Late Monday night on Twitter, the Associated Press broke the news that California Attorney General Xavier Beccera filed 15 counts of felony charges of invasion of privacy against pro-life investigative journalists and activists David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt for their roles in an undercover video operation against Planned Parenthood in 2015. The shocking undercover video alleges Planned Parenthood and their executive directors aim to profit off the sale of fetal tissue to research organizations, a violation of federal law itself.
Several Planned Parenthood top executives, including Senior Director of Medical Services Deborah Nucatola were caught via hidden camera talking on tape in public settings about the desire for non profit organizations to break even on shipping costs of fetal material which at times can include limbs, brains or organs, or in her exact words “Do a little better.” Another executive when propositioned about possibly profiting from the sale of fetal tissue, joked that she really wants a Lamborghini.
Beccera released a statement when he announced the charges. “The right to privacy is a cornerstone of California’s Constitution, and a right that is foundational in a free democratic society,” Becerra said. “We will not tolerate the criminal recording of confidential conversations.”
Daleiden is a pro-life journalist whose motivations are clear to media and those reporting on the criminal charges he now faces. Daleiden is described as anti-abortion or anti-choice. (This is the preferred nomenclature of Planned Parenthood to describe their pro-life opponents.)
What hasn’t been reported are the connections and motivations of both Becerra, his predecessor, now Sen. Kamala Harris (who kickstarted the investigation in California against Daleiden) and Planned Parenthood.
Omitted from AP’s original reporting and several other mainstream outlets including Buzzfeed, NBC, CNN, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, NPR and Washington Post is that Becerra, a former Democrat congressman received thousands of dollars in donations from Planned Parenthood over the course of his career, including $1000 as recently as 2014. Over the course of his congressional career, Beccerra received over $7,000 in donations from Planned Parenthood, which also receives public funds. This seems like an important detail that’s been omitted from news reports.
What is also being ignored by mass media reporting of this case is Planned Parenthood’s role in crafting legislation with former AG and now Sen. Harris and which plays a role in the charges Daleiden faces. Harris, who herself received the 12th highest donations from Planned Parenthood in the 2016 cycle, also appears to have colluded directly with Planned Parenthood in crafting legislation that protects Planned Parenthood from future undercover investigations.
As reported in the The Washington Times, emails show Jill Habig, a representative from Harris’s office exchanging multiple drafts of the bill (AB 1671) with Beth Parker, chief legal counsel for Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California.
The emails initially were accessed via a Public Records Act request and later obtained by The Times, and span from March 8 to April 14. Ms. Harris launched a raid on Mr. Daleiden’s apartment on April 5, during which agents seized his laptop, hard drives and phone while he was speaking to his attorneys.
Harris even appears on Planned Parenthood’s website under the banner of “Acts of Courage”
AB 1671, signed into law by California Governor Jerry Brown on September 30th, 2016, calls into question the legality of undercover journalism for the public good, of the type made famous by outlets like 60 Minutes. Mother Jones, an outlet famous of their deep undercover work (including publishing the “47%” Romney tape) and no fans of pro-life activists, defended Daleiden and Merritt and complained about the appearance of Becerra’s political, not legal, motivations. Kevin Drum writes:
“This was a legitimate investigation, and no level of government should be in the business of chilling it. The First Amendment doesn’t say anything one way or the other about how honest one’s speech has to be.
This also strikes me as political grandstanding. I imagine that if this were a couple of liberal activists secretly recording meetings with anti-immigration groups, Attorney General Xavier Becerra wouldn’t so eager to go after them.
As the media obsess over attempting to prove any Russian collusion, this domestic case of proven collusion doesn’t seem to interest a bold new, rededicated media vowing to give their readers the truth rather than fake news and alternative facts. The media Twitterati is also eerily silent on the chilling effects prosecuting undercover journalists might have on all the bold new declarations of gatekeeping the First Amendment in the age of Trump.
The most troubling relationship may not be between Planned Parenthood as an organization and the attorney general now prosecuting the group’s political opponents, who may undermine the case for receiving public tax dollars. But Planned Parenthood’s relationship with a media seemingly bent on protecting them.
For a group of people who boldly love to compare themselves to firefighters, this appears to be one of those fires they are choosing not to rush toward.