By now, the basic outline of this week's Planned Parenthood controversy is probably familiar to most news consumers. A right-wing group released a sting video -- as right-wing groups are wont to do -- featuring a Planned Parenthood official talking candidly about fetal tissue, which prompted a conservative uproar.
Soon after, we came to realize that the right-wing group edited the video in a misleading way-- as right-wing groups are wont to do -- and the "controversy" didn't amount to much of anything. It's not clear why the Washington Post put the story literally on the front page, since there are no credible allegations of wrongdoing. Mother Jones' Kevin Drum called it a "nothingburger," adding, "In the end, this is just another sad attempt at a sting video that goes nowhere once you get beyond the deceptive editing."
Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards officially responded to the story yesterday, explaining that the organization did nothing wrong, though she acknowledged that the Planned Parenthood official featured in the sting video spoke with a "tone" that was "unacceptable."
In theory, that should effectively end the controversy, such as it was, and since my wife works for Planned Parenthood -- her work is completely unrelated to fetal tissue and she played no role in this report -- I was prepared to look past it altogether. But a Roll Call article yesterday pushed the story in an unexpected direction: some congressional Republicans have known about the video for weeks.
Rep. Tim Murphy, a member of the House Pro-Life Caucus and chairman of the Energy and Commerce subcommittee looking into the video, said at a Wednesday news conference he'd seen the clip weeks before.Asked afterward why he and others waited until this week to take action, Murphy struggled for an answer before abruptly ending the interview with CQ Roll Call, saying he should not be quoted and remarking, "This interview didn't happen."
Well, actually, it did happen, and members of Congress can't talk to reporters, then retroactively pretend they didn't.
In this case, Roll Call asked why the story, if it's as scandalous as Republicans are now claiming, didn't break immediately. If GOP lawmakers consider the revelations an outrage, why did some members say nothing for nearly a month?
Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), before pretending the interview "didn't happen," said, "Um, I don't know why. All I know is I saw it and he said he was going to post it eventually, so that's all I know."
Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), one of Congress' most strident opponents of reproductive rights, also said he first saw the video about a month ago, but also said nothing. "The hope was to have as much information as possible so that the authorities could be notified effectively before the media," Franks argued yesterday.
It's a curious argument. Republicans have spent the week characterizing this as a potentially criminal scandal, but when some far-right lawmakers saw the video weeks ago, they didn't feel the need to do much of anything -- they didn't run to the GOP leadership to demand action; they didn't call allies in conservative media; they didn't hold a press conference to express outrage. If they genuinely saw the video as proof of illegal Planned Parenthood activities, notifying the "authorities" could have happened immediately.
But it didn't. So what is this really all about? Consider this Politico report published overnight:
Republicans on Capitol Hill are betting the secretly filmed Planned Parