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The Bad, Worse, & Ugly: Media Coverage of Planned Parenthood’s Organ Harvesting Scandal


At 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning, a pro-life group released two videos showing Planned Parenthood executive Deborah Nucatola munching on a salad and sipping red wine while discussing the harvesting of organs from babies killed by abortion. One was a nearly nine-minute edited video of the nearly three-hour discussion. The other was the unedited discussion.

Because of the graphic nature of the discussion — Nucatola specifically discusses altering abortion procedures to procure hearts, brains, lungs, and livers from the babies whose lives Planned Parenthood ends by abortion — the video immediately lit up social media. Unlike most significant stories about major hot-button social issues, however, no major media reported on the news until 4:30 p.m. that afternoon. Some are still working on (or working on hiding) their coverage of the story. Let’s look at some of the major media outlets and how they did.

Washington Post

The first story out of the gate from major mainstream media outlet came from the Washington Post. It was originally headlined: “Undercover video shows Planned Parenthood exec discussing organ harvesting,” and it was remarkably fair to both Planned Parenthood and those who oppose the harvesting of organs from children killed in abortion.

However, by the time the story appeared on page one of the Washington Post, it had been significantly altered. You can get the gist from the new headline: “Undercover video shows Planned Parenthood official discussing fetal organs used for research.”

You’ve heard of the journalism adage: “If it bleeds, it leads”? Well, how about: “There, that doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Probably don’t even need to read this article, do you!”

The executive is downgraded to an official. The wine she drank as she discussed how good Planned Parenthood has gotten at procuring hearts, livers, and lungs is completely excised. In both versions, Nucatola’s clear statements about crushing baby bodies above or below their organs is given distance with a journalistic “apparently.”

The revised story introduced additional errors, including that Nucatola was not caught “explicitly talking about selling organs” (she was), and claiming that Planned Parenthood doesn’t profit from these organ sales, even though Nucatola specifically talks about making more money than breaking even.

Associated Press

The Associated Press national social issues reporter, David Crary, got his story out just over 13 hours after the video broke. His headline gives a preview of the euphemism pile-on he’ll use: “Covert video targets Planned Parenthood fetal-parts policy.”

His lede practically begs you to stop reading:

Anti-abortion activists on Tuesday released an undercover video showing a senior Planned Parenthood official discussing the disposition of parts from aborted fetuses.

The activists contended the video reveals illegalities, but Planned Parenthood said the activity in question was the legal, not-for-profit donation of fetal tissue to research firms.

Crary didn’t even bother to promote his own story, for whatever reason. He wrote nine stories about the Komen Foundation’s attempts to extricate itself from funding Planned Parenthood, including breaking the story. He wrote a total of two stories about Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia serial murderer and abortionist. You can read this piece for more information on Crary and the Associated Press’ trouble covering abortion, but perhaps of note for this story:

The Komen team described him as a ‘Planned Parenthood ally,’ who had ‘gushed’ over Planned Parenthood in a February 2011 article featuring Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards. ‘The article was essentially a rehashed Planned Parenthood press release,’ Handel writes. He’s described as ‘sympathetic’ to Richards and ‘deeply biased’ in favor of Planned Parenthood. Komen’s media person says, ‘she had never spoken to a national reporter who was so openly biased.’


Joining the Associated Press in the “we’re not even trying to be fair” category was Reuters, whose first piece on the scandal was literally headlined, and I want to emphasize I’m not being hyperbolic for effect but accurately conveying the headline: “Planned Parenthood slams secret video as false portrayal of fetus tissue program.”

This story came out nearly 14 hours after the story broke, and reads like a Planned Parenthood press release would if Planned Parenthood had less regard for its reputation:

Planned Parenthood said on Tuesday a secretly recorded video that surfaced on the Internet falsely portrayed the reproductive health group’s participation in the sale of tissue and body parts from aborted fetuses.

