The 7 Most Outrageous Screw Ups In The Planned Parenthood Scandal

Daily Caller News Foundation logo
Rachel Stoltzfoos Staff Reporter
Font Size:

Since the Center for Medical Progress released the first undercover video exposing Planned Parenthood’s dealing in aborted fetuses in July, a series of missteps have plagued CMP’s rollout, media coverage of the videos, and Planned Parenthood’s response to the scandal.

The story has been distorted from the start, from CMP’s insistence Planned Parenthood “profited” from the practice, to the media’s uncritical acceptance of Planned Parenthood’s claim the videos are “highly edited,” and it’s only gotten worse. (RELATED: Key Points From The First Nine Planned Parenthood Videos)

Here’s a look at some of the most significant mistakes determined by The Daily Caller News Foundation in the course of its coverage and investigation of the story.

It’s not about profit

CMP alleged from the start Planned Parenthood was illegally profiting from the sale of aborted fetuses. If the allegations are proven true, Planned Parenthood could be stuck with massive fines, and some of its staff could go to prison.

But while some of the videos seem to support the felony allegations, they don’t prove Planned Parenthood is profiting from the sale of aborted fetuses. And the law the allegations hinge upon is so squishy, one medical ethicist concluded: “It appears to be legal, no matter how much you charge.” (RELATED: Planned Parenthood Allegations Turn On Squishy McConnell-Backed Law)

CMP’s focus on legal allegations that are nearly impossible to prove is an overreach that opened the door to attacks on its credibility, and allowed the conversation to turn from the content of the videos to the legal definition of profit. What’s most shocking about the video is not whether Planned Parenthood violated an ill-defined law.

Experts on both sides of the aisle were quick to highlight the disturbing nature of a Planned Parenthood doctor munching on a salad in a restaurant while describing the best way to crush a fetus in the womb, pausing to sip some wine, and then continuing in detail about how its most valuable parts can be harvested.

Remarking on his colleague’s reluctance to report on the video content, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat argued the disgust the videos invoke is informed by the fact that it’s precisely a fetus’s humanity that makes its parts valuable. They look away, he wrote: “Because dwelling on that content gets you uncomfortably close to Selzer’s tipping point — that moment when you start pondering the possibility that an institution at the heart of respectable liberal society is dedicated to a practice that deserves to be called barbarism.”

‘Highly’ edited? Not quite.

Right-of-center sites quickly picked up the first CMP video after its early morning release July 14, and it went viral. The rest of the media did not pick up the story until after Planned Parenthood released a statement later that day characterizing the videos as “highly edited” and “secretly recorded.”

The Associated Press and Reuters immediately ran with Planned Parenthood’s talking points, publishing headlines “Covert Video Targets Planned Parenthood Fetal-Parts Policy” and “Planned Parenthood Slams Secret Video as False Portrayal of Fetus Tissue Program.”

Planned Parenthood commissioned a forensic analysis of the videos in August, ostensibly to back up the claim, but the Democratic opposition-research firm they hired concluded the videos were not “substantively” edited. A second forensic analysis commissioned by the pro-life group National Right to Life in September also concluded the videos are not substantively edited.

Still, most outlets who picked up the story — including The New York Times, The Washington Post and the networks — continue to repeatedly use the terms “secret” and “highly edited” as qualifiers. Reporters who use the term almost always fail to define “highly edited,” and uncritically repeat Planned Parenthood’s unsubstantiated claim.

Pro-life activist Gianna Jessen testifies during a hearing before House Judiciary Committee about Planned Parenthood September 9, 2015 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Pro-life activist Gianna Jessen testifies during a hearing before House Judiciary Committee about Planned Parenthood September 9, 2015 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

‘Doesn’t mesh with reality’

The New York Times incorrectly reported July 20 that CMP released the extended footage of the first video only in response to pressure from Planned Parenthood. In fact CMP released both versions simultaneously. Although at least two journalists notified the paper of the false report, it was reprinted in an editorial the following day, and left uncorrected for more than two weeks.

