Fox News is parroting anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress' (CMP) claim that Planned Parenthood's decision to stop accepting reimbursement for fetal tissue donations is an "admission of guilt," ignoring that state and federal investigations have already cleared the organization of wrongdoing.
Four Planned Parenthood clinics have been attacked in scarcely three months since the anti-choice group Center For Medical Progress (CMP) released the deceptively-edited videos smearing the women's health care provider. But the attacks -- which law enforcement authorities consider possible acts of domestic terrorism -- have garnered very little media attention, revealing the media's willingness to ignore the real and urgent danger women and abortion providers face at clinics, a problem that is far from new.
A clinic in Thousand Oaks, California, was firebombed on September 30, less than a month after a similar arson at a Pullman, Washington Planned Parenthood clinic on September 4. Terroristic attacks also occurred at clinics in Aurora, Illinois on July 19 and New Orleans on August 1.
Since July 14, CMP has released at least 10 videos containing undercover footage of discussions with Planned Parenthood personnel and staff members of private, for-profit biomedical procurement companies. The videos purport to show, and the accompanying press releases allege, that Planned Parenthood is illegally selling fetal tissue and altering abortion procedures in order to profit from the sale of fetal tissue. Scores of media outlets have reported -- and multiple investigations have verified -- that the combined footage shows no illegal behavior by, or on behalf of, Planned Parenthood, and that the words of Planned Parenthood personnel who were secretly filmed have been "grossly [taken] out of context."
Despite the fact that the videos have been widely discredited, right-wing media have repeatedly cited them, using violent language to promote misleading attacks against Planned Parenthood and call for the organization to be defunded by Congress. Fox News contributor Erick Erickson said Republicans who won't vote to defund the health provider "should be destroyed, " and conservative blog RedState called Planned Parenthood "our Auschwitz." Fox host Bill O'Reilly described Planned Parenthood's fetal tissue donation as "Nazi stuff," while many conservative media figures drew comparisons to the notorious Nazi doctor, Josef Mengele, who conducted painful and often fatal human experiments on concentration camp prisoners.
Fox hosts also misled viewers about the services Planned Parenthood offers to wrongly suggest the organization is obsolete, and used needlessly graphic language to imply that Planned Parenthood's practices are violent. Fox correspondent Peter Doocy claimed that he searched Planned Parenthood's website for "fetal baby part prices" but found no results because the sales are a "well-kept secret," and host Megyn Kelly accused the organization of "celebrating its practice of harvesting the organs of aborted fetuses for money."
While there is no definitive evidence the clinic attacks are the result of the vitriolic anti-Planned Parenthood fervor that has emerged following the release and conservative media hype of CMP's deceptively-edited smear videos, it's crucial to note that the incidents have occurred in the midst of the smear campaign. Planned Parenthood regional CEO Karl Eastlund said the arson attacks are "unfortunately a predictable ripple effect from the false and incendiary attacks that fuel violence from extremists."
The violent attacks on Planned Parenthood have garnered very little media attention -- and their relationship to right-wing media's promotion of the CMP smear videos has received even less -- shedding light on the media's willingness to dismiss the real and urgent danger women and abortion providers face at clinics.
The LA Times pointed out that "as long as abortion has been legal in the U.S., abortion clinics throughout the country have been subject to arson and bombings" and "abortion providers have been murdered." And according to RH Reality Check, "A report released in February found that threats of harassment, intimidation, and violence against women's health clinics have doubled since 2010. Reproductive rights advocates have raised concerns that radical anti-choice activists have been emboldened by a wave of GOP legislative attacks on reproductive rights."
The Anti-Defamation League called anti-abortion violence "America's forgotten terrorism," explaining, "Anti-abortion violence has actually remained a consistent, if secondary, source of domestic terrorism and violence, manifesting itself most often in assaults and vandalism, with occasional arsons, bombings, drive-by shootings, and assassination attempts." And according to the Feminist Majority Foundation's 2014 National Clinic Violence Survey, which polled 242 abortion provider throughout the country, "nearly 1 in 5" abortion clinics experience severe violence.
