The hypocrisy of prosecuting the Planned Parenthood muckrakers

In this April 29, 2016 file photo, David Robert Daleiden, right, leaves a courtroom after a hearing in Houston.  (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan, File)In this April 29, 2016 file photo, David Robert Daleiden, right, leaves a courtroom after a hearing in Houston.  (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan, File)

A law applied selectively would probably best not be applied at all. A good prosecutor would already understand that.

Xavier Becerra, the attorney general of California and a former Democratic member of Congress, has decided to throw the book at David Daleiden, founder of the Center for Medical Progress, and Sandra Merritt, a C.M.P. associate. Mr. Daleiden and Ms. Merritt are the controversial investigators and producers of undercover videos that captured Planned Parenthood officials cavalierly bargaining over baby parts two years ago.


The attorney general’s office maintains that the C.M.P. undercover investigators invaded the privacy of 14 medical providers by filming them without consent. With the addition of a conspiracy charge, the two C.M.P. representatives face a 15 count felony indictment.

Many commentators have already pointed out a disturbing and obvious double standard at work here. Animal rights activists, for example, who have similarly used subterfuge to connect with exposé targets and have not sought permission for video recording—that’s the undercover part after all—have not been subject to the same scrutiny as Mr. Daleiden and Ms. Merritt. In fact, most would argue that journalists who uncover instances of abuses like torture or other forms of violence are heroes, not criminals.

Criticizing C.M.P.’s tactics and methods as outside the norms of journalistic practice may be fair. There are also questions to be raised about whether or not, on balance, the approach they chose serves the larger goal of helping people recognize unborn life as worthy of respect. But these failures do not justify criminal prosecution. The videos have drawn back the curtain on a gruesome procedure that most people do not want to spend too much time thinking about—the dismemberment and destruction of human life that is sometimes on the edge or just beyond the viability threshold.

There are many reasons to object to the attorney general’s decision to indict and the severity of the charges his office has issued—primarily that the multiple indictments appear to be the result of an ideological bias, not necessarily balanced prosecutorial judgment. But journalists should be especially outraged by the indictments, whatever they think of C.M.P.’s methods or aims. The indictments continue a decisive weakening of press freedom already under way in California.

Mr. Becerra’s predecessor, Senator Kamala Harris, Democrat of California, who initiated the investigation against Mr. Daleiden and Ms. Merritt, collaborated with Planned Parenthood officials last year to craft a new state law that seems explicitly targeted against C.M.P.’s undercover operations but will have a dampening effect on all such efforts. So far, unfortunately, reaction in the mainstream press to the C.M.P. prosecution has been oddly muted.

An editorial in the Los Angeles Times on March 30 bucks that trend by deploring the attorney general’s actions as an instance of prosecutorial overreach. It calls the indictments “disturbingly aggressive,” arguing that it was unnecessary for the attorney general “to apply this criminal statute to people who were trying to influence a contested issue of public policy.” The Los Angeles Times editors are no fans of the C.M.P., but they recognize the importance of pushing back against prior restraints on journalists who are reporting on controversial matters in the public interest.

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Catherine Rogers
1 year 9 months ago

Does it matter that the videos were essentially lies, heavily edited to make it seem that gruesome deals were being made when in fact they were not? Does being pro-life mean you don't have to be pro-truth?

Mary Kambic
1 year 9 months ago

I think the lies were those of Planned Parenthood which admitted that fetal parts are sold. The difference of opinion, if I remember correctly, is the point that PP made profits from the sale. It is probably true that the costs are covered in the transactions, but profit is not. Regardless, as Sojourners' editor Jim Wallis remarked at the time, the videos should make us very worried. Additionally, I was a signer of an amicus brief to the Supreme Court some years ago, protesting the decision of PP to use the RICO anti-organized crime law to sue anti-abortion activists. All of the signers were or are anti-war, anti-death penalty, and peace activists who had been arrested in demonstrations. Their suit was definitely against free speech.