San Francisco Chronicle reporter Bob Egelko falsely reported Planned Parenthood was somehow the group to release CMP’s own extended footage — the fabrication still has not been corrected. As TheDCNF reporter Blake Neff points out: “This description simply doesn’t mesh with reality in the slightest.”

Room for the narrative 

These blatant factual errors are hardly excusable. But CMP did make some editorial decisions that left space for the errors and for attacks aimed at discrediting CMP, and for the “highly edited” narrative.

CMP released the full footage and the transcript of the full footage for each of the undercover videos at the same time as or almost immediately after they released the condensed version of the video. They’re fairly easy to access, if you already know they exist or spend time digging around on the CMP website. But the full footage and the transcript are not even mentioned in the press release CMP published, or in the email blasts they sent out.

Another understandable editorial decision that is questionable in hindsight was the use of third-party images in some of the videos that was not clearly identified. Planned Parenthood quickly seized on reports in August that CMP represented an aborted fetus with an image of a stillborn fetus in one of the videos, saying it’s proof the videos are “deceptively edited.”

“It’s just an illustration of what a baby looks like at the end of a 2nd trimester,” CMP Project Lead David Daleiden wrote in a statement defending the use of the image.

The bulk of a recent CNN segment devoted to the veracity of the videos consists of CNN investigative reporter Drew Griffin grilling Daleiden over the use of these “deceptive” images. Griffin confronted Daleiden about the stillborn image, and about a video clip of an aborted fetus that was taken from an online abortion archive.

“The problem people are having is that this is not an aborted child … and that does seem very deceptive to me” Griffin said, referring to the stillborn image. “Doesn’t this leave the door wide open for the critics who you knew are going to come after you?”

Daleiden repeated his defense that the fetuses pictured are an accurate representation of those talked about in the videos. But however unfair CNN’s criticism might be (and inconsistent given the network’s frequent use of technically unrelated b-roll), CMP still gave Griffin and Planned Parenthood’s allies an excuse not to address the meat of the videos head on, preferring instead to snipe CMP for its poor image choices.

Deborah Nucatola (Center for Medical Progress/YouTube screengrab)

Deborah Nucatola pictured here in a restaurant discussing in detail methods used to kill a fetus and harvest its organs. (Center for Medical Progress/YouTube screengrab)

What videos?

Most of the networks have largely ignored the videos, and many publications cover it selectively at best, opting to cover the political fallout rather than their content.

CMP released more than 16 hours of Planned Parenthood-related footage from July 14 to Sept. 14, but in that time ABC, NBC and CBS aired just one minute and 13 seconds of the videos with audio. ABC went from July 16 — two days after the first video was released — until at least August 31 without reporting on the videos.

The New York Times has run hundreds of stories related to the political fallout from the videos since the story broke, but only a few on their actual content. The stories the Times and other outlets do opt to run rarely, if ever, link to the videos. And they’re typically dominated with statements defending Planned Parenthood.

That thing we said was legal

Planned Parenthood has done well for itself by spinning the narrative and deflecting criticism. House Republicans are investigating, and several states have defunded the non-profit, but the investigation has yet to turn up anything substantial, and the Obama administration is warning states who defund the group. Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards appeared calm, confident and reasonable while testifying before a House committee in October. Some Republicans on the committee managed to come across as sexist, domineering and desperate.

But Planned Parenthood has since announced its clinics will no longer accept compensation for aborted fetus parts, a practice they said from day one is perfectly legal. Richards said the move is not an admission of guilt, but an effort to “take away any basis” for attacking Planned Parenthood. The abrupt reversal looks bad after the group defended the policy for months. The move makes Planned Parenthood look at best, concerned, and at worst increasingly desperate to kill the story.

Content created by The Daily Caller News Foundation is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact

Content created by The Daily Caller News Foundation is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact