A few weeks ago, the Center For Medical Progress started releasing undercover videos showing Planned Parenthood selling parts of aborted fetuses.
The Center for Medical Progress has released a series of videos, and each release follows a pattern. Two videos are released. One is a shorter, condensed video that is edited down to tell a coherrent narrative highlighting the big revelations that they've uncovered about Planned Parenthood. The second video is a usually very long and is just the full unedited footage so that you can contextualize the edited video for the sake of transparency. (Amazingly, the New York Times is still in denial regarding the fact the first two videos were released simultaneously.)
Even though this is an admirable amount of transparency, a Planned Parenthood talking point from the beginning has been that the videos have been unfairly edited. The media has, in turn, blindly parroted this talking point -- see today's write up on the Center for Medical Progress's latest video in the Washington Post. Note where I've added emphasis to these two paragraphs by reporter Carolyn Johnson:
The video, like previously ones released by the group, is highly edited. It shows Melissa Farrell, the director of research for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast discussing providing fetal tissues to actors who were posing as representatives of a human biologics company. At the end of the video, the video shows graphic footage of the laboratory, including organs.
"The footage released today doesn’t show Planned Parenthood staff engaged in any wrongdoing or agreeing to violate any legal or medical standards. Instead, the latest tape shows an extremely offensive intrusion and lack of respect for women, with footage of medical tissue in a lab," Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America said in a statement. "The latest tape has at least 20 substantial and unexplained edits. Previous tapes released by this extremist group were heavily edited in order to distort what the people on the tapes actually said. These videos are intended to shock and deceive the public."
Strange how Planned Parenthood and the Washington Post reporter are in sync here. But if there's concern that the videos are "highly edited" and that the edits are "unexplained," your role as a journalist should be to actually explain them! The Center for Medical Progress hasn't released the full footage of today's encounter yet, but I presume they will soon, or at least that's what they have done with the other videos. To date, there's been no damage to the credibility of the previous videos being released by the Center for Medical Progress by comparing the edited videos to the context of the unedited footage. And believe me, Planned Parenthood and their allies in the media have every incentive to expose any deceptive tactics. (Indeed, Planned Parenthood knows a thing or two about deceptive tactics.)
Further, this is a bizarre allegation to lob coming from journalists. Nearly every piece of broadcast news we watch is edited without an opportunity to see the raw footage. There's a default presumption of credibility, even though a great many news organizations haven't always earned it. Because the Center for Medical Progress is an activist group and not a news organization, it has taken admirable steps to be transparent beyond what news organizations do by releasing unedited footage. And yet Planned Parenthood and the media still insist on casting doubt on the videos merely for being edited, without attempting -- let alone demonstrating! -- that these edits are deceptive.
By contrast, Planned Parenthood's talking points are frequently given the benefit of the doubt by major media, even though news outlets are right to be wary of Planned Parenthood's spin. Alas, Johnson's entire report in the Post could be taught in journalism school as an example of selective sourcing and generally biased reporting. While Planned Parenthood is quoted at length, there's not a single expert quoted as saying what's revealed in today's video -- which features footage of fetal limbs being picked up and examined out of a pile of human parts -- is either disturbing, unethical, or possibly illegal. Surely there's plenty of credible voices willing to say so.
Given that both sides of the issue aren't presented, one might even ominously suggest Johnson's story was "highly edited" -- and not in a way that benefits the reader's pursuit of the truth.