Ideas For Reporters Struggling To Cover Planned Parenthood (Updated)
Mollie Hemingway
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Many years ago I interviewed for a reporting job covering government waste, fraud and mismanagement. The interview went well and my future employers mentioned that they’d had trouble keeping the position filled as many reporters had trouble coming up with story ideas. They wondered if that would be a problem. I thought they were joking, so I chuckled. But they were entirely serious.

I thought of that when looking at media coverage of the Planned Parenthood scandal. The media seem to be really struggling to come up with any story ideas for how to cover this story.

A few reporters wrote an initial story on the undercover video that caught the senior director for medical services at Planned Parenthood discussing the harvesting of organs from the unborn children killed by abortion. Another few reporters noted early political repercussions that followed, including the launching of state and federal investigations. A few reporters wrote up the apology (for the “tone” used by the wine-drinking, salad-munching Dr. Deborah Nucatola as she discussed harvesting lungs, livers, hearts and brains) offered by Planned Parenthood’s president Cecile Richards.

But given the many angles that could be covered, the lack of ferocity with which they’re tackling this story is noticeable. Compare, for instance, what happened in the last month with coverage of Confederate flags. The controversy over the flag arose after the man charged in the Charleston church shooting was pictured with a Confederate flag. Coverage was media-led and media-stoked. The media couldn’t stop finding new angles to cover, including calling up retailers and pressuring them to stop selling merchandise with any Confederate flag depiction, such as a toy depicting the General Lee from the Dukes of Hazzard television show.

The shooting happened on June 17, about a month ago. The media quickly moved on from the victims and the shooting itself, even though there were many worthwhile angles to cover. Instead they went for frenzied coverage of the presence of Confederate flags. The Planned Parenthood video was released on July 14, about a week ago. If the story of harvesting organs for sale from aborted babies were deemed merely as important as the flag story, we’d expect to see many multiples of the levels of coverage we’re seeing now.

Using Nexis, I looked at a few media outlets to see how their coverage of the Confederate flag compared to the Planned Parenthood video. For my quick searches, I put in “Confederate” and “flag,” and “Planned Parenthood” and “video,” with the appropriate dates. My search of the media companies’ web sites showed higher counts for one or the other entry than what showed up in Nexis, for what it’s worth. And for CNN, I modified “video” with “undercover.” What I found was most interesting, and goes a long way to show how the media can drum up interest in a story or work to suppress a story:

  • CNN has had 493 mentions of the Confederate flag since June 17 (only 188 of these even mention alleged church shooter Dylann Roof), and managed 167 in the first six days. In the first six days of the Planned Parenthood scandal, they managed 7 mentions, less than 5 percent what you’d expect if you considered those stories only of equal importance.
  • The Washington Post mentioned the Confederate flag 624 times in the last month (only 135 of these mention Roof), and 126 times in the first six days. The Washington Post has 28 stories mentioning the Planned Parenthood video in the first six days, just over 22 percent of what you’d expect if you considered the harvesting of organs from aborted babies to be merely as important as the Confederate flag topic.
  • The New York Times has run stories and essays on the Confederate flag 149 times since June 17 (and only 39 of those mention Roof), 41 of those in the first six days. That compares to three stories on Planned Parenthood during the same window, just 7 percent of what you’d expect if the New York Times considered those stories merely of equal importance.
  • Finally, Nexis shows 70 mentions of the Confederate flag on Politico.com in the last month (only 18 mention Roof), 29 of those in the first six days of the story. For the Planned Parenthood video, it shows 4 stories.

Don’t forget that many broadcasters were even more zealous in their coverage of the Confederate flag, while running only the briefest mentions, at best, of the Planned Parenthood story. I’d also be curious how the pro/con arguments break down for the two issues in terms of editorials and op-eds.

Clearly, our media are struggling to come up with any angles to cover on this story. Perhaps they don’t want to be so disparate in their coverage but, like my predecessors on the government waste, fraud and mismanagement beat, they just don’t have any ideas.