And CMP is no stranger to this type of violence -- board member Troy Newman, who is the president of Operation Rescue, once called the murder of an abortion clinic doctor a "justifiable defensive action."
Simon Conway, an Iowa conservative radio host who frequently hosts Republican presidential candidates, has consistently attacked and promoted falsehoods about Planned Parenthood in recent months following the release of heavily edited videos by an anti-abortion group.
In the wake of the September 29 hearing by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on federal funding of Planned Parenthood, several Fox News hosts and conservative pundit Dana Loesch claimed that Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards testified that 86 percent of Planned Parenthood's revenue comes from providing abortion services. PunditFact examined Richards' testimony and rated that claim "false."
A Washington Post column by columnist Katrina vanden Heuvel denounced conservative media narratives surrounding the "war on Planned Parenthood," noting that Republicans have seized on the Center for Medical Progress' "widely-debunked series of videos" and intentionally used "a highly misleading chart from Americans United for Life" -- which was heavily pushed by conservative media figures -- to engage in "a modern-day inquisition" against the organization.
Planned Parenthood has come under attack from conservative media outlets after the Center for Medical Progress released a series of deceptively edited videos, purporting to show Planned Parenthood staff engaging in the illegal sale of fetal tissue to medical firms. These videos were repurposed by the House Oversight Committee in an attempt to promote its investigation into Planned Parenthood.
Katrina vanden Heuvel noted in her October 6 column for the Washington Post that Rep. Jason Chaffetz "brandished a highly misleading chart from Americans United for Life that appeared to indicate -- falsely -- that Planned Parenthood performs more abortions than cancer screenings," the same chart also promoted heavily by conservative media figures, in a baseless attack on Planned Parenthood. She further wrote that, "What really demands attention are the lives currently hanging in the balance" because, despite the false claim that community clinics could fulfill the demand for services provided by Planned Parenthood, the reproductive health care provider is already filling a niche by providing a majority of services to low-income Americans and those in rural or under-served areas:
Republicans haven't done this much hand-wringing since Donald Trump rode his escalator into the presidential race. But McCarthy's "gaffe" hasn't put the brakes on the GOP's cynical strategy. In fact, they plan to replicate it.
Exhibit A was the recent announcement of a Benghazi-like select subcommittee tasked solely with exposing Planned Parenthood's supposedly nefarious activities, after the release of a widely-debunked series of videos purporting to show the organization selling fetal body parts. The new panel should not be confused with the House Energy and Commerce Committee's existing probe into Planned Parenthood. Or the House Judiciary Committee's "Planned Parenthood Exposed" investigation. Or the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's hearing.
Planned Parenthood, mind you, provides 2.7 million Americans annually with cancer screenings, birth control and STI testing. Abortions comprise a small percentage of its work. The organization estimates one in five American women have visited a Planned Parenthood clinic in her lifetime, and 75 percent of the $500 million in federal funding Republicans hope to eliminate comes from Medicaid reimbursements for treating America's poorest patients. Break out the subpoenas!
We got a taste of the GOP's latest assault on women's health when House Republicans hauled Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards in front of a mostly-male hearing last week. Republican committee members compared Richards to a criminal. They expressed astonishment over her salary (which is comparable to those of other chief executives of large nonprofits). Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) brandished a highly misleading chart from Americans United for Life that appeared to indicate -- falsely -- that Planned Parenthood performs more abortions than cancer screenings. It was, to put it gently, a modern-day inquisition.
