even if the cause is:

http://mirrorofjustice.blogs.com/mirrorofjustice/2011/02/the-on-line-journal-public-discourse-under-the-brilliant-editorship-of-ryan-anderson-has-become-a-key-site-for-people-inter.html

I like the results, but I am still uneasy on the tactics (i.e. lies to expose evil/dehumanizing focus of their business) due to the fact that it may turn people against de-funding of PP and cause blowback in the long run. 
Vince Killoran
6 years 9 months ago
That's right Joe.
Vince Killoran
6 years 9 months ago
. . .This site should not be a place where political organizing occurs. Think of the choas and flood of causes that would lead to a fundamental change in IAT.


The translation petition dealt with Church matters and was presented as a story (petitions being quite rare in the Catholic Church) with an opportunity to debate its appropriateness and the argument it presented.

6 years 9 months ago
Vince:

On blacks, immigrants and indigents:
"...human weeds,' 'reckless breeders,' 'spawning... human beings who never should have been born."  Margaret Sanger, Pivot of Civilization,



 






6 years 9 months ago
''notable eugenics supporters from the first half of the 20th century include: Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw, Calvin Coolidge, and Oliver Wendall Holmes. ''


Is this supposed to excuse Margaret Sanger who became a crusader for eugenic ideas and for Planned Parenthood?  I characterized correctly Margaret Sanger (crusader is an understatement) and the beginnings of Planned Parenthood and its current position in the abortion debate. 


Aren't Shaw and Holmes some of the great progressives of the 20th century.  I can find a lot more progressives that were into eugenics besides these two. 
Vince Killoran
6 years 9 months ago
And I can find plenty of people who were Progressives who opposed eugenics at the time such as Clarence Darrow and Walter Lippmann.


Following your lead Cosgrove, the British Conservative Party (Churchill) and the GOP (old Calvin C.) are steeped in eugenics! Seeing that these were such important leaders, their views must have informed both parties' notions of citizenship and individual rights.


Wow, that was easy! I'm getting how you guys "do history": take some examples of bad thinking by important people a century ago, make huge leaps across decades (all the while bypassing the history and complexity of organizations and movements), and then shoehorn your facts into a grand scheme that just happens to back a whopper of a claim all in an attempt to score political points. It's the Rube Goldberg history machine!

6 years 9 months ago
Vince, this post is not about the history of eugenics, but the history of an institution founded by a eugenicist that continues to practice "population control" and is funded by hundreds of millions of our tax dollars. 

Didn't you say that you were going to post less?  I know it is hard to be the only progressive catholic on here of late, but perhaps you should give your mind a rest?
Vince Killoran
6 years 9 months ago
As I argued on a posting yesterday the video was edited and manipulated so it's difficult to even begin to discuss the ethics of their approach.  See  Media Matters has provided a comphrensive examination of the debacle (http://mediamatters.org/blog/201102040026).
Juan Lino
6 years 9 months ago
Good post Kerry and thanks for the links on the debate.  I will after I've read everything.

Vince - the comments on the Media Matters site are really sad and the usual "right wingers are liars" B.S. - if "left wingers" were models of truthfulness, then I would buy the comments but since they are not they should cut the cr_p. 
Juan Lino
6 years 9 months ago
Oops - I hit send too quickly: I will comment after I have read everything.
Vince Killoran
6 years 9 months ago
Juan: Thanks for your thoughtful reply but I didn't understand what part of their argument and evidence you found unconvincing. 

I'm open to your argument but you have to present facts. 
Martin Gallagher
6 years 9 months ago
Vince,

I certainly would not consider Media Matters of America a source of unbiased information.

However, if you do look to that MM, you should at least consider how Live Action responds to those charges.  On their web site, LA responds to the same charges that were leveled by a KC Star reporter.

http://liveaction.org/blog/mary-sanchez-kansas-city-star-5-things/

Juan Lino
6 years 9 months ago
Vince - I wasn't talking about Jeremy's post, I was talking about the "comments" on his post which is why I wrote: the comments on ...

I think the comments speak for themselves so I am not quite sure what evidence you want me to provide.
Vince Killoran
6 years 9 months ago
Dear Martin, Juan, et al.:

It doesn't much matter whether you consider MM biased or not, or whether I consider LA biased.  MM have offered an important challenge to LA's story, complete with the undoctored video.

As for the KC Star piece, that doesn't actually address the full MM argument. In addition, the LA representative doesn't actually dispute the fact that the videos were edited-only that they offered a link to the full video. The issue is whether the full video supports their claim. It doesn't.

Overall, the issue shouldn't be one of "bias"-who could prove that doesn't exist?-it's who presents a better argument with a fair presentation of the evidence, as well as an opportunity for people to disagree and challenge their story.

Juan Lino
6 years 9 months ago
BTW, Vince, once I've had a chance to read Jeremy's post I will post a comment on that site - but one thing at a time - Kerry's post first, then the other.
Juan Lino
6 years 9 months ago
Vince - I agree with you that "the issue shouldn't be one of "bias"- who could prove that doesn't exist? - it's who presents a better argument with a fair presentation of the evidence, as well as an opportunity for people to disagree and challenge their story."

