The 7 Biggest Problems With CNN’s Planned Parenthood Story
Mollie Hemingway

The last time I actually screamed at my television due to seriously flawed news coverage was February 2, 2012. The cause was an ABC “news” “report” on Planned Parenthood that was riddled with errors and framing flaws. The “news” story was in reaction to the Susan G. Komen foundation’s attempt to extricate itself from funding Planned Parenthood. Said annual funding was keeping pro-lifers from giving money to the foundation. Planned Parenthood went public with the news of Komen’s decision (through David Crary, a friendly reporter at The Associated Press) at the same moment it launched a savvy and expensive public relations campaign intending to make an example out of Komen.

The media tsunami took over. Over at ABC News, Claire Shipman and Diane Sawyer repeatedly talked about how shocking this move was because Planned Parenthood was so awesome and did so many mammograms.

A couple weeks ago, Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards finally admitted what pro-lifers had been trying to get the media to stop falsely and uncritically repeating on behalf of the organization for years: Planned Parenthood doesn’t do mammograms. Not a single one. Their facilities aren’t equipped or authorized to do mammograms. The corporation’s repeated claims and insinuations that they did mammograms were fraudulent. Politically helpful, absolutely. But fraudulent. Here’s a sample from that “news” story that reads like PR spin on behalf of Planned Parenthood:

That ubiquitous pink ribbon for decades uniting women in the greater good is sporting a black eye today. Thousands of women saying they will no longer support the Komen foundation or buy pink. Women like Monique Benoit who benefited from a Komen Planned Parenthood mammogram.

Compare that with her testimony a few weeks ago where Richards said, “We do not have mammogram machines at our health centers and we’ve never stated that we did.” (Except she herself did, in this video.)

Which brings us to this unbelievably awful CNN report by Drew Griffin that aired this week. It also made me scream because of the errors, half-truths, and deceptions that it contained in its lengthy defense of the country’s largest abortion provider.

It’s so tremendously bad that I don’t actually know where to begin.

1) “The real story behind those Planned Parenthood videos”

The segment, which lasts more than 11 minutes, promises to give you “the real story behind those Planned Parenthood videos.” The graphic at the beginning of the report hilariously says, “keeping them honest.” Anderson Cooper introduces the segment promising,

“Now, there has been a lot of finger pointing and claims about those videos, so we put senior investigative correspondent, Drew Griffin, on the case to try to find out which side is telling the truth.”

As of right now, the Center for Medical Progress has released 18 hours, 57 minutes and 19 seconds of footage from its undercover journalism investigation of Planned Parenthood’s participation in the human organ trade. Much of this was distilled into 11 shorter videos ranging from two minutes to 15 minutes in length. These videos are intensely graphic, including footage of aborted baby organs being lifted up by technicians inside Planned Parenthood clinics. It includes discussion of high-ranking Planned Parenthood officials talking about how to abort babies using “less crunchy” methods or how to alter a procedure so as to procure valuable organs from the aborted baby. It includes discussion from high-ranking Planned Parenthood officials talking about how to avoid scrutiny of the practice by the media and the government. It includes discussion of officials negotiating prices for the parts, despite claims that they only received reimbursements (which would be, of course, fixed). It includes discussion of officials talking about how to get creative with accounting. It also includes stories of callous abortionists, clinics with STAPH infections, and any number of angles that the country’s reporters should have immediately dug into.

This news report doesn’t give us the real story behind anything, much less ‘those’ Planned Parenthood videos.

This news report doesn’t give us the real story behind anything, much less “those” Planned Parenthood videos. It doesn’t dig into the human organ harvesting business. It doesn’t dig into anything mentioned above. It doesn’t for even a moment investigate the claims made in the videos. And it doesn’t check out any of the claims made by Planned Parenthood in defense of their practices.

Instead, it spends the majority of the report pretending to be confused about how video editing works.

2) How many times can we say “edited” “edited” “edited” “edited”?

When Cecile Richards gave her first interview (to longtime Clinton associate, ABC News’ George Stephanopolous) in the aftermath of the scandal breaking, I wrote about her four talking points. The first — her main talking point — was that the videos were “edited.”

She said it over and over and over again.