Seeing the anti-choice crowd's open misogyny, some might conclude, as Post reporter Sarah Kaplan wrote , that "the stormy sessions could help Planned Parenthood." Progressives point to polls showing that 61 percent of Americans support federal funding for Planned Parenthood (only 29 percent support the Republican Party). They recall the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation's ill-fated 2012 attempt to defund Planned Parenthood, which backfired and resulted in $3 million in donations and an outpouring of support for Planned Parenthood. Heck, Politico reports that Hillary Clinton's campaign is "eager for [a] Planned Parenthood fight with GOP."
What really demands attention are the lives currently hanging in the balance. Since 2011, states have enacted an astonishing 287 new restrictions on abortion access. One-and-a-half abortion clinics are closing every week. Last Wednesday, a Planned Parenthood clinic near Los Angeles was deliberately set on fire.
These setbacks seriously hinder access to desperately-needed health services, especially for those without other options. Planned Parenthood says that 78 percent of its patients are low-income. A third are black or Latino. More than half of its clinics are located in rural or underserved areas. As Richards reminded us, "We're not fighting political battles just to get a tally of win-losses. It's because it actually does matter in womans' lives."
After GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina misrepresented the content of a secretly-filmed anti-Planned Parenthood video -- falsely claiming it shows an aborted fetus on a table, still moving, as a voice urges prolonging its life for organ harvesting -- an anti-choice group released extended footage of the clip they say vindicates Fiorina's claim. But experts say the new footage is likely of a miscarriage, not an abortion, and there is no evidence the footage was filmed inside a Planned Parenthood clinic, or even a U.S. hospital.
From the September 30 edition of NBC's Late Night With Seth Meyers:
Within the span of just twelve hours this week, multiple Republican-sponsored political pursuits partially unraveled in plain sight.
The long-running investigations were the Benghazi select committee and the related probe into Hillary Clinton's private emails, and Republicans' crusade targeting Planned Parenthood. Journalists would be wise to take note of the pattern of plain deception and ask themselves if they want to keep sponsoring these planned distractions.
The first to crumble was the right-wing smear campaign against Planned Parenthood, which was launched this summer and sponsored by Fox News and the Republican Party. Creating a whirlwind of controversy and endless media attention, the undercover sting operation by anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress was even elevated by some to be pressing enough to shut down the federal government.
Tuesday's Congressional hearing about defunding Planned Parenthood was to be the centerpiece of the right wing's orchestrated attack campaign. The problem was that in recent weeks we've learned the gotcha videos at the center of the campaign were deceptively edited. And so far six statewide investigations have found no wrongdoing on the part of Planned Parenthood. That meant the Congressional production was likely destined for failure.
"The entire hearing was premised on a series of mischaracterizations," reported The New Yorker. Republicans were left with little but bouts of bullying in an effort to intimidate Planned Parenthood chief Cecile Richards as she testified.
It didn't work. So after ten weeks, the sustained attack against Planned Parenthood produced no tangible evidence of wrongdoing and no serious damage to the organization. (Of course, despite their failures so far, Republicans are now reportedly considering creating "a special panel to investigate Planned Parenthood.")
Then just hours after the hearing completed, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who's now in line to become the next Republican Speaker of the House, brazenly bragged on Sean Hannity's Fox program about how the Benghazi select committee was responsible for damaging Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. To which Hannity responded, "That's something good, I give you credit for that."
With one brief Fox appearance, McCarthy laid bare the facts about both the never-ending Benghazi investigation and the related, still-churning email witch hunt: They're both built on politics, plain and simple. The Republicans created a Benghazi select committee in order to try to take out the Democratic frontrunner for president. Period. That's the story.
Sadly, the busted Planned Parenthood, Benghazi and email diversions simply represent the latest creations from the GOP distraction model. Conservatives have been using it, on and off, for two decades -- and the model works best when the Beltway press plays along. It works best if the Beltway press pretends virtually every other Republican-produced scandal pursuit hasn't been a bust.
Many of the same Republicans who have spearheaded the dishonest Planned Parenthood probe are the same ones leading the charge on Benghazi and the email story. And the press continues to breathlessly quote them as they try to hype these supposed scandals.