Dominic Deus
1 year 9 months ago

Catherine--No, for the purposes of this prosecution, it does nat matter that the videos were contrived, audio shopped, edited and distorted. The only question is "Did they violate the privacy of citizens of California, under the law that protects them from non-consensual use of their words or actions. (My words.) The truth or falsity of the non-consensual use is not on trial, although a conviction in a criminal court could be entered as evidence into a civil suit for damages. I suspect the defendants are at the beginning of very long and potentially expensive road. It serves no legitimate purpose to provide false information, disinformation or outright lies in the conversation about abortion. The facts and the truth are uncomfortable for all those "pro-life" or "pro-choice." Let us not waste energy on lies.

--Dominic Deus

Karen Connell
1 year 9 months ago

So you're advocating using fake news to emphasize the rights of the unborn? Do not tell a lie is one of the Commandments!

Barbara Sirovatka
1 year 9 months ago

The full footage videos are available and are not only gruesome, but reveal a disturbing willingness on the part of PP staff to chat enthusiastically about their harvesting techniques. Right from the abortionist's mouth. Can't get any truer.

Vincent Guerra
1 year 9 months ago

Articles like this are why Catholic social thought will continue in its slide toward irrelevance. Lazy logic used to obscure the truth and prop up dogma. There are more important things in the world than abortion. Somehow even the Jesuits--let alone laypersons and evangelicals--can only see the world through a view warped by their anxious stance toward abortion. The more fixated, the less able to do God's work. It's a shame.

Dominic Deus
1 year 9 months ago

Vincent--Contraception greatly reduces abortion and might eliminate it if it were universally available. Why is contraception a sin? Seems like it should be a sacrament. --Dominic Deus

Vincent Gaglione
1 year 9 months ago

While I might understand the perspective from journalism, I think you dangerously conflate journalism with muckraking. Perhaps from your point of view muckraking is ultimately innocuous. I do not agree. I find it a first cousin of the kinds of egregious false stories that appear on tabloid front pages only to be later corrected on page 20 while the individuals who were smeared have no recourse to salvaging their good names and characters.

Just a personal opinion, perhaps stated too strongly: I will not be persuaded that the individuals engaged in this particular muckraking are candidates for sainthood. They are lowlifes no different than the people whom they recorded!

Gay Timothy O'Dreary
1 year 9 months ago

The Ca. AG should be prosecuted, tried and sentenced to watch videos of abortions. People like them are the reason why Hillary and Trump were our "choices" as Chief Executive of the USA. Selective faux rage and situation "ethics". Canonize the videographers Saints and make them Legislators of California. Sentencing the AG to watch videos of abortions would be a just correctional plan...and for anyone else who "thinks" the videographers are guilty of anything criminal.

"Undercover investigations, it turns out, are not just effective tools for exposing and ending animal abuse, they fall squarely within our fundamental First Amendment rights. In the case of the videos we have produced, the only people who have a problem with that are those with something to hide." - Nathan Runkle

Nathan Runkle is the founder and president of Mercy for Animals, an international non-profit organization dedicated to preventing cruelty to farmed animals and promoting compassionate food choices and policies.…

Anne Danielson
1 year 9 months ago

"...the dismemberment and destruction of human life that is sometimes on the edge or just beyond the viability threshold."

The hypocrisy lies with the claim that a right to privacy, includes a right to deny shelter and nourishment to a son or daughter of a human person who is sometimes on the edge or just beyond the viability threshold, whether that particular child is existing inside the womb, or has come forth from the womb, and obviously, for some time will still depend on other persons to provide the necessary nourishment and shelter for the life of that particular son or daughter to continue to grow , develop, and flourish.

The concept of viability does not justify the intentional destruction of the life of an innocent beloved son or daughter.

