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  1. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Planned Parenthood prosecution seems troubling

    Discussion in 'Debate Room' started by Steerpike, Jan 26, 2016.

    The prosecution of the undercover activists, I should say.

    From what I've seen so far, the support or opposition to the prosecution falls almost entirely along partisan lines. That should be a red flag in any criminal prosecution, in my view. I support Planned Parenthood (including by giving them financial support), so I'm not opposed to them by any stretch, but this prosecution should be troubling to any progressive.

    We have a long history of undercover journalism in the country, and that often relies on deception to gain access. If you shift this story to a different set of facts (hypothetically), I think it is easy to see the problems here. For example, there are laws regulating kickbacks to doctors from pharmaceutical companies. If a group of progressive activists went undercover and used false credentials and video to expose kickbacks to doctors, they could be prosecuted under the same rationale that the anti-PP activists are being charged. That should be extremely troubling to people.

    It should also be troubling that once something lines up alongside a political issue, so many people are willing to forget about broad principles in the pursuit of sticking it to the side they don't like.

    Let PP deal with this via a civil suit for defamation. There's an appropriately high standard for defamation in cases involving the media, and if PP can meet that burden then they should recover that way. Criminal prosecution is an over-reaction and has worrying implications in a system that relies heavily on legal precedents.
     
  2. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Are you claiming the Grand Jury was partisan?

    Do you think it's possible that when they looked at the facts they were outraged at a group of people that tried to falsely smear an organization fabricating the story that donating fetal parts for medical research amounted to selling said parts for profit?

    As for the partisanship, yeah one side believes the lies in the videos and one side can see that fetal parts were not being sold for a profit.

    Pretty sure a Grand Jury in Houston is not going to consist only of liberals or pro-choicers. They started out originally investigating whether anyone at Planned Parenthood should be indicted.

    Planned Parenthood cleared, but 2 indicted over videos

    They did use fake drivers' licenses and that is clearly against the law.
    It's doubtful they'll do jail time for it. It may help Planned Parenthood win their lawsuit.

    How is it unfair, the videos purposefully misrepresented the facts.

    But is that's not enough for you:
     
  3. GingerCoffee
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    For the record, it was the Republican legislators that called for the investigation into possible criminal activities at Planned Parenthood and it was a Republican District Attorney that presented the evidence to the Grand Jury.
     
  4. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, but wouldn't that group of progressive activists be charged? Is there some legal precedent that crimes committed for the purpose of uncovering crimes, are excused?

    And even if they were, wouldn't that require that there actually be crimes to are investigated? This seems more analogous to a case where a group of progressive activists went undercover and used false credentials and videos to expose kickbacks to doctors...and then found that there were no kickbacks.

    Maybe there are nuances I'm not getting, but a precedent that crimes are OK if they're committed based on the suspicion, even the false suspicion, of other crimes, seems twitchy.
     
  5. GingerCoffee
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    It's worse than that. They essentially committed crimes in an attempt to frame an organization.

    Who are we kidding here? They weren't interested in uncovering actual wrong doing. They surely knew full well that fetal parts were being donated, not sold. The point was exactly what they achieved, get people outraged against Planned Parenthood.

    It's the most recent tactic, if you can't overturn Roe v Wade and murdering doctors and blowing up abortion clinics is getting less popular, you go after local clinics with state laws.

    Planned Parenthood being an abortion provider in states where laws against abortion clinics are not about to be passed, and being a large national organization with a lot of resources to fight local clinic bans and barriers has been a political target for years now.

    Yes but add to that, they then faked the videos to make it look like kickbacks had been accepted.
     
  6. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    @ChickenFreak those are good points, and I considered many of them when I was first thinking about this. I'll post my thoughts on them when I'm not on my phone :)
     
  7. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    @ChickenFreak

    I think you have to first go back to the idea of what is a crime and what is protected. The First Amendment provides explicit protections for the Press. I think undercover reporting definitely falls within that category, and the First Amendment trumps statutory law. Part of the argument will center around what is legitimate undercover reporting and what isn't. The reporters should have a good faith belief that they're covering a legitimate story, and that's something that could be brought out in any trial. But it is also important to ensure that there isn't a chilling effect on legitimate reporting by trying to bring criminal prosecutions in such cases.

    A few years ago, Iowa passed a law targeting undercover journalism. I think it was in response to undercover reporting of agricultural/animal conditions done by the Human Society or similar organization. As I recall, the law went after gaining access to such facilities under "false pretenses." To me, that's a First Amendment problem, and if the law were to be used against, say, a reporter from 60 Minutes, I think it would be found Unconstitutional under those facts. These days, the same protections should apply to bloggers and independent journalists, providing they are acting in good faith. So, in essence, you don't have a crime because the criminal statute as applied to those facts is unenforceable.

    I also think a requirement that there be an actual crime discovered by the journalists is a bad one and would have a chilling effect. If you have a good faith basis for believing, for example, that there is criminal activity going on somewhere and it needs to be exposed, that should be sufficient. Putting journalists at risk of criminal prosecution if they investigate and it turns out there is nothing there would be a bad idea. Also, not everything an undercover investigator wants to report on may rise to the level of a crime. Suppose you simply wanted to expose inhumane, but not criminal, conditions at a slaughterhouse. I think a journalist who gains access through deception should be protected, even though there is no criminal activity going on.

    Where to draw the line, in terms of journalism, is the key issue. I have heard traditional media say such protections should be limited to people working for established, traditional medial. NY Times, etc. I don't agree with that. I think independent journalists should be protected as well. On the other hand, if the "journalists" don't have a good faith basis for their investigation and are basically out to create a false impression or damage an organization based on political (or other) motives, then I think the criminal statutes, if violated, can be applied.

    The question in this case is where these individuals fall. That should be sorted out in a trial, if this case goes to trial. What is troubling about this case is not only the idea of a criminal prosecution of what should be, prima facie, behavior we need First Amendment protection for, but also the lopsided political breakdown in terms of who supports the prosecution and who doesn't. If you have any prosecution, left or right, that basically falls along the lines of political viewpoint, that should be a red flag.

    As for your final statement, I think that oversimplifies it. It's not a general idea that you can commit a crime based on suspicion of another crime. It's the idea that the First Amendment protects journalists, acting in the course of a good-faith investigation, from application of certain criminal statutes that might otherwise apply. That's a balancing test, and is going to be highly fact-specific. If these guys set up a fake business or used false credentials to gain access I don't have a problem with that, anymore than I'd have a problem with a journalist posing as a physician to try to report on corruption in the pharmaceutical industry. I think the balancing test favors wanting that reporting to get out there. On the other hand, if a journalist were running underage prostitutes in order to do an expose on children in the sex trade, then I think the balancing test swings heavily the other way - obviously you can't allow someone to abuse children to facilitate a story on child abuse.

    What I've seen so far of this particular case, I think the criminal prosecution is troubling.
     
  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not as concerned about the false credentials as the illegal recording--assuming it was illegal in that state. Is that something that the law protects, in the case of journalists--that is, in a state where the law requires the consent of both parties being recorded, can journalists ignore that law?

    I also don't feel that this was " prima facie, behavior we need First Amendment protection for". To me, it was very obviously an effort at muckraking, and it was very obvious that there was probably no criminal activity occurring. I realize that "obvious" is a judgement often made in court, but it's not as if these people would be jailed without trial--there would be a court.

    It seems that your concern is that this would set a precedent that journalists can be prosecuted on minimal grounds. My concern is that this would set a precedent that organizations with deep pockets can gather non-evidence evidence, illegally obtained, without any worry at all about real consequences. (Since their deep pockets would take care of any civil action that results.)
     
  9. BayView
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    I agree with the general principals, but I also agree that most of these questions can only be answered by having a trial. So, yes, there should be defenses available to responsible journalists, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be charged in the first place.

    The US judicial system is, pretty much by design, a political system - voting for judges is, in the eyes of many people in the world, a really weird way to choose them. But I'm not sure things are any MORE likely to be political in this trial than they would be in lots of other trials - if an abortion doctor is murdered, for example. I don't think it's a good idea to start saying we won't charge people with crimes if their political positions are strong, polarized, or controversial.

    So I can understand your concerns, but I think they should be addressed via careful scrutiny of the trial rather than by not having a trial at all.
     
  10. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, there is always a balance between abuse and legitimate protection. For example, it is very hard to win a defamation case against the press. The Constitutional standard is very high. That means the press could more easily abuse laws around libel, slander, etc. than the average person. However, I prefer that balance to overly hindering the press by going in the other direction.