The non-profit organization said the video had been heavily edited and recorded by a group that was established to damage its reputation. It said in a statement the video “falsely portrays Planned Parenthood’s participation in tissue donation programs that support lifesaving scientific research.”

Nowhere in the story (written by Jon Herskovitz, with additional reporting by Patrick Enright and David Bailey in Minneapolis, and editing by Jonathan Oatis and Toni Reinhold) do we we learn that the group put out a complete, unedited, nearly three-hour video at the same exact time as the edited eight-minute version. The double claim of falsehood provided by Reuters on behalf of Planned Parenthood in the first two paragraphs is never substantiated, although a meager attempt is made to repeat Planned Parenthood talking points in the final paragraphs.


The Weekly Standard‘s John McCormack provided the journalistic service of exposing precisely what talking points Planned Parenthood was sending out to reporters in an attempt to quash or reframe the story. The documents can be found here. One of the pieces of information Planned Parenthood’s public relations firm sent out suggested that David Daleiden of the Center for Medical Progress, the group that performed the undercover investigation of Planned Parenthood, should not be trusted because he has “written articles for opposition outlet The Weekly Standard and Human Life Review.”

The Weekly Standard is a large, respected weekly magazine whose writers include some of the best writers working today, including P.J. O’Rourke, Matt Labash, Andrew Ferguson, Jonathan Last, Vic Matus, Christopher Caldwell, and the dashing Mark Hemingway. The idea that having written a sole article for the publication would be disqualifying is laughable to the extreme. And yet…

Newsweek‘s story, authored by Polly Mosendz, shows the influence Planned Parenthood’s backgrounder had on her journalism:

The center’s leader, David Daleiden, has written anti-abortion literature for The Weekly Standard and is referenced on the pro-life website of Jill Stanek. Files uploaded by Daleiden to Scribd include ‘Prayers for the day,’ which Daleiden describes as ‘one way to structure your prayer life throughout the day that some people may find helpful.’

Though Daleiden’s organization shares a name with the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Medical Progress, a spokeswoman for the institute told Newsweek the groups are ‘totally separate organizations’ who have ‘never been affiliated.’ This is all to say, the video was not made by a purely scientific center, despite the organization’s name, nor in a purely objective manner.

I joke about journalists being hostile to Christians, but I’m not sure I’ve seen someone’s prayer life used in an attempt to discredit someone. I’m almost impressed. Horrified, mostly, but also kind of impressed at how anti-religious the journalism is. Also, way to regurgitate Planned Parenthood talking points! You’re on your way to the big Andrea Mitchell-leagues!

Daily Beast

I don’t think the Daily Beast has gotten around to profiling Deborah Nucatola, the woman who talked about “crushing” babies’ bodies in such a way as to harvest their “lungs,” and “livers,” and “hearts,” and what not, but they did accept their Planned Parenthood marching orders for writing hit pieces about Daleiden. Here’s Samantha Allen’s version of Media Matters for America’s version of Planned Parenthood’s hit on Daleiden.


CNN’s first piece on the Planned Parenthood scandal is actually a really good and fair story, in my initial read. It presents alternate points of view without siding with one or the other or accepting anyone’s claims at face value.

I did get a kick out of the accompanying video, which begins, “In this heavily and selectively edited video …” What’s funny about this is that 100 percent of video news reports not involving live guests are very “heavily and selectively edited.” Because that’s how you do broadcast journalism. We don’t see journalists introduce their reports by noting that fact, usually.

New York Times

The newspaper finally put up its story on the matter by 12:30 a.m. the next day. It’s headlined: “Video Accuses Planned Parenthood of Crime.” The piece accepts Planned Parenthood talking points completely. Its author, Jackie Calmes, must not have reviewed the transcript of the full video, or the full video. She devotes much space to defending Planned Parenthood against the charge it sells organs to purchasers. Here’s a representative section:

While the video, which was circulated on the Internet, alleges that Planned Parenthood is guilty of the crime of selling fetal remains, the official tells her questioners more than once that the cost, $30 to $100, is reimbursement for clinics’ expenses.

