Monday, April 27, 2009

Raising a glass to the good fighters in Journalism

The Los Angeles Times has been sinking the past few years, but I've maintained to those who would attack it without remorse that there are still dedicated people there doing important work. Case in point, Sunday's story by reporter Robin Abcarian about a UCLA college student named Lila Rose who secretly video records deceptive visits to Planned Parenthood and then posts edited videos on YouTube of her receiving "bad advice" (say posing as a 13-year-old who got impregnated by a 31-year-old and having the nurse recommend she like about the guy's age, ergo shooing away the statutory rape charge).

In the story, Abcarian reports/writes: Rose's goal is to undermine legal abortion by showing that Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of abortions in the country, abets sexual exploitation by counseling pregnant minors to lie about the ages of their adult boyfriends.

Planned Parenthood officials strenuously deny the charge. Protecting minors is a crucial part of their mission, they say, but with 30,000 employees and volunteers and 850 clinics, they say, mistakes are inevitable.

... continued ...

Rose, she added, has refused to show Planned Parenthood her unedited tapes, so "it's very difficult for us to know what happened."

Rose said the full, 48-minute video of her encounter in Indianapolis is available at her website.

The conversation in the uncut version is more nuanced than the edited five-minute version, and includes a staffer stating emphatically, "We have to follow the laws," and another urging Rose to tell her mother about the pregnancy.

"I should also note that every time we release footage from a new clinic," said Rose in an e-mail, "we send complete copies of the footage to various state authorities, including the attorney general."

The kicker I see here is that her notoriety hasn't been gained through her website or even through the videos sent to the law enforcement agencies, but through YouTube. So her lies of omission are worth criticizing her for. She's right when she says that it's horrible that a volunteer would encourage a patient to lie about statutory rape/sexual abuse. And it's the emotionally-charged reaction that she's clearly counting on when posting an edited version on YouTube set to a dark soundtrack.

FOR THE RECORD FROM THE STORY: Laurie Rubiner, vice president for public policy and advocacy for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said it is a violation of the organization's policy to tell a young woman to lie about the age of a father. The well-being of patients, she said, is paramount. "And that means making sure that we are complying with minor-abuse reporting requirements."

Her co-hort/accomplice in this is James O'Keefe, a 24-year-old and fellow conservative activist. He essentially says that abortion is genocide and the ends (shocking people) justify the means (lying, deception, invading someone's privacy and trying to entrap someone).

Abcarian's story is excellent in how it does not take sides. It's the epitome of "fair and balanced" in fact. It's the mark of an excellent reporter to allow a subject the opportunity to explain him/herself and leave the judgment and criticism to the other voices and perspectives in the story. I have no idea what Abcarian's views are on abortion or on Lila Rose's deceptive methods.

Personally, using ethically wrong methods to capture someone else doing something you think is wrong offends me. And I would hope that she could be more Obama-like and try to find common ground rather than shock and awe someone into taking an action based on emotion rather than logic.

Her deceitful tactics have worked though: Last month, the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted to suspend a grant worth nearly $300,000 to Planned Parenthood that was earmarked for sex education, not abortions. A conservative Tustin businessman raised the issue with Supervisor John Moorlach after meeting Rose and seeing her videos.

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