    As for the secretly recording, it seems to me the press should be able to do that on matters of public interest in the course of a legitimate investigation, without consent - at least in some cases. I can see that being subject to abuse, however, as all of these things could be. For example, if a reporter secretly recorded a walkthrough of a slaughterhouse showing animals horribly mistreated by workers, my initial thought is that is the kind of thing we want reporters to be able to do. How you balance that, I'd have to think about. In California, recorded a phone conversation requires consent of both parties. If you're recording video in a public place you don't need consent. If you're in a private place (like a factory), I'm not sure what the consent law is here.
     
  11. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I wouldn't refuse to charge people for that reason, I just think when a prosecution falls squarely along political lines it should raise a flag that further scrutiny should be applied. I tend to be more "left," on these issues than many, though. I also don't think Edward Snowden should be prosecuted, though he violated federal statute.
     
  12. GingerCoffee
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    Setting out to frame Planned Parenthood is not investigative journalism.
     
  13. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Maybe they were investigating what activities are considered investigative journalism in a court of law?
     
  14. GingerCoffee
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    Only if you are poorly informed about the history of this group and the history of this incident can you possibly believe they were not purposefully trying to frame Planned Parenthood.
     
  15. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wasn't being serious. I haven't heard much about this incident since it made the news months ago, but you're making me curious to read up on it some more.
     
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  16. GingerCoffee
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    It was disappointing to see @Steerpike present this as if it had ever been an actual investigation as opposed to the purposeful attack it actually was.

    From FactCheck.org
    Unspinning the Planned Parenthood Video
    Couldn't be more clear Planned Parenthood was simply assisting a few women who wanted some good to come from their abortions. They weren't even trying to get women to donate the fetuses. It was purely something they did if the pregnant women wanted it, like donating your dead loved one's organs.

    An investigative journalist looks to uncover wrongdoing, not tries to make someone look like they are doing something wrong.

    David Robert Daleiden is an anti-abortion activist[1][2] who worked for Live Action before founding The Center for Medical Progress (CMP) in 2013.

    Who Is the 26-Year-Old Man Behind the Planned Parenthood 'Sting' Videos?
    These are not ethical people simply doing investigative reporting.
     
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  17. Steerpike
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  18. GingerCoffee
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    Well let's just see:
    I'm pretty sure we know they are being charged with creating fake driver's licenses, while a felony, no one thinks they'll get jail time. I don't believe there is anything more serious than that in the works.

    But here's where I have a problem with your OP and this rather biased op ed:
    If that were the case, then they would have admitted to finding no laws broken and moved on.

    But that is not what they did. They edited the videos to make it look like fetal parts were being sold for a profit when that wasn't true.

    It wasn't investigative reporting. It was a blatant attempt to smear Planned Parenthood.

    Maybe you'd like to see that dealt with in civil court. Fine. But they set themselves up for scrutiny. Tell me, are investigative reporters allowed to break the law when they are investigating? Can reporters create and use fake driver's licenses?

    I doubt that.

    These are going to be slap on the wrist charges. What you are proposing, @Steerpike, is that the Grand Jury ignore lawbreaking they encountered in the name of freedom of the press. Is that their job, to nullify laws?

    The op ed goes on to compare this to Upton Sinclair's taking on a meat packing job and animal rights activists taking jobs in order to disclose business practices. She opines about a dozen unrelated cases, none of which include the supposed reporters then create a fake story, and worries about freedom of the press.

    This is a piss-poor example of her concerns.

    I suspect neither Ms Colb nor Mr Dorb are familiar with the unethical actions of the extreme anti-abortion foes of which these people were a part of. They go well beyond investigative reporting and should not be conflated with actual investigative reporters.

    It's not like making fake driver's licenses is going to send the two video fabricators to jail.

    Compare that minor harm to the major harm the outrageous accusations against Planned Parenthood have caused. You'd think a couple of law professors would be more concerned about grossly unethical use of the investigative reporter's ruse to seriously damage an innocent party.
     
  19. GingerCoffee
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    I have to take this back,
    I should have looked.

    Both of them are all too familiar with the pro-life extremists.
    Why Pro-Life and Pro-Animal Violence Are Immoral

    So maybe they think anything short of violence is OK. :rolleyes:
     
  20. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    Wait, so you can't sell aborted fetuses for money? I thought we lived in a capitalist society! For Christ sakes look what Obama has done to this country!
     
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