CMP Videos Merely Prove Daleiden Was “Masquerading As An Investigative Journalist, With The Aim Of Damaging Planned Parenthood”
Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN
Starting in July 2015, the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) released a series of deceptively edited videos, baselessly alleging that Planned Parenthood sold fetal tissue. This smear campaign was so fraudulent it earned CMP and its founder, David Daleiden, the title of Media Matters’ 2015 Misinformer of the Year. Although right-wing media baselessly insist that Daleiden is a journalist, in a May 12 report for the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR), Ted Anderson concluded after “a close analysis of his video footage and his actions” that the work produced by Daleiden “doesn’t qualify as journalism on legal or ethical grounds.”
Daleiden and his lawyers have argued that CMP’s work is journalism because it “uses the same undercover techniques that investigative journalists have used for decades.” Right-wing media have consistently carried water for these claims.
Anderson thoroughly dismantled this argument and debunked Daleiden’s attempt at “pleading journalism” to cover his illegal and fraudulent activities. Citing a previous investigation by the Los Angeles Times -- which he participated in -- as well as several legal precedents, Anderson argued that Daleiden was not a journalist and merely “produced an intentionally emotional provocation that led to an investigation of smoke where there was no fire.”
This latest debunk reaffirms statements and findings by journalists, a judge, and a grand jury and proves the only wrongdoing Daleiden “documented was the alleged fraud that he engaged in as an anti-abortion activist masquerading as an investigative journalist, with the aim of damaging Planned Parenthood.
In one example, Anderson explained that Daleiden's description of CMP's work on its website didn't originally include the words "investigative journalism." He noted it was only after the deceptive videos garnered public attention that the term “suddenly appeared on the homepage” when Daleiden “altered the stated purpose of the organization.” According to Andersen, this means that it is unlikely "Daleiden would have qualified as a journalist" during CMP's so-called investigation.
From the May 12 CJR report:
More problematic for Daleiden is that no privileges protect journalists who break the law to get the news. Before entering the private meetings he filmed, he signed nondisclosure agreements with the National Abortion Federation that prohibited audio and image recording. Further, 12 states, including California, require the consent of all parties when recording audio or phone conversations. In making the secret recordings, Daleiden has been accused of violating both the nondisclosure agreement and the California consent law.
Daleiden’s ethics, and particularly his choices in editing the videos, raise other questions. An undercover investigation, like any inquiry that hopes to qualify as journalism, has an obligation to present information that doesn’t necessarily fit into a preconceived thesis. In the videos that Daleiden published on his website, he failed to show the audience key sequences, such as the time he attempted unsuccessfully to get one of his targets drunk in an effort to elicit damaging or inappropriate statements. He touted one video as the “harrowing story of harvesting an intact brain from a late-term male fetus whose heart was still beating”—even though outtakes show that he edited out statements indicating the fetus was dead before the brain tissue was removed.
A real “citizen journalist,” as Daleiden calls himself, could have created a truthful story using information he found in his investigation: the size of the fetal-tissue market, the amount of money Planned Parenthood charged private medical-research companies for samples, the types of activities that are deemed illegal and why, and thorny ethical issues involving subjects like embryonic stem cell research and patient care in clinics. He might have mentioned that the fetal-tissue market has been around for nearly a century and has led to major medical advancements. And he could have done all this while also representing the voices that decry the very existence of the tissue trade. But Daleiden did not pursue that story, just as he didn’t use undercover cameras as a last resort. The story he went after didn’t even require those James Bond techniques. Instead, he produced an intentionally emotional provocation that led to an investigation of smoke where there was no fire.