Just over a year ago the Center for Medical Progress began releasing undercover videos showing high-level Planned Parenthood officials openly talking about harvesting body parts from aborted babies and selling them to middle men.
The videos, which shocked millions, led Planned Parenthood to stop taking money for aborted baby parts, and launched a congressional investigation into the practice of selling aborted baby parts. That committee’s hearings showed the market for aborted baby parts is significant, growing, and operating in violation of federal law, according to expert testimony.
In January, a grand jury in Texas indicted the Center for Medical Progress’ David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt on charges of buying fetal organs and using fake IDs as part of their undercover journalism. The charges were completely dropped by late July.
Planned Parenthood and their allies praised the initial indictments. The abortion-supportive members of the House Select Panel on Infant Lives have said that the indictments were reason to disband the committee entirely. The media gave a ton of attention to the indictments.
The journalists’ attorneys always said the charges were ridiculous, political, and unfounded. They also said the charges served to harass, intimidate and silence journalists and critics of abortion practices. In contrast to the initial indictments, when the charges were dropped, the media coverage was muted at best.
Let’s look at two examples of how the media covered the story.
New York Times
When Daleiden was indicted on political charges, here’s how the New York Times covered that story. On page 1. Above the fold. The first column. “Texas Charges Abortion Foes in Video Case,” the headline read. The 1,213-word story was written by Manny Fernandez, with Erik Eckholm contributing reporting.
The next day the New York Times editorial board weighed in. “Vindication for Planned Parenthood,” was their verdict.
That same day, Jackie Calmes wrote a “news” story headlined “Indictment Deals Another Blow to G.O.P. Campaign Against Planned Parenthood.” It was breathless right out of the gate:
WASHINGTON — A grand jury’s indictment on Monday of two abortion opponents who covertly recorded Planned Parenthood officials is the latest, most startling sign that a Republican campaign against the group has run into trouble.
Another January 27 story was a hagiography of the Harris County district attorney leading the charge against Daleiden, written by Fernandez. The next day he had a very short, very dry piece about how Daleiden’s attorneys thought the case was flawed. Then there was a very friendly piece about the totally awesome attorney who is representing the National Abortion Federation and how pleased he was with the indictments. And another story prominently mentioning the indictments.
On June 14, a judge dismissed one of the charges against Daleiden. The New York Times made no record of it. Not on the front page, above the fold, first column. Not on any page. Nowhere in the paper was this even mentioned.
On July 26, the judge cleared Daleiden of all charges. The New York Times did not put its story on page one. It did merit some 800 (rather boring) words on page 18. No editorial was published about Daleiden’s “vindication.” No concern trolling about blows to the Planned Parenthood narrative. No puffy profiles of the attorneys who fought the political indictments.
Okay, so what about the Washington Post?
According to Lexis-Nexis, the first two stories were posts about the indictment. The next day’s abortion-friendly story by Danielle Paquette was on page A3. The indictments were given prominent play in the Post’s Daily 202 newsletter. Paquette wrote a detailed “explainer” of the charges. The editorial pages featured Paul Waldman’s “Once again, Republicans go too far on abortion” column. Danielle Paquette and Sandhya Somashekhar teamed up for “Anti-Planned Parenthood filmmakers to turn themselves in.” When Merritt turned herself in, Somashekhar wrote a story on that. When Daleiden turned himself in the next day, Somashekhar wrote that up, too. Paquette wrote up a Planned Parenthood-friendly piece that mentioned the indictments a few days later.
And when the charges were dropped?
Well, when the first charge was dropped, the Washington Post put it in national news round-up provided by the Associated Press. “CALIFORNIA: Man charged with 3 weapons violations; TEXAS: Charge against activist dropped; more pending.” Seven sentences explaining the dropped charges followed.
When the final charge was dropped, the Post put it in the same national news round-up. “TEXAS: Last charges dropped in antiabortion sting.” A whopping 10 sentences followed. Whereas the original indictments had been tweeted out to the Washington Post’s 7 million followers, there was no mention of the charges being dropped.
In years past we’ve seen this disparity in how the media led Planned Parenthood’s shakedown of the Komen Foundation but hid the practices of late-term abortionist and murderer Kermit Gosnell. Or the breathless, non-stop praise of late-term abortion fan Wendy Davis and round-the-clock coverage of Todd Akin.
After the Gosnell debacle, Washington Post top editor Marty Baron said the paper hadn’t covered the major story for the simple reason he wasn’t aware of it.
Isn’t it interesting that our media always seem to be aware of stories that are helpful to the pro-choice movement but completely or mostly ignorant of stories that aren’t helpful to the pro-choice movement? A skilled observer might detect a pattern there.
It’s no longer surprising to see such bias, but an occasional reminder of how much of the media show no effort to improve is helpful.