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Media: Illustrating Stories Is Good, Unless You’re Exposing Planned Parenthood


The Center for Medical Progress has released ten undercover videos demonstrating Planned Parenthood’s participation in the human organ trade. The videos show high-level executives and procurement technicians discussing the practice of human organ harvesting from aborted children and the sale of those organs to for-profit companies.

The media had to be forced to cover one of the videos when Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina mentioned its existence in the second GOP debate a few weeks back. It’s video #7, described here, and it’s pretty difficult to watch. Partly it’s difficult to watch because of the visuals Fiorina described — an aborted baby who is still moving in a cold pan, legs kicking. But mostly it’s difficult because of the testimony of a human organ procurement technician, who talks about harvesting the brain of a baby whose heart was still beating. She’s told by a colleague to get the brain by cutting the baby’s head open at the chin. She says the baby boy was the furthest gestated of any baby whose organs she harvested. So big, she says, that she had difficulty getting his body into a receptacle for disposal.

While she’s telling her story, there’s an image in the video — sourced to a library — of the aborted baby referenced above. Later on, after undercover audio and video of others involved in the procurement and sale of human organs from unborn children, there’s an image of Walter Fretz, a baby who died in his parents’ arms shortly after his premature birth.

The media have responded to this video with a series of wildly contradictory or irrelevant statements. First they simply didn’t cover the video or the disturbing claims it made. Carly Fiorina forced them into covering the video.

They went with the very curious claim that the video didn’t exist. No, really. Media outlets far and wide denied the existence of the video. Amanda Marcotte of Slate said that the video “doesn’t exist!” and Sarah Kliff of Vox said Fiorina’s description of the video was “pure fiction.” These claims were then parroted by broadcast media into a narrative of non-existence.

However, as we learned as toddlers, covering your eyes and singing “la la la” doesn’t actually change the existence of an object, and when a few journalists pointed people to the video, the media changed its tune.

It went with the “deceptive edit” talking points proffered by Planned Parenthood. Or it confused Walter Fretz, the preemie baby whose photograph is at the end of the video, with the video of the aborted baby writhing around in the dish. “A ha!” they shouted — it was just a stillborn baby, not an aborted baby! (This not being true has not kept major journalists from repeating it.)

A thousand “fact” “checks” of Fiorina’s statement later, the basic argument is that the video of the aborted baby featured in the Center for Medical Progress is an entirely different aborted baby than the one whose brain was harvested by the organ procurement technician who worked at Planned Parenthood. Why, the aborted baby, seen writhing around in a cold dish, left to die, may or may not even have been killed at a Planned Parenthood clinic! But either way it was a totally different aborted baby than the one being talked about in the video! These “fact” “checks” have left those who actually watched the videos, and know the difference between seeing an aborted baby and hearing a story about cutting open a baby’s head to get his brain, what the point of the “fact” “check” was, exactly.

David Daleiden, the journalist behind the videos, patiently explained that both visuals were used to illustrate aspects of the overall story. One showed an aborted baby. One showed a baby who was born and died in his parents’ arms. They both showed the rough gestational age being discussed by the technician in the video.

Such illustrations are a common practice among journalists and documentarians. If Ken Burns is interviewing a historian talking about troop movements in the Civil War and an image of a group of Civil War soldiers is on the screen, that’s … normal. Not showing such an illustration and instead just having the statements of the historian on screen would be … abnormal.

And journalists illustrate stories with relevant images all the time.

A few weeks ago someone sent me a tweet from a news organization about an accident between a combine and a train. The image that went with the tweet was of a combine. A combine that was not the one in question.

He wrote:

But imagine my surprise when I opened up an Associated Press story about the crazy antics of a Libertarian candidate down in Florida. The story is headlined “Libertarian Candidate in Florida Killed a Goat: As part of a pagan ritual Augustus Sol Invictus gave thanks by drinking the dead goat’s blood.”

OK, fine. But note how U.S. News & World Report illustrated the story (warning: graphic depiction of violence against a goat):

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Now, that’s not the goat that Augustus Sol Invictus is alleged to have killed, mind you. It’s just a picture of a goat with its throat slashed.

To, you know, illustrate a story about same.

It seems a bit gratuitous to me, particularly for a story about a single goat sacrifice as opposed to, oh I don’t know, an expose about a group (say one that receives more than $500 million in taxpayer funding each year with close ties to the Democratic Party) taking part in widespread animal sacrifice rituals.

But still, what a good example of the media’s hypocrisy decrying the use of a relevant video in a documentary about Planned Parenthood’s organ harvesting practices.