Imagine that you had reason to believe that someone was up to something illegal. So, you take it upon yourself to do a little digging and investigating to either confirm or dispel your suspicions of wrongdoing. You go through the process of doing research, seeing if there’s any credibility to your suspicions, and then finally, you make a move to find out for yourself with the most undeniable means to catching someone, or some entity, in the act: a hidden camera conversation.
Now, imagine being punished for exposing that wrongdoing.
That is the exact scenario that recently played out in a San Francisco courtroom after a jury found that a citizen journalist and pro-life activist caused substantial harm to Planned Parenthood by secretly taping conversations with abortion doctors and staff in a bid to prove they were harvesting and selling fetal body parts.
The jury awarded Planned Parenthood punitive damages of $870,000.
You didn’t misread that; the jury ruled that the journalists created serious harm to the publicly funded group — because the video showed the organization discussing prices for baby organs and body parts.
Back in 2015, David Daleiden, head of the Center for Medical Progress, and Sandra Merritt posed as human tissue buyers for a fake company called BioMax. They reportedly had secretly recorded their conversations with staff at Planned Parenthood, according to Courthouse News. Planned Parenthood went on a huge campaign to claim that they videos were “heavily edited” once they were released, and the mainstream media also chimed that same tune.
"PPRM CEO Vicki Cowart [emailed] PPFA leaders telling them that a quick Google search of the 'BioMax' address easily showed it was not a real #TissueProcurement company and said she was frustrated over @PPFA security – or lack thereof." #PlannedParenthood https://t.co/6uvp28sPuh
— Pro-Life San Francisco (@prolifesf) November 6, 2019
Interestingly enough though, The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals actually found the videos to be unedited and even allowed Texas to strip Planned Parenthood of Medicaid funding as a result of the journalist’s efforts.
Yet, back in San Francisco, the jury found that Daleiden had trespassed on private property and committed other crimes in recording the 2015 videos. While the recording of the conversation was actually completely in line with the guidelines set by the Wiretap Act from 1968, apparently it didn’t matter to the courts or the jury.
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Daleiden’s lawyers had argued that he and Merritt were investigating what they believed to be “violent felonies,” where they thought infants were being born alive at Planned Parenthood clinics and that the organization was profiting off the sale of fetal tissue for medical research. They argued Daleiden’s work as a citizen journalist should be protected.
During the six-week trial, U.S. District Judge William Orrick III ruled the jury could not contemplate any material Daleiden had revealed as a result of his video project. At least three congressional committees and law enforcement officials in 13 states launched investigations into Planned Parenthood after Daleiden’s group released the footage in 2015. Nearly three years after the video released online, Planned Parenthood broadcasted that its clinics would no longer accept any sort of payment for its fetal tissue program.
The released videos show Planned Parenthood executives conversing about fees associated with fetal tissue and organs that interested parties could purchase. Daleiden had alleged that Planned Parenthood profited from these “fees” which he felt were a guise for actual sales. Furthermore, those alleged practices are considered illegal under federal law.
But WE KNOW from California v. Daleiden that this is absolutely the case!https://t.co/QDLytrn06r
— Jody Hice (@JodyHice) November 14, 2019
Planned Parenthood lawyers told the court Daleiden’s mission was “not to find crimes, and it was not about journalism. It was about using any means, including illegal means, to destroy Planned Parenthood.”
Daleiden released a statement following the verdict: “Justice was not done today in San Francisco. While top Planned Parenthood witnesses spent six weeks testifying under oath that the undercover videos are true and Planned Parenthood sold fetal organs on a quid pro quo basis, a biased judge with close Planned Parenthood ties spent six weeks trying to influence the jury with pre-determined rulings and suppressed the video evidence, all in order to rubber-stamp Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit attack on the First Amendment.”
What this lawsuit does is create a very dangerous precedent against journalism, the first amendment, and also exposing potential crimes or criminals. While the media loves saying that using the term “fake news” is an attack on journalism, the real attack is when you’re sued for exposing a genuine interaction on video.