Despite media outrage on how the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) used undercover tactics to expose the way Planned Parenthood was selling aborted baby body parts, a journalist with a leading media outlet has used their own form of undercover videos to expose the “fundraising tactics of members of Congress” with little criticism. The piece published in April by 60 Minutes and anchored by correspondent Norah O’Donnell has been given a pass from the same media that slammed CMP for their secretly taped footage of high ranking Planned Parenthood officials bartering over the price of various body parts of children they had aborted.
In her 60 Minutes report, O’Donnell appears to be motivated by what she believes was a waste of taxpayer money and time after learning how members of Congress were allegedly pressured to spend 30 hours a week inside “call centers” to bring in funds for party leaders. O’Donnell and the 60 Minutes team set out to investigate the accusation. But, there was a snag in their plan, because the call centers were off limits to the public and their initial attempt to gain access was abruptly turned down.
From 60 Minutes:
Unable to find pictures or footage from inside the call centers, 60 Minutes asked to film in them, but the team was turned down. They decided to film inside one anyway. “If lawmakers who are paid by the American taxpayers are spending a majority of their time raising money on the phone, I think it’s an important part of our story to see what those offices look like and take our viewers behind the scenes, in this case, with a hidden camera,” O’Donnell says.
60 Minutes producer Pat Shevlin admitted on camera that they asked if they could go inside and shoot but were told “no.” She called the eventual decision to film undercover “justified” in this case, “We were pretty scrupulous about it. Everyone is worried about hidden camera. I mean it’s not something you take lightly when you do it,” she said bragging that the 60 Minutes team has a number of ways to “hide cameras.”
In all fairness to 60 Minutes, producer Shevlin claimed they could “never lie about who we are or why we are someplace” in order to conduct an undercover investigation. “If challenged you cannot give a false reason why you are there,” she added. As if hidden cameras after they were forbidden from access to the center is somehow truthful, but, we should take them at their word, right? Perhaps or perhaps not. Maybe instead, we could demand that 100% of the video footage the media outlet took be made public (like was demanded of CMP) so we can hear what was said for ourselves. Then it can be analyzed to determine if in fact, the footage is “unedited.” Perhaps local authorities could raid O’Donnell’s home, like has been done to CMP’s lead investigator David Daleiden in the chance that there was something untruthful or illegal on the way the media news magazine obtained their footage.
Now, I am not seeking to debate the topic exposed by 60 Minutes in their piece, but to show the complete hypocrisy the media has over the use of deceptive tactics by journalists when they expose Planned Parenthood instead of a Republican “call center” of sorts. And, I am not the only one to observe this hypocrisy. Leah Jessen over at the Daily Signal saw the contradiction in February when she contrasted the use of hidden cameras and deception between CMP with a 60 Minutes piece by correspondent Steven Kroft, writing:
Its investigation was designed to raise red flags for the lawyers by revealing an intent to move questionable funds in the United States through purchases and other ways that would be concealed from law enforcement, Global Witness officials told Kroft.
Of 16 lawyers secretly recorded by the undercover investigator, only one outright declined to participate. The others suggested ways to help move the funds without compromising the true source, Kroft reported.
It was a familiar scenario. Only so far no one appears to be calling for Global Witness to be punished for surreptitiously trying to expose unethical or illegal activity.
Last year, in a piece I penned for Live Action News, I published examples on the use of undercover video and hidden cameras used by journalists dating back years. And, I am not alone in my observations either. A 1996 editorial written by, Richard Harwood in the Star News described plenty of deceptive tactics used by journalists and detailed several by CBS, writing, “Leslie Stahl dons a black wig and poses as a prospective client to expose the practices of a Romanian adoption agency. Ed Bradley goes to China posing as a businessman in order to expose the abuse of prison labor. A sound man poses as a cancer patient to infiltrate a cancer clinic in California.”
CBS is not the only culprit in the use of deception to expose the greater good. NBC’s “To Catch a Predator” on Dateline raised concern of ethics after they in essence entrapped child sex predators to show up at the alleged home of children after they were enticed by fake online profiles. Other media giants are not innocent to deceptive tactics either. Bob Steele, of the Nelson Poynter Scholar for Journalism Values criticized the way ABC used deceptive tactics to expose a grocery store chain for allegedly selling spoiled meat, writing:
Hidden cameras and any form of deception should be used judiciously and rarely. They should be reserved for those exceptional stories of great public interest involving great harm to individuals or system failure at the highest levels. Furthermore, deception and hidden cameras should be used only as a reporting tool of last resort, after all other approaches to obtaining the same vital information have been exhausted or appropriately ruled out. And, news organizations that choose to use deception and hidden cameras have an obligation to assure their work meets the highest professional standards.
It was a multi-million dollar lawsuit brought against ABC in the above case that caused many within the media to scale back their use of deception. But, that did not stop Washington editor of Harper’s Magazine Ken Silverstein, who described his reasons for his use of deception in a Los Angelas Times editorial:
“Yes, undercover reporting should be used sparingly, and there are legitimate arguments to be had about when it is fair or appropriate. But I’m confident my use of it in this case was legitimate. There was a significant public interest involved…”
Whether the end justifies the means or not, the truth is that when it comes to exposing Planned Parenthood, the main steam media regularly turns a blind eye to any unethical or illegal accusation against the abortion giant chain. While Planned Parenthood receives over half a billion in tax payer monies annually the media conveniently fails to question anything they do forcing citizen journalists like Daleiden and his Center for Medical Progress among others to conduct the hard work of investigating for them. In all their talk about ethics in journalism, the media has forgotten the number one ethic: Seek Truth and Report It.