So yes, much of the press has been culpable in the latest Republican distractions since day one. In fact, the press has been playing the same lapdog role for well over twenty years when it comes to endlessly hyping and even marketing orchestrated Republican distractions. These self-contained circus productions that suggest all kinds of Democratic wrongdoing are long on conspiracy theories but short on facts, and leave pundits and reporters breathlessly chronicling the possible downside for Democrats.
One reason these Groundhog Day scenes keeping play out, again and again and again, is due to the fact too many journalists are absolutely wed to the very simple definition of what constitutes news: What are conservatives angry about?
Given that kind of carte blanche to create news cycles, Republicans and conservatives in the media have taken full advantage and have settled into a predictable pattern: Manufacture distractions designed to make life miserable for Democratic leaders; force Democrats to use up energy and resources to swat down endless unproven allegations, and spawn waves of media "gotcha" hysteria fueled by disingenuous leaks.
But here's the thing: it's exhausting. It's disheartening. And it's a colossal waste of time and energy. But this is how the right wing plays politics in America and the D.C. press has shown an unbridled enthusiasm to want to play along; to want to abandon common sense in order to chase GOP-designated shiny objects for weeks, months or sometimes years on end. And then do it all over again when the current distraction disintegrates.
The pattern began in earnest during the 1990s when Republicans became obsessed with personally pursuing the Clintons. Remember the dubious Clinton pardon distraction, the parting gifts distraction, and of course Ken Starr's $80 million Inspector Javert routine.
Charles Pierce at Esquire recently detailed that decade's signature string of orchestrated GOP obfuscations:
To use a more relevant, example, TravelGate was a distraction. FileGate was a distraction. The disgusting use of Vince Foster's suicide was a distraction. Castle Grande was a distraction. The cattle futures were a distraction. The billing records were a distraction. Webster Hubbell's billing practices were a distraction. Hell, the entire Whitewater part of the Whitewater affair was basically a distraction, as was the pursuit of Bill Clinton's extracurricular love life. Kathleen Willey was a distraction. The monkeywrenching of a settlement in the Paula Jones case was to make sure that the distraction that was that case survived. All of these were distractions created to make it difficult for a Democratic president to govern, and the reason I know that is because the people creating distractions were not shy about admitting what they were all about to each other.
Over time, the vast majority of those endless Clinton allegations were proven to be hollow. Yet aided by some regrettable journalism, the relentless scandal culture took hold and managed to damage to the Clinton administration. Indeed, the whole point of the GOP's Clinton distraction model was to create the infrastructure to hound the Democrats.
With President Obama's inauguration, the old model was unpacked, but this time with Fox News playing a much more aggressive role. The results have been an endless parade of diversions and hoaxes designed, in various shapes and sizes, to hamstring a Democratic administration and, more recently, to damage the leading Democratic candidate for 2016.
Here's just a handful of manufactured distractions:
As Media Matters can attest, virtually none of the often-hysterical allegations attached to those distractions were ever proven to be true. Instead, the pursuits imploded under their own weight. Yet too often, these supposed scandals broke out of the Fox News bubble and became mainstream "news."
So when's the press going to get the message and stop enabling these charades?
From the September 30 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
Loading the player reg...
From the September 30 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
Loading the player reg...
Right-wing media have spent months promoting a deceptive data chart from the anti-choice Americans United for Life that on September 29 became the cornerstone of Rep. Jason Chaffetz's (R-UT) cross-examination of Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards at a House Oversight Committee hearing aimed at defunding the organization. The chart's data is out of proportion and neglects to document numerous services performed by the women's health care provider to make it appear as if most of what Planned Parenthood does is pregnancy terminations.
From the September 30 edition of CNN's New Day:
Loading the player reg...
From the September 30 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
Loading the player reg...
From the September 30 edition of CNN's New Day:
Loading the player reg...
From the September 29 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
Loading the player reg...