On Wednesday, an obscure pro-life group rushed out with what looked to be a devastating revelation–it claimed to have caught a top official with the largest abortion services provider in the nation discussing the illegal sale of fetal body parts on tape. But there’s just one problem–this group’s own footage reveals that these accusations are completely false. Rather than catching an evil baby-killer discussing a ghastly crime on tape, they actually captured a discussion of a perfectly legal transaction. They may have also exposed themselves to a libel suit by putting together a hatchet job that is even worse than the Shirley Sherrod affair.
In case you missed it, an outfit called the Center for Medical Progress released a video showing Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical services, Deborah Nucatola, supposedly discussing the sale of fetal body parts in July 2014. She thought she was speaking with two officials from a biopharmaceutical services company, but she was actually speaking with actors on CMP’s payroll.
Oh, how the fundies and wingnuts howled! The video has been the talk of right-wing social media and radio shows for the past two days. Within 24 hours of the video going live, Republican governors in Louisiana and Texas called for investigations of Planned Parenthood, and Republicans in Congress also announced they would take a look as well. So it looked like we had just witnessed the revelation of a Kermit Gosnell-style operation by the largest abortion services provider in the nation, right? Well, not so much.
The CMP was kind enough to provide a link to the raw footage of the actors’ hidden-camera encounter with Nucatola–nearly three hours worth–as well as a link to the full transcript of their chat. Media Matters for America took a peek, and found no fewer than three instances where CMP selectively edited the video to make it look like Nucatola was discussing the sale of fetal parts.
For instance, when one of the actors began musing about the benefits of selling fetal parts, Nucatola shot that idea down in no uncertain terms.
“No. Nothing, no affiliate should be doing anything that’s not like, reasonable and customary. This is not- nobody should be ‘selling’ tissue. That’s just not the goal here.”
Additionally, Nucatola said numerous times that among the services Planned Parenthood provided was tissue donation, which is completely legal with the donor’s consent.
But easily the most egregious edit came roughly two-and-a-half minutes into the nearly nine-minute clip released by CMP. It appears to show Nucatola discussing the cost of fetal tissue. However, Media Matters couldn’t help but notice that the timestamp jumped from 12:24:07 to 12:32:06. For those of you keeping score, CMP chopped off eight minutes of footage. However, the raw footage, as well as the transcript, show that Nucatola was actually discussing the reimbursement costs for tissue donation.
Several other outlets have also called BS on CMP’s claims. The New York Times, for instance, pointed out that Nucatola told the actors that “this is not a revenue stream” for Planned Parenthood affiliates. KEYE-TV in Austin reported on Texas governor Greg Abbott’s response to the video, and took notice of the eight-minute timestamp jump. Gawker called the video “a case of words being taken grossly out of context.”
The raw footage and the transcript leave no doubt that CMP knew what Nucatola was really saying about Planned Parenthood’s services. That makes CMP’s behavior even worse than what Andrew Breitbart did to Sherrod. Unlike Breitbart, CMP went to the trouble of providing the raw video and transcript for everyone to see–and yet, still stands by this hatchet job. If this isn’t libelous, I don’t know what is. From where I’m sitting, this is gross negligence at best and proof of knowledge of falsity at worst. To my non-lawyer’s mind, if Nucatola were to sue CMP for libel, she could really draw blood.
CMP claims its stock in trade is reporting on medical ethics. But after this, I really have to question whether CMP has any ethical standards of its own. This outfit owes Nucatola and Planned Parenthood an immediate apology. Otherwise, the only question ought to be the amount of damages CMP would have to pay Nucatola. If this is CMP’s idea of journalism, hopefully it would be enough to put it out of business.