Kerry, however, is asking about "method" - which I think you are highlighting as well.  I have only skimmed Kerry’s documents and, on the surface, the question raised seems like a no-brainer but it's really not.  For example, I am a government official and I come to your house and say: "I have a report that you are hiding "undesirables", is that true?"  Well, you actually are but you know that if you say yes, they will be taken away and killed and your family may also be killed but if you say no you know you are lying, so what answer should you give?

This is an extremely fascinating question being raised!
Martin Gallagher
6 years 9 months ago
Vince,

Media Matters' objections are contrived and ridiculous. 

1. MM states that PP followed the law by reporting the underage victims to the Attorney General.  Note that this was by a SNAIL mail letter dated five days after the incident.  They should have reported the incident immediately.  The abuser told PP that he and his victims were not permanent residents of the area.  If PP really wanated to stop the abuse, they would have notified authorities before the abuser skipped town.  I think most people can discern that the letter simply provided PP a paper trail should they get caught.  It is especially telling that in the letter PP admitted that they were aware of undercover operations being conducted at their facilities. 

2. Live action edited their videos for brevity, but posted the unedtted videos on line.  MM calls this editing "doctoring."  MM found one inconsistency one  of the many LA videos and thus ended their hit piece with, "If Live Action is doctoring audio of their Richmond sting, what else are they lying about?" - the implication is that all the videos are false.  Is that the best they can do???   Let's take MM at their word and look at the entire Richmond video.  http://liveaction.org/blog/full-footage/.  Regardless of the inconsistency in the editted version, look at time 10:31:30 -> underage -> abused -> info on how to avoid parental consent.


Vince Killoran
6 years 9 months ago
Just calling something "contrived and ridiculous" doesn't make it so.


I'm sorry but the clip does not prove that PP broke the law.Your conclusion that PP must be guilty because it took them five days to send the AG a letter isn't persuasive either.  I'd love it if the Church took only five days to contact authorities about reported sexual abuse! There are some 800 PP offices so it's actually impressive that they looked into these incidences as quickly as they did.   in addition to reporting what happend to their supervisors staff in some cities actually followed people to the parking lot to take down their car make and license numbers and notified the local police.


The real story here is how LA has taken some dodgy video and made damning claims against an organization in order to press ahead with a political agenda. I think they are hurting the pro-life movement.



Juan Lino
6 years 9 months ago
Kerry,

I’ve been mulling over your provocative post for the last several days and here’s the fruit of my reflection.  After checking your citations and the CCC, especially paragraph #s 1753 and 2464 to 2499), I’ve concluded that the guiding principle articulated in #1753 was violated: A good intention (for example, that of helping one's neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just. The end does not justify the means.”

As to the question: Is Live Action an advocacy group?  I answer yes in the same way that WikiLeaks is an advocacy group.  Are they both journalists?  Hard to say since the internet is changing what the definition of a jornalist is.  For example, Time magazine has said that WikiLeaks “could become as important a journalistic tool as the Freedom of Information Act.” 

Then of course there is the phrase: “Be wise as serpants…

I’m not sure we are ever going to solve this one because the facts are as solid as air at the moment.  (This is not to say that I am advocating situational ethics just saying that "the object determines the method of investigattion.")
Martin Gallagher
6 years 9 months ago
Juan,

That's a great comparison with WikiLeaks!
6 years 9 months ago
I find it interesting that anyone here would defend Planned Parenthood.  This is an organization started on the idea of limitiing the African American population and was a major supporter of eugenics and now, you could say it is implementing that philosophy through their abortion clinics which are primarily in black communities.  Its founder, Margaret Sanger, was a racist and a leader in the eugenics movement of the early 20th century.
6 years 9 months ago
I am not sure about the ethics of the videos but I do know about the evil of PP.  I just read that the House voted to defund PP.  I am sure that this is a joyous vote that Kerry Weber, the America editors and I can agree on!
Vince Killoran
6 years 9 months ago
I'm guessing Cosgrove is referring to my posts.

I am not necessarily defending the goals  objectives of PP, although your characterization of the organization is incorrect. BTW, notable eugenics supporters from the first half of the 20th century include: Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw, Calvin Coolidge, and Oliver Wendall Holmes.  


I was defending the honest assessment of evidence and the construction of sound arguments.  Boy, that sounds grandiose!

 
6 years 9 months ago
Thanks for posting on this, Kerry.  Some interesting and thought-provoking posts by Juan, David and Martin.

Considering that Planned Parenthood vote just happened in the House and they voted to defund this abortion-centric group (a correct vote, in my opinion) - it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Feel free to call you senators for the next vote ;)
Vince Killoran
6 years 9 months ago
Brett, isn't the next step to ask people to contact you at your e-mail and help organize volunteers?

I didn't think this blog was for political organizing. 
6 years 9 months ago
Vince,

I am not sure if it is ok for political organizing on this site concerning abortion and PP but it does seem to be ok to organize against the corrected translation of the Roman Rite.  Right?  We need to protest that intrinsic evil of bad translation:)
6 years 9 months ago
Eh... ;) 

I have been cutting back on the internet all together (no checking during work hours and probably gone for the month of Lent) - that said, I am not sure there is a need for a full break for one site or another. 
David Andersen
6 years 9 months ago
I don't understand the antics pro life activits can sometimes get involved in. Yes, it is a serious matter, but the dodgy behavior is immature and innapropriate at times. Critics need to be open to criticism, especially self-criticism. I find it interesting when people feel they are at such an impasse and desparate they resort to using  spy equipment in place of communication.

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