I don’t have any of the resources of the Washington Post, the New York Times, CNN, or Politico. If I did, here are just a few stories that I might have reporters look into. Feel free to add your ideas in the comments. Have at ’em, well-funded news teams:

  • We’ve heard about serial murderer/abortionist Kermit Gosnell keeping trophies of his victims, abortion clinics dumping babies in the trash, and now Deborah Nucatola working to do “a little better than break even” in the sales of intact baby organs. What’s the standard procedure for disposal of the unborn children killed in abortion? Are there abortion clinic standards for this? Does it vary state by state? Do states even have regulations? Does Planned Parenthood have uniform regulations? If not, why not? If so, how are they enforced?
  • How much money does Planned Parenthood receive via sales of baby organs? Do they keep records? Are those records trustworthy? How do we know? How significant are these funds to the abortion portion of Planned Parenthood’s operation? How does compensation for the children’s lungs, livers, hearts and brains vary by state, if they do vary?
  • How far along in a pregnancy must a woman be for her child’s organs to be considered worthwhile for procurement, sale and transfer? How much does the value of a child’s liver, heart, lungs, etc., increase with time? Do the sales of baby organs form a significant enough part of Planned Parenthood’s business model to result in, say, filibustering of protections for late-term unborn children?
  • How did the Center for Medical Progress obtain the video? Who are they? Why haven’t the media ask tough questions of abortion clinics, historically? When Indiana passed a religious freedom bill, various media outlets roamed the countryside searching for vendors with religious objections to same-sex marriage, such as the owners of Memories Pizza. What questions might be posed to abortion clinic owners and managers around the country? Does the failure of the media to cover abortion well encourage undercover journalism operations, such as the one by Center for Medical Progress?
  • What are the laws on trafficking in human body parts? Who wrote those laws? Was the abortion industry involved in writing those laws?
  • How much money is made throughout the organ sale process? How do corporations make their way around laws prohibiting the express sale of human organs? What do ethicists say about these loopholes and workarounds?
  • Could expert observers take us through Planned Parenthood’s various responses to the charges levied in the video? They don’t deny the charges. How is that significant?
  • Clearly this was a story that generated tremendous interest among critics of Planned Parenthood. Yet reports flooded in of Facebook denying people the ability to share posts about the story or even “like” ones they saw. What is the real story there? What was going on? What does Facebook say about why that was happening? Similarly, Twitter waited many hours before allowing Planned Parenthood to be a trending topic on Twitter. Why? How is that focused? What role do social media corporations play in controlling news? Who makes these calls, and what are their criteria for doing so? How do they rate something as offensive or unsuitable?
  • Who is Deborah Nucatola? What is her role at Planned Parenthood? Does she have other significant roles? What are her political contributions? Who are her political allies? If a young woman making lightly disparaging comments about the Obama family on her Facebook page merited a deep dive by the Washington Post into her high school records, what can we learn from Nucatola’s childhood friends, boyfriends, colleagues. Where did things go wrong for her? What did it mean, if anything, when Planned Parenthood said Nucatola had been lightly reprimanded for her comments recorded on the video? What, in particular, did she do to deserve a reprimand? Will Cecile Richards tell us what specific statements Nucatola said that were offensive?
  • Why has the media covered this salacious and scandalous story with so much less rigor and enthusiasm than might be expected? What do managing editors have to say about the treatment of this story? Many promised to fix the problems after the Gosnell media blackout. What do they think went wrong with those efforts, if they were ever implemented?
  • Why have abortion rights groups and prominent activists been so silent about this story?
  • If asking every pro-life politician in the country to weigh in on Todd Akin’s impolitic remarks on “legitimate rape” made sense, let’s certainly find out what every pro-choice politician in the country thinks about the harvesting of baby organs by abortionists for sale to corporations. Hillary Clinton’s close ties to Planned Parenthood and abortion rights extremists mean her response is the lead story.
