Video argument persists on both sides of the aisle
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – During a press conference Monday, Rep. Diane Franklin, R-Camdenton, spoke on her bill moving into the Senate that will tighten abortion regulations in Missouri and forbid the donation of fetal remains in the state. Franklin authored this legislation after taking the lead on the chamber’s investigation of Planned Parenthood and its practices as the chair of the House Children and Families Committee. However, one of the most telling segments of the conference was overlooked. Franklin made direct mention Monday of the root cause of the entire controversy, which has become lost in the clutter: the videos.
Franklin spoke about the video analysis done by a group known as Coalfire, an IT firm that usually deals in cybersecurity infrastructure for both public and private organizations and companies. Franklin said an October 2015 analysis by Coalfire had verified the videos released in July of that year by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) as truthful.
The fight over those videos has become as political as the issue they describe because controversial policy is at play.
Franklin’s and Rep. Andrew Koenig’s combined two bills, HB 2069 and 2371, passed the House April 14 and were heard in the Senate Seniors, Families and Children Committee Tuesday morning. They modify current abortion statutes including laws that would ban the donation of fetal tissue, outside of some circumstances, and would also set up new regulations on tissue and abortion reports, employee disclosures, and ambulatory surgical center inspections.
Rep. Stacey Newman is a Democrat who has been at the forefront of defending Planned Parenthood in the House. She sees the continued investigation in Missouri as a waste of time and taxpayer dollars and an effort to create stricter impositions on reproductive health for women in Missouri.
“To stigmatize fetal cell donation and research is really kind of baloney,” Newman said. “We depend on this to keep our families alive and safe, we’re dependent on it for future technology, [and] that’s the underlying issue to all of this.”
Franklin counters that her bill tried to narrow its focus after the House investigation into Planned Parenthood. She says it aims to clear up oversights on the part of the Department of Health and Senior Services and ensure that women can still investigate the cause of deformities to an aborted fetus while respecting the sanctity of life.
“No one should profit from the sale of fetal baby body parts, and that is what the bill addresses,” she said.
However, to what degree that sale is happening, or even if it is occurring at all, is still the subject of debate because of the national discussion around these videos. The veracity of the videos released last July by the CMP and its executive director and founder, David Daleiden, have been as disputed as the claims made within them. When Daleiden released footage depicting Planned Parenthood executives and employees speaking callously about their sale of fetal remains, or “human baby body parts” as the CMP refers to them, it set off an immediate firestorm against the already controversial organization.
Both pro-abortion rights and anti-abortion groups scrambled to verify what was either a stellar piece of investigative reporting or a smear campaign. Supporters of Planned Parenthood were faster on the trigger.
More information eventually came out about Daleiden. He set up a fake biomedical research company called Biomax Procurement Services, and he worked for a pro-life organization before founding CMP.
Planned Parenthood also commissioned an organization called Fusion GPS to audit the videos, and in August, it released its analysis. Glenn Simpson, the founder of Fusion GPS and a former investigative journalist for The Wall Street Journal, said the videos were indeed altered, though they could not specify to what extent and that “the manipulation of the videos does mean they have no evidentiary value and cannot be relied upon for any official inquiries.” Planned Parenthood President and CEO Cecile Richards leaned on that analysis and used it in her testimony before Congress in September.
However, conservative media outlets were quick to respond, namely in attacking Fusion GPS. Its bare web site and web presence raised eyebrows from Breitbart and was characterized in The Daily Signal as a liberal group that had produced smear campaigns against Republican donors in the past. Franklin echoed those concerns.
Then, the Coalfire report came out in October commissioned by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a socially conservative Christian advocacy group. Its report found “the video recordings are authentic and show no evidence of manipulation or editing.
“This conclusion is supported by the consistency of the video file date and time stamps, the video timecode, as well as the folder and file naming scheme,” the executive summary continued. “The uniformity between the footage from the cameras from the two investigators also support the evidence that the video recordings are authentic.”
In an interview with the National Review, ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox noted that in deciding which of the two reports to believe, “You have to look at who is doing the analysis. On that score, there should be no doubt that Coalfire is far more credible than a report by a Democratic opposition research firm.”
Franklin also noted that Coalfire was independent and outside the realm of politics.
However, Planned Parenthood has countered that Coalfire is not without undue influence. Elizabeth Toledo of Camino Public Relations noted in February that Coalfire only began its investigation just hours after it was bought by Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign chair Chad Sweet and former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, both of whom are Republicans.
For what it’s worth, Toledo is also a former communications vice president for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
February also saw those in Daleidan’s corner suffer a blow. A Texas grand jury convened to investigate a Planned Parenthood clinic in that state cleared the clinic and instead indicted Daleidan and one of his partners with tampering with a governmental record and, somewhat ironically, with the purchase or sale of human organs because he offered to do so while leading his own charge.
Daleidan is also under investigation in California, the state where he interviewed abortion provider Dr. Deborah Nucatola about acquiring fetal tissue, for breaking the state’s two party recording law when he did the interview.
Newman believes that this indictment, along with the investigations in other states which have found no evidence of wrongdoing, make it clear which side should be trusted.
“It looks like it’s a grand political witch hunt,” she said. “To deal with a fraudulent video where the guy has already been indicted is a total waste of time.”
Franklin and Newman agree in one regard: the matter is settled. But the two legislators, each with what they see as credible analysis, records and documents to back up their claims, find themselves on different sides of the argument.