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Investigative report highlights deceptive tactics used to make CMP videos

Abortion-rights opponents who released misleading videos targeting Planned Parenthood last year used tactics that "were geared more toward political provocation than journalism," according to an investigative analysis of court documents and unpublished footage, the Investigative Reporting Program/Los Angeles Times reports.

The analysis was produced by the Times and the Investigative Reporting Program at University of California-Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism (Breningstall et al., Investigative Reporting Program/Los Angeles Times, 3/30).

Background

The videos, which depict Planned Parenthood staff discussing fetal tissue donation, were released by an antiabortion-rights group called the Center for Medical Progress (CMP). CMP secretly filmed the videos by meeting with Planned Parenthood staff while posing as buyers of fetal tissue.

Planned Parenthood has stated that the videos were heavily edited and that the filmed officials did not conduct any illegal activities. The organization said it does not profit from fetal tissue donations (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/27/15). At the time the videos were recorded, Planned Parenthood allowed affiliates that donated fetal tissue to accept reimbursements for costs associated with donation. The organization no longer allows such reimbursement (Investigative Reporting Program/Los Angeles Times, 3/30).

A report submitted to Congress by forensic experts last year found the videos were manipulated, making them unreliable for official inquiries into the organization (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/27/15). In addition, several state and federal investigations into Planned Parenthood have found no evidence of wrongdoing by the organization. One of the state investigations, in Texas, not only cleared the organization of wrongdoing, but resulted in indictments for CMP Director David Daleiden and CMP employee Sandra Merritt (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/27).

Investigative report findings

For the investigative report, journalists from the Times and the Investigative Reporting Program reviewed court records in legal challenges against Daleiden, including sworn declarations, recorded dialogue and released and unreleased CMP footage.

According to the report, a memo by Daleiden revealed his intent to put "political pressure" on Planned Parenthood, with a particular aim toward "[c]ongressional hearings/investigation and political consequences," such as abortion restrictions, the Program/Times reports.

The report compared the final CMP videos against the raw footage and found Daleiden had omitted from his final products material that undermined his claims that Planned Parenthood tried to profit from its fetal tissue donation program.

Further, CMP activists were directed to use graphic antiabortion-rights language in their undercover meetings to generate a controversial response, according to the investigative report. CMP activists also tried to ply the targeted subjects with alcohol to prompt certain responses, the report noted.

In addition, the report found that "apparently spontaneous" remarks from a former StemExpress employee included in one of the videos had been "carefully rehearsed" with Daleiden and selectively edited in the final footage. Other footage was manipulated to make it seem as if the national director of the Consortium of Abortion Providers advised ending fetal tissue donation reimbursement because of concerns about public perception, editing out comments that providing donations without reimbursement was part of "their public health mission," the report found.

The report also cited court materials in one of several lawsuits filed by Planned Parenthood and other organizations against CMP for fraud and invasion of privacy. In an order granting an injunction request from the National Abortion Federation to keep unreleased footage under seal, U.S. District Judge William Orrick noted the videos that had been released at that point "have not been pieces of journalistic integrity, but misleadingly edited videos and unfounded assertions… of criminal misconduct."

According to the report, Orrick in the order concluded that the footage was so fraudulent and misleading that it is not afforded free speech protections under the First Amendment. Overall, Orrick in referencing Daleiden's tactics used the terms "fraud" or "fraudulently" 13 times (Investigative Reporting Program/Los Angeles Times, 3/30).