  • How did sales of aborted children begin? Did Planned Parenthood seek buyers or did the baby part buyers seek out Planned Parenthood? Does it depend by affiliate? Planned Parenthood has a corner on the market of freshly dead young humans. Does this market share make them significant in the human organ trade? Who are the buyers? Who arranges the sales? How much money changes hands? Do the buyers receive any federal funds? What research is conducted?
  • Along those lines, what are the laws governing sale of tissue in other circumstances? If it was a tumor that had been removed, would the doctor have the right to sell it? Would they have the right to try and do “a little better than break even”? What governs that? How does the process specifically work and who oversees the regulation of this industry? Specifically how are sales monitored? How confident are observers and interested parties that the monitoring of this process is stringent or effective?
  • What do corporations do with aborted baby parts? Is there any risk that people have unknowingly been using products or research based on parts harvested from the children killed in abortion? Do consumers have the right to know when humans are killed and then have their parts used for research?
  • The undercover journalists produced one example of a form Planned Parenthood uses to obtain consent from mothers procuring abortions. Is that form standard across all Planned Parenthood affiliates? If not, how and why do they vary? Do other abortion corporations have similar consent forms? How do they vary? The one example of Planned Parenthood’s consent form specifically said that mothers understand they won’t be compensated for “donating” their children’s tissue. However, in early public relations materials from Planned Parenthood, they claimed that Nucatola’s money discussion wasn’t about selling body parts to corporations but, rather, about compensating women for their “donation.” Explain the disparity.
  • Do medical ethicists think that Planned Parenthood’s consent forms are sufficient? Should women be told that abortionists may alter their abortion procedures to procure valuable livers, lungs, hearts and brains? If not, why not? If so, are any Planned Parenthood affiliates so informing the women whose abortions they perform?
  • Is Planned Parenthood able to disclose which of its affiliates are engaged in the harvesting of baby organs for sale to corporations? If not, why not? If so, how reliable are their records? Since organ sales are prohibited, organ harvesters typically charge for “shipping” or “rental space” in a clinic. How does Planned Parenthood designate its organ sales to be or appear to be reasonable? What is the range of amounts charged for these things? How and why do they vary? What is considered a reasonable amount? How is “reasonable” determined?
  • Explain the various federal and state laws governing organ procurement and sales. What legal regime is in place that permits the harvesting and sale of organs? How is it monitored?
  • What do medical experts say about the changes to the abortion procedure mentioned by Nucatola for the sake of procuring organs. Do these changes to the abortion procedure increase the chance of complications for the mother? Is there an incentive on the part of Planned Parenthood to target larger babies for “part conservation” by inducing breach deliveries, as mentioned by Dr. Nucatola? What rights do the mothers have to be informed about how their abortion process has been altered to procure these parts? Dr. Nucatola claims that mothers don’t have the right to be notified of her alterations to the procedure. Is that true?
  • How has the Planned Parenthood video been received by those who have seen it? What parts struck them the most? How do people who deny the humanity of the unborn child explain the video discussions about harvesting their organs?
  • How does the harvesting of organs fit into Planned Parenthood’s work culture? Do people who work at Planned Parenthood clinics know that this is going on? Do they all chat about it over salad or is it more a covert wing of the operation? Do new workers or volunteers learn about it and react poorly? Various prominent pro-life activists are former Planned Parenthood employees and managers. What do they know about this practice? Are secretaries at Planned Parenthood cheerfully arranging for the delivery of fetal livers immediately after booking an abortion appointment? Does Planned Parenthood have an employment hiring or retention problem?
  • Tell us more about the “reimbursement” rates for various organs. Which organs are most valuable? How do those organs change in value over time? How does this relate to the late-term abortion debate?
  • Is there a price differential between white baby parts and black baby parts? Is there a price differential between male organs and female organs? If so, how much?