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 year 9 months ago

Dominic Deus has in his comment (above in this thread) succinctly set forth the legal issue.
Regrettably it is clear that the "issue of hypocrisy" you pose is not relevant to the controlling legal issues.
I am intrigued however that some of the Social Warriors who appear elsewhere in comments to articles in AMERICA find urgent moral imperatives for government action in the immigration controversy, the climate change issue, and the general care of the poor. But as to abortion they suggest it is relatively unimportant, or a moral issue that government should not be involved in.
For the former issues they cite The Sermon on The Mount and on the abortion issues they turn to "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's............." as controlling.
For my part the government obligation to secure protect and defend the safety of its people is its paramount obligation. The protection of the unborn has historically been an essential component of this primary government obligation. Clearly there is a a hierarchy of importance in Catholic Social Teaching . While the Pope has certainly spoken loudly about the need to obey the Beatitudes and Climate Change, he has unconditionally declared "abortion is an abominable crime" .

James Murray
1 year 9 months ago

The theory of this article is to equate filming of animal rights violations and Planned Parenthood's selling of fetal material. Under the law, one is illegal and the other legal. So yes, filming illegal activity is legal (we can all get that one) and filming legal activity is illegal (I think we can get that one if we don't judge it with bias). That's the distinction. They should be prosecuted.

Crystal Watson
1 year 9 months ago

It is correct for the attorney general to charge Daleiden and Merritt with felonies. The difference between true investigative journalism and what CMP did is this ... investigative journalism strives to reveal a hidden truth to the public, but CMP instead lied to the public with its dishonest videos. All the investigations of Planned Parenthood have shown that there has been no sale of baby parts.

Tom Maher
1 year 9 months ago

Political free speech is once again being suppressed by powerful political groups allied with the state that is using state laws to criminally prosecute citizens who use their First Amendment free speech rights to question, expose and identify highly controversial and objectionable methods and business practices of selling aborted fetal tissue, organs and body parts which is prohibited by federal law.

Sanctimoniously, hypocritically and obnoxiously the state ignores all controversial, illegality and mercenary practices of merchandising fetal body parts by abortion organizations while criminally prosecuting journalist who have well documented the abuses and frequency of abuses of selling customer ordered and processed fetal body parts.

This partisan political prosecuting by the State of California legal interpretation makes a right of privacy which is not found in the U.S. Constitution a superior right over First Amendment rights of free speech and press. Political reality is turned upside down by making criminal the free speech exposure and questioning of the highly controversial and illegal practices which the abortion industry does not want the public to know about

Use of state of California privacy laws to criminalize political free speech rights of journalists and the press is unconstitutional and will not be allowed to stand. This is reminiscent of the early 1960s, 50 years ago, where state laws suppressed all criticism of civil rights abuses in the South by public officials. The partisan state laws effectively censoring of the press in the early 1960s lead to the landmark 1964 Supreme Court free speech decision know as the New York Times v. Sullivan. The state public officials had won large libel judgement in state court against the New York Times effectively censoring the New York Times for publishing accounts that questioned the way local public official handling of civil rights marches. State law and state public officials found the New York Times criticism libelous and easily won large libel judgement in state court using state law against the New York Times which would effectively have a chilling effect on free speech of journalist and the press throughout the country. The Supreme Court however ruled that free speech especially of the press was paramount and overruled the state judgement and changed the federal law on libel to allow all speech not malicious or in reckless disregard of the truth to be publish.

Today one-sided partisan pro-abortion politics of California will not be allowed to censor speech by criminalizing the free speech of journalist and the press critical of abortion providers merchandising and sale of fetal body parts which is illegal under federal law. First Amendment rights are essential and supersede government censorship under state law pretext of "privacy right" with criminal penalties. One can expect this case to be taken out of state court and decided in federal court which will not allow the illegal action to be protected by state privacy rights and definitely will not allow the free speech of journalist and the press to be suppress by state criminal legal actions. The politics and laws of the state of California do not supersede the First Amendment free speech rights of journalist and the press of the United States Constitution.

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