Perhaps you’ve heard about the recent hidden-camera video of a Planned Parenthood higher-up allegedly selling “fetal parts” on the black market. Maybe you’ve seen it debunked by a credible news outlet (nope, turns out there was no tissue or organ selling occurring, but instead standard, legal, and ethical tissue donation as one might find in many medical contexts), explained by a full transcript, shared in horror on social media, or rebutted in a Planned Parenthood video.
Whatever the circumstances, understanding the propaganda war against Planned Parenthood is a key part of the story. Planned Parenthood is a massive national healthcare organization that has found itself caught up in a front of the culture war — or, now that gay marriage is legal, caught in the biggest front in said war. By trying to provide reproductive healthcare to the women who need it most, the organization has consistently found itself a target of extremist activists, defunding attempts, protests, and even bombings and attacks.
None of these attempts have worked, so in recent years, a group of antiabortion crusaders have turned to the media. Working under the moniker Live Action, led by young activist Lila Rose, they have attempted to take down the group by shooting cloak-and-dagger videos, which are then often heavily edited to reinforce longstanding stereotypes about abortion. The videos are always made with great efforts at deception, and one such video comes out every few years — arising out of what I imagine are many, many attempts. The release of the videos, almost like clockwork, is followed up by statements of horror from right-wing politicians, and then, almost immediately, new bills that will remove funding from Planned Parenthood — which, as supporters note, also provides family planning, cancer screening, and other routine healthcare in areas where such care is hard to come by.
The group releasing the newest video, however, appeared to be a new one, unrelated to Live Action. But as Amanda Marcotte noted at Slate, they are essentially an offshoot of the discredited Live Action.
A better phrase would be “completely unknown.” The group’s head is former Live Action worker David Daleiden, an associate not just of Lila Rose but apparently ofJames O’Keefe, who’s himself a machine for churning out sting videos attacking various liberal organizations and politicians. CMP has a strong whiff of the fly-by-night organization. Its blog started on July 6. Its Twitter page started sending tweets on Tuesday.
In fact, a deeper investigation by the Daily Beast into the video’s creator David Daleiden reveals all kinds of unsavory tidbits, including his connection to O’Keefe and Rose, as well as to Twitter’s #1 troll, Chuck Johnson, who is now banned from the social media site.
Provocateurs like O’Keefe and Johnson know how to exploit a media outrage cycle in order to fuel real attempts to bring down progressive organizations and people. In the case of these abortion videos, first a given video is picked up by ultra-right-wing outlets, who blast it out and ensure that it trends on social media. Eventually, legitimate news organizations are forced cover the video, almost always noting that initial reports were false or misleading — but not before seeds of doubt have been planted in the mind of the public, what Katha Pollitt calls the “muddled middle” of people who don’t have a strong opinion on abortion.
By the end of the week, the media part of this cycle will have died down, and the political part will be ramping up. Then that battle will end, until the next attack resurfaces and a new news cycle is created. In our reaction-focused world of breaking news, media consumers have to be on their guard to distinguish between real stories and attempts to manipulate the conversation.