The Ethics of a Planned Parenthood Sting

Count me in full agreement with the editorial board at National Review, who have just written in support of Center for Medical Progress chief David Daleiden and his video expose of Planned Parenthood. Calling the Daleiden’s indictment by a Houston grand jury “dubious,” National Review’s editors contend–rightfully I believe–that this entire case reeks of gross political bias.

And while there is no investigative-reporting exception to criminal statutes (though a reporter’s purpose can be relevant in establishing whether there is the necessary criminal intent), one can’t help but notice the double standard. NBC’s David Gregory once waved an illegal high-capacity magazine at the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre during a contentious interview on Meet the Press. Gregory wasn’t prosecuted, even though District of Columbia police explicitly warned his news editor prior to the program that possessing the magazine was illegal under D.C. law; the police recommended showing a photograph instead. The prosecutor simply exercised his “prosecutorial discretion” to let Gregory off, scot-free, although Gregory had intentionally and knowingly defied the law. But there Gregory was taking on the NRA, the Left’s favorite bogeyman. Here, Daleiden had the misfortune of confronting the corporate heroes of the sexual revolution.

Supporters of Planned Parenthood have been quick to celebrate the indictment, insisting that Daleiden and the CMP’s alleged law-breaking is the real issue. As I wrote before, I don’t know what evidence was brought to the grand jury, so I cannot say with certainity or authority what verdict should have been reached. But the point is simple: It’s simply not conscionable that a whistleblowing organization that produces credible, on the record evidence (you don’t have to think its proof, but it is evidence, hence the congressional inquiries) of illegal activity and medical malpractice inside a major healthcare facility would be considered more liable to legal repercussion than the healthcare provider depicted. Yes, journalists are accountable to the law, but that is simply a smokescreen and misdirection; it is not at all rare for journalists to practice some forms of deception to gain information on a major story.

For some perspective, consider this checklist for journalists, written by Bob Steele and cited in this article from The Columbia Journalism Review. Steele asks when is it appropriate for journalists to use deception, including hidden cameras, in investigation.

  • When the information obtained is of profound importance. It must be of vital public interest, such as revealing great “system failure” at the top levels,or it must prevent profound harm to individuals.

 

When all other alternatives for obtaining the same information have been exhausted.

 

When the journalists involved are willing to disclose the nature of the deception and the reason for it.

 

When the individuals involved and their news organization apply excellence, through outstanding craftsmanship as well as the commitment of time and funding needed to pursue the story fully.

 

When the harm prevented by the information revealed through deception outweighs any harm caused by the act of deception.

 

When the journalists involved have conducted a meaningful, collaborative, and deliberative decision making process on the ethical and legal issues.

I cite Steele’s list not because I am convinced beyond all doubt that the CMP fulfilled each of these requirements, but because it is absolute fantasy to insist that the approach taken by CMP was somehow exceptional or unheard of. Both the journalism industry and the courts know from precedent how to think about a reporter who goes undercover for a major, socially relevant story. My concern here is whether, in this instance, Daleiden and the CMP are being handled like journalists in pursuit of a major human interest story, or are being presumed to be pro-life agitators without a cause.

Again, I cannot say whether CMP broke the law. I don’t know. But it should be obvious to all that this watchdog group was motivated by (what they felt at least) truth-telling, and a desire take seriously the testimony of people like Holly O’Donnell. Their methods are not above suspicion, and neither are Planned Parenthood’s. The fog of politics looms heavy over this indictment.

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