Of course, the official also specifically said that affiliates like to “do better” than “break even,” which Calmes doesn’t mention:

If it’s just reimbursement for clinics’ expenses, what in the world would Nucatola mean by that? Further, how do we know that these price claims represent actual expenses? What are the expenses for baby organ harvesting, exactly?

When someone read the following paragraph to me, I thought it must be an editorial from The New York Times because the language was so hystrionic:

As conservatives condemned Planned Parenthood for what they called ‘selling baby parts,’ the reaction threatened to incite the sort of opposition that has led congressional Republicans in recent years to try to shut down the government unless Planned Parenthood was stripped of federal money.

Nope, just New York Times “news” writing. And it actually gets worse. She just fully editorializes throughout the piece. She also makes it seem like Planned Parenthood does breast cancer “tests,” instead of just telling women they should go get breast cancer tests, but that’s a separate issue entirely.

Anyway, thanks to one journalist who got me thinking about the comparison, I thought it would be interesting to compare how The New York Times wrote up another undercover video hurting a Republican. When Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was surreptitiously videotaped in a private fundraising session making comments about “47 percent” of Americans, The New York Times didn’t wait terribly long to get it up on the site.

So The New York Times, which only had edited, snipped remarks from Romney, published a story on the matter in under three hours. For the Planned Parenthood scandal, with a full, unedited, nearly three-hour video released at 8:00 a.m., it took the publication around 16 hours to get a story up. The Romney story ran on the front page the next day. The Planned Parenthood scandal ran on page A16 the next day.

The New York Times story on Romney rightly focused not on how the video was obtained or the Democratic operative who obtained it but, instead, on the snippet of the statements it revealed. Reporters Michael Shear and Michael Barbaro’s headline was “In Video Clip, Romney Calls 47% ‘Dependent’ and Feeling Entitled.”

By contrast, The New York Times story on Planned Parenthood focuses entirely on criticism of the group behind the video, devoting the first ten paragraphs to Planned Parenthood framing and spin, and failing to speak with a single person who disagrees with the harvesting of baby organs. The story even failed to include the most interesting quotes from the video, such as the one where Nucatola discusses crushing babies in such a way as to preserve their valuable organs. Despite the fact that Nucatola is quite explicit about the harvesting of babies’ brains, hearts, lungs, and livers, the story doesn’t mention anything even touching on the issue.

Imagine, if you will, The New York Times failing to quote Mitt Romney’s notorious 47 percent line (for the record, a search of The New York Times website shows that the paper has 1,010 mentions).

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Justin Miller, senior editor at the Daily Beast, claimed that the Romney video “wasn’t edited with cuts,” while the Planned Parenthood video was. That’s actually not true.

In fact, the nearly three-hour unedited video of the discussion of baby organ harvesting was released at the same time as the shorter, edited clip. And what’s more, the media ran with the Romney video story well before the full 68-minute video was released.

The original Mother Jones story on the matter had only five brief snippets of those 68 minutes, running 1:06, 1:45, :37, :46, and :53. The lack of context for these brief remarks didn’t prevent outlets such as The New York Times from running with the story.

It’s only been two years since the media struggled to even cover the story of Kermit Gosnell, the abortion doctor and serial murderer. After being shamed into covering the “local crime story” by readers and viewers who had requested coverage for years, the media offered a few mea culpas, and promised to improve coverage of the abortion topic and present the issue more fairly.

They have repeatedly failed, whether the story was cheerleading for late-term abortion supporter Wendy Davis, or accurately covering religious Americans opposition to paying for abortifacients.

This story, however, is so big that it is proceeding even against the wishes of the media and their brethren at Planned Parenthood. As the federal government and state governments prepare to truly investigate Planned Parenthood’s chop shops, let’s hope coverage improves mightily.