It’s just a few of the many angles that could be covered and should be covered. The media may have gotten a tremendously late start, but better late than never. Go get ’em, journalists! Do your jobs!

UPDATE: Readers suggest a few more questions reporters who want to do journalism might be interested in finding answers to:

  • Did the buyers of organs, either as companies or as individuals, from Planned Parenthood donate back to Planned Parenthood or their affiliates? Would be great to see donor records. Start with executives at StemExpress. Are there lobbying ties to explore?
  • Why the difference in price for different parts (Nucatola discussed a “menu” of options) if it doesn’t correlate to their value, there are no changes to the abortion procedure and Planned Parenthood is merely being “reimbursed” for their costs?
  • What laws govern organ harvesting, state and federal? How do they vary?
  • How widespread is the practice of organ harvesting in this country and elsewhere
  • The video mentions discussions regarding organ harvesting occurring “behind closed doors” at Planned Parenthood. Tell us more about what those conversations might entail.
  • Why doesn’t Planned Parenthood advertise that they harvest organs?
  • What are the uses of the organs and tissues obtained and where is the end market? Medical research in what fields? In what countries? For what end goals? What non research /non scientific uses are there if any, and in what countries and by whom? Do these same markets exist in post birth and/or adult tissue and how do the markets compare? How big is the industry in terms of manpower and economic power? Are the procurement procedures and markets in existence in other countries and how do they compare? What are the international laws that govern this industry and are there treaties for trade that include these markets? Is there a black market In the US or elsewhere, and to what extent?
  • If a women is ‘gifting’ her baby’s body parts to Planned Parenthood, and then Planned parenthood is then, supposedly, ‘gifting’ these parts to research, what value is placed on the gift? I can’t gift something of significant value to another person or organization without the IRS being involved. Can a women claim the ‘gift’ as a donation to a tax exempt organization and if so how much can be claimed on IRS forms? My question is, with all this ‘gifting’ going on, what is the possible requirement for IRS involvement? Are body parts considered a tax exempt donation when passed from Planned Parenthood to a public for-profit corporation doing research? If it can and should be claimed, how much is Planned Parenthood claiming on their IRS forms for each of their ‘donations’ to corporations and/or research organizations for each body part? Do these companies then declare the receipt of the organs as donations which are assigned a monetary value and then taxed?
  • What is the history of Planned Parenthood and in particular how have Margaret Sanger’s principles and ideas about social classes and races influenced PP? Does Sanger have any thoughts about medical ethics with regards to aborted babies? Or aborted babies of “inferior classes”?
  • Are abortions ever delayed and pregnancies allowed to continue until fetal development reaches a particular stage that makes harvesting of organs more viable?
  • Since this is all scientific research, can we expect video of the research? Can we get access to video documentation of the transport of fetal remains and harvesting of the organs? Is there a timeline available in how this material is handled? Are harvested fetal organs treated in the same way as other donated organs? Does the mother have any involvement in the release of such organs to researchers? How is authorization given for such usage
  • What sort of benefits does PP receive that are not directly financial? Are there other forms of compensation that we do not know about?
  • What about the use of ultrasound technology? If it’s considered torture to the recipient of the procedure to make her watch it, how does she feel about doctors using it to reposition the fetus for maximum extraction rewards? Should the recipient be giving consent for the sonogram for this portion of the procedure? Why is there no backlash against PP doctors using ultrasounds to better obtain intact body parts, while there was a huge backlash against the Texas law requiring ultrasounds to provide the mothers with a more thorough understanding of their bodies and the procedure they were signing up for? How is one invasive and whatnot, but not the other?
  • The original video had the doctor quoting the worth of the ’tissue’ as $30-$100 per SPECIMEN. What is the breakdown on that? If the doctor ‘crushes’ the correct parts and the harvest includes a healthy, undamaged liver, two lungs, a brain, at least one kidney, a heart and ‘lower extremities’, would the end results be perhaps hundreds of dollars for one abortion?
  • how much time do Planned Parenthood staff spend on encouraging adoption over abortion? After all, a major source of their income comes from abortion.
  • Are these “business lunches” a typical part of the operation for both Planned Parenthood and the organ brokers? Who picks up the tab? Are they part of Planned Parenthood’s budget, and how much is budgeted for them?
  • How many brokers are there for tissue and organs? Where do the organs ultimately end up– hospitals, universities, big pharma companies? How much taxpayer money ultimately ends up in the process? Who are the real companies buying the parts from PP? What type of volume are we talking about? Are they private independent labs or University labs? Any public research involved? What is so important about having more than just the tissue? What are the experiments?
  • Do arguments in support of harvesting organs from the unborn apply to prisoners who die or are executed? If so, how so? If not, how do they not apply? What are the rules governing organ harvesting of the incarcerated who die in prison?
  • How were the actors portraying biologics buyers so knowledgeable and able to be so convincing? Was a disillusioned staffer at one of the purchasing companies helping them? Did someone from the Komen Foundation have anything to do with these videos as revenge for what Planned Parenthood did to them a few years ago when they tried to stop funding Planned Parenthood? Did they have someone inside Planned Parenthood helping them out?
  • Cargo and passenger airlines have specific policies regarding the packaging and transport of human remains. What is the method of conveyance and tracking for harvested human tissues? How are they protected against damage or loss? Do they constitute a biological hazard if broken open?
  • Canvas district attorneys throughout the country. What do they have to say about the possibility of criminal charges?

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Mollie Ziegler Hemingway is a senior editor at The Federalist. Follow her on Twitter at @mzhemingway

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