And yet she didn’t say it even a fraction as much as CNN did in this report. If the CNN report said “edited” once, it must have said it 20 times. It was the entire frame of the report. We’re going to get into how particularly stupid CNN’s obsession was on this, but we need to remember that all journalism is edited. Literally all journalism. This goes quadruple for video journalism. And unlike every other journalistic outfit around, including CNN, and including this particular report from CNN, the Center for Medical Progress has actually released the full footage of its interviews with Planned Parenthood officials. The “edited” videos run a total of nearly 2 hours while the “full” footage videos run more than 17 hours. For what it’s worth, I asked Griffin for the unedited footage of his videos with his two sources for his report. I’ll update if and when he provides them to me.

In any case, back in July I wrote, “Precisely because Planned Parenthood is running so hard with this talking point, objective journalists need to make sure people know that unlike most all the things that are edited in the world, full footage is public and ready for anyone to see.”

I didn’t imagine that CNN would instead take Planned Parenthood’s talking point, buy it a nice dress and some jewelry, pay to get its hair done, and throw a party for it.

3) Video editing — how does it work?

For some seven minutes, which is forever in broadcast media terms, Drew Griffin pretends to be confused about how video journalism works. This is a bad look on anyone, but a really bad look on someone who makes a living as a video journalist and does literally everything his report highlights then pretends to be confused or upset when journalist David Daleiden does it. He sets aside 19 hours of footage from “those videos” we were promised to learn about in order to focus on two 10-second clips showing images of babies at the same gestational age as a baby whose brain was harvested by a human organ procurement technician inside a Planned Parenthood clinic.

You can watch the full 10:37 video here (and you really should if you haven’t at this point!). But it combines clips from previous videos in the series — such as some of the statements of Planned Parenthood officials — with the claims of others in the baby organ procurement business. The centerpiece is the first-person testimony of Holly O’Donnell, a Stem Express technician who worked at Planned Parenthood clinics, explaining how a late-term baby boy was aborted and how she didn’t know if he was technically alive or not since the heart was beating. She says she harvested his brain by cutting his head open beginning at the chin. She describes how afterwards she had difficulty shoving him into a container because he was so big. She says it was the hardest experience she ever had. O’Donnell describes harvesting the boy’s body parts with her colleague:

“… its nose was very pronounced, it had eyelids, and its mouth was pronounced. And then since the fetus was still intact, she said, ‘okay, well, this is a really good fetus, and it looks like we can procure a lot from it. We’re going to procure brains.’”

While she’s talking about this, footage of another aborted later-term baby kicking his legs in a dish is shown. Later we see a picture of yet another boy who was born premature and died in his parents’ arms.

CNN finds the most anodyne portion of the entire video and characterizes it this way:

O’DONNELL: I remember holding that fetus in my hands when everybody else was busy and started crying and opened the lid and put it back in.

GRIFFIN: But there is a problem, the baby Holly O’Donnell is talking about is not the baby shown in the video. The filmmaker pulled an image off the Internet.

Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me? Of COURSE the baby O’Donnell just described is not the baby shown in the video.

I mean, first off, why would O’Donnell have footage of herself holding a baby in an abortion clinic? I mean, who would have been snapping that shot of her holding the baby in her hands while she’s crying and they’re all busy? That would make literally no sense. Further, O’Donnell describes holding a baby whose brain and other organs she just harvested before stuffing his body in a container. The picture is of a baby whose head shows not a single sign of trauma, whose body shows no signs of trauma, and whose umbilical cord is clamped. Unless you’re confused about brain and liver harvesting, there is no way you could think this image was of a post-organ harvested baby on his way to the medical waste bin.

I see no reason to pretend that we’re this stupid. We’re not this stupid.

4) Pretending to not understand B-roll

Which brings us to the main idiocy of the prior point. Video journalists use B-roll to illustrate stories. They all do it. In fact, immediately after finishing the Daleiden interview, Griffin goes to B-roll! What is B-roll, you ask?

Here, I’ll let, oh, dear, this is uncomfortable, but I’ll let CNN explain it to you:

Make sure to have plenty of material to work with
When taking video, the general rule is the more material, the better. You need to make sure to have lots of B-roll, or alternate material, in order to add dimension and secondary footage to a story. B-roll helps with cutaways and gives a much more fluid look to a package.

That literally comes from a CNN explainer about how to do journalism that might get aired on CNN. In another explainer at CNN, a journalist says:

“Today I’m going to teach you about B-roll. That’s jargon. A technical term we use in news, B-roll is video you see while you hear [people] talking but you don’t actually see them on camera. Then other times there may be a reporter on camera and you see video in a box off to the side of them. … this is important because you’ve heard it said that pictures are worth a thousand words. This gives you that image that is compelling.”

So let’s say you’ve got a lengthy, first-person report about how the harvesting of organs from aborted babies works, and it’s an amazing coup that you got someone actually involved in the trade to speak on camera. But you want to “add dimension and secondary footage” to the story, perhaps it would be helpful to illustrate the age and gestation of the baby in question. You need an “image that is compelling.” You would, according to CNN, do exactly what CNN is now claiming is awful of Daleiden to have done.

Heck, here’s a sample of CNN’s own “medical footage” B-roll!

The notion that Griffin would spend some seven minutes pretending to be outraged by B-roll footage is embarrassing and inexcusable. And it would have been even if he didn’t cut away to B-roll footage of a completely unrelated Planned Parenthood clinic in Los Angeles immediately after his heavily edited Daleiden interview segment.

I also note that Griffin used a stock photo when he tweeted out this very story. I mean, really.

5) Cartoonishly misdirected outrage

I can’t possibly convey to you how long Griffin spends on this ridiculous pretense that (literally) 20-seconds of B-roll destroys 19 hours undercover video journalism. So, for example:

GRIFFIN: The problem people are having this is not an aborted child and not the baby Holly is talking about, and that seems very — that does seem very deceptive to me.

DALEIDEN: I don’t see the deception, and frankly, I think it’s kind of, I think it’s kind of a controversy drummed up by the media…

By the way, the cut-away from Daleiden in the middle of the first sentence of his response is so harshly done as to be jarring. And a curious choice for people who are spending 11 minutes decrying any and all editing as problematic. The edit was so jarring that it prompted me to ask Griffin for the full footage of his interview or, at least, a transcript. We’ll see if he’s able to be as transparent as the journalist he decries.

Daleiden patiently tries to explain how journalistic illustrations work, to a man pretending to be confused by them.

But it gets worse:

DALEIDEN: The only people that raised that criticism are first started with Planned Parenthood and their allies and some of the pro-abortion blogs, and then it migrated to some of the mainstream media outlets, but apart from that, no one else has seemed to be confused by it or deceived by it.

GRIFFIN: That is not true. The confusion of David Daleiden’s sloppy edits has made its way into the Republican presidential race.

FIORINA: Watch a fully formed fetus on the table. Its heart beating. Its legs kicking.

GRIFFIN: In the second Republican debate, an impassioned Carly Fiorina made this attack on Planned Parenthood, citing this video clip of another baby in Daleiden’s documentary, again with Holly O’Donnell providing the narration.

Uh, so what’s not true? Fiorina described a fully formed fetus on the table. Its heart beating. Its legs kicking. Want to see a picture of the leg kicking? It’s graphic but you can see a GIF here. You can and should watch the full video given how many people are talking about it without having seen it.

Again, when Griffin says, “That. Is. Not. True,” what’s not true? And what’s sloppy? And what confusion?

The only confusion we have here is people feigning confusion in order to avoid dealing with the horrific video where a woman describes harvesting the brain from a baby born alive after an abortion at a Planned Parenthood clinic.

The idea that you’d have an eyewitness, first-person account of such a horrific thing, that you would illustrate it with a completely appropriate video, and that the media would spend 11 minutes questioning your editing? It’s a clown show.

By the way, Griffin goes on to interrogate Daleiden about where this footage of the aborted baby comes from. He could have just, you know, watched the video, since it says it clear as day in the lower right-hand corner which library it comes from (and you can read what the owners of the footage have to say about it here).

Griffin goes on (and on! and on!) interrogating Daleiden about this 10-second clip of a different aborted baby. It’s unbelievable. As if we can care about only one aborted baby and we can care only about that aborted baby if we both hear about how his brain was harvested and see him flailing about on a table. There are no words to describe how ridiculous and obfuscatory this standard is.

DALEIDEN: Right. Right. And that’s — this specific sequence right here with Holly O’Donnell is talking about an infant that was born alive in a Planned Parenthood clinic that they then harvested the brain from.

GRIFFIN: Only once again, not this baby.

If there’s a Pulitzer for “missing the point,” Griffin’s in contention.

6) Failing to mention forensic analysis of videos

After CNN spends seven mother-bleeping minutes on 20-seconds of B-roll from the 19 hours of footage, Griffin asks a couple of puff questions of Dawn Laguens, the woman who has been handling the other softball interviews from Planned Parenthood allies in the media:

GRIFFIN: Planned Parenthood has used controversial video edits to attack the entire production as being a fraud.

DAWN LAGUENS, PLANNED PARENTHOOD VP: All of the tape and footage that David Daleiden has released out into the world has been heavily edited and I think pretty thoroughly discredited.

Now, if you were an objective reporter, now might be the time to push back on that talking point. Hard.

The Alliance Defending Freedom commissioned a forensic analysis of the footage. The report came out weeks ago. Unlike a Planned Parenthood-financed and commissioned study that received a great deal of media coverage, this report was done not by a partisan opposition research firm but by Coalfire, a third-party digital security and forensics firm with experience providing evidence for civil and criminal investigations. Unlike the Planned Parenthood-commissioned audit, Coalfire had access to every second of released audio and video investigative footage. The Fusion report had access to only four full-length videos released on YouTube through August 4 and none of the source material.

The report utterly destroyed the talking point pushed by Planned Parenthood for months:

Coalfire, one of the country’s most trusted digital forensic analysis companies, released a report indicating the undercover videos recorded by the Center for Medical Progress are ‘authentic and show no evidence of manipulation.’

Forensic analysts were granted access to all of the raw investigated footage recorded by the Center for Medical Progress and checked it against the full length videos posted on the CMP YouTube account. They found the only events not depicted in the publicly available videos fell into five common categories: commuting, waiting, adjusting recording equipment, meals, and restroom breaks. All of the edited content was ‘non-pertinent’ to the actual investigation.

I’m not sure a single word in Laguens statement is true. In fact, full footage has been released and none of the edits were pertinent, according to the forensic analysis.

Instead of a hard pushback or even a gentle pushback, here’s what the CNN report said:

GRIFFIN: Dawn Laguens is executive vice president at Planned Parenthood, and discrediting the misuse of video was easy.

So after treating Daleiden like a criminal for his use of the common and ubiquitous journalistic practice of illustration, Griffin responds this way? What a joke.

7) When Planned Parenthood makes a claim, no need to check it out

Just note how Griffin routinely shades the story. He claims that there are “problems” in the video that aren’t problems. Unless, again, edits are a problem or B-rolls are problems. But since he uses both of them throughout his piece, that’s not fair. He refers to Walter Fretz as stillborn, not aborted. Technically Fretz died in his parents’ arms shortly after he was born. He repeatedly asserts that Daleiden was “deceptive” and asserts that the video was not “clear” and says “that’s not true” in response to a claim Daleiden makes that actually is true. He obsesses over when and where the aborted baby in the B-roll was aborted and ignores literally 19 hours of other footage.

But when it comes to Planned Parenthood, Griffin slides right into euphemisms. Except for a brief portion of an exchange with Daleiden, abortion is not mentioned. Even though those 19 hours of footage are full of Planned Parenthood executives saying grisly things about kidneys, gonads, lungs, livers, and brains, Griffin sanitizes it all into “fetal tissue samples.”

And claims made by Planned Parenthood are accepted without a moment’s hesitation. Griffin repeatedly notes that Planned Parenthood says it was only reimbursed for costs but makes no effort to determine the veracity of Planned Parenthood’s claim. Is it more truthful than that claim the media parroted for years about mammograms, or less truthful? And either way, how do we know?

He also repeats their claim that the human organ sales were only happening at a “tiny fraction” of Planned Parenthood clinics, but doesn’t tell us what that fraction represents, what’s considered tiny, or how we know that Planned Parenthood is accurately conveying how many clinics do it. Again, is it more truthful than that claim about mammograms that they ran with for years or less truthful? Same level of truth?

Since when do journalists not attempt to check out claims?

The idea that we’d spend seven minutes litigating whether B-roll is acceptable — in a report that uses B-roll — and give Planned Parenthood a pass on all the organ harvesting is a perfect demonstration of how awful our media have been in covering this story.

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

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