Earlier this week, right-wing media outlets exploded over the biggest "exposé" since Obama's supposed military takeover of Texas. "BREAKING: Planned Parenthood director caught on tape selling aborted 'baby parts,'" read the headline at Live Action, an anti-choice group known for falsely accusing Planned Parenthood of helping traffic child sex slaves and killing babies after birth. (In fact, Planned Parenthood offers a wide range of reproductive health services and cancer screenings to millions of Americans.)
The new video is from a group that calls itself the Center for Medical Progress; it is linked to radical players in the anti-abortion movement like Troy Newman, the head of a group that regularly harasses and intimidates abortion doctors. Like previous Planned Parenthood "stings," this undercover video was deceptively edited to make it seem as though a Planned Parenthood doctor was discussing the sale of fetal organs and tissue to a biotech representative. In fact, the doctor was discussing fetal tissue donations, which is perfectly legal, and which is always done with the express consent of patients, to someone posing as a biotech representative. To some ears, the doctor's tone and choice of words in discussing the sensitive issue seemed crass, and indeed Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards acknowledged in a video statement Thursday that the way the doctor spoke did not "reflect [the] compassion" patients have come to expect from Planned Parenthood. But the bigger allegation in the video – that Planned Parenthood was caught selling fetal body parts – was utter nonsense, plain and simple.
Still, that didn't stop the right from acting like this was the greatest scandal since Monica Lewinsky's blue dress. They were practically frothing at the mouth, spreading lies and half-truths about Planned Parenthood – long a favorite Republican target. Here are some of the more hyperbolic reactions.
In the video, the Planned Parenthood doctor speaks frankly about the details of her work to people she believes are members of her field – sometimes in gruesome detail. It seemed like for many conservatives, the fact that abortion, like all surgery, is kind of gross was an earth-shattering revelation. For instance, House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement, "I think I'd vomit trying to talk about [the video]. It's disgusting."
"GROSS" read a Gateway Pundit headline.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a 2016 presidential candidate, decried fetal tissue donation as "shocking and gruesome."
Rich Lowry of Politico declared that the video should "turn your stomach."
Now that "gross" is apparently reason enough to oppose a medical procedure, will these folks apply that standard to all surgeries – or just the ones involving lady parts?
Within moments of the Planned Parenthood video coming out, conservatives had determined that the mainstream media was refusing to cover the story. "BLACKOUT: Media Go Dark On Planned Parenthood Organ Trafficking," read a Federalist headline the day the video was released.
"Censored: ABC and CBS Refused to Cover Planned Parenthood Selling Aborted Baby Body Parts," read a headline at LifeNews the day after.
"If puppies and kittens were being dismembered, their organs sold by a tax-funded org, there would be an outcry on @ABC @NBCNews @CBSNews," Live Action's Lila Rose tweeted, also on day two.
Networks and other major outlets did end up covering the story, but the "censorship" accusation remained. "Shock: ABC and CBS End Their Censorship of Planned Parenthood Selling Aborted Baby Body Parts," declared LifeNews' headline.
It's not a given that mainstream media outlets should give airtime to something that has all the hallmarks of right-wing propaganda, but if they do, it behooves reporters to take their time and research the accusations to see if there is any truth to them. The fact that conservatives wanted the media to run with the story before having time to watch the full, three-hour, unedited video – much less do some actual research and reporting about the issue – says a lot about conservative confidence that these claims can withstand even the slightest scrutiny.
"Let's waste taxpayer dollars on an investigation."
Almost immediately after the video surfaced, opportunistic politicians started tripping over themselves to declare their eagerness to investigate Planned Parenthood. "This video is abhorrent and rips at the heart," read a congressional Republican statement about a House committee investigation that was opened this week.
Justifying his own intent to subject Planned Parenthood to needless harassment, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said the video "discussing the details of internal abortion procedures – including harvesting of baby body parts – is unnerving and appalling."
Bobby Jindal and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence engaged in the same posturing.
And it wasn't just politicians calling for action: Bill O'Reilly blew a bunch of hot air about how the FBI needs to investigate the matter.
All of this, even though there is nothing illegal about donating fetal tissue.
The timing of this opportunity to hate on Planned Parenthood was quite fortuitous, it turns out. The very morning the video was released, Congress was set to vote on a bill to increase funding for breast cancer research. Since breast cancer groups like the Komen Foundation work with Planned Parenthood to screen women for cancer, this was a useful pretext for Republicans to kill plans to fund Komen's cancer research.
This is far from the first time that abortion has been wielded as cover to pull money for women's cancer screenings and treatment. In Texas, Gov. Abbott has already used abortion as a pretext to end cervical cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood clinics in his state, even though that is the only access many thousands of women have to such screenings.
But hey, it's kind of gross to hear a doctor talk frankly about the details of abortion surgery over lunch. So good luck finding those cancer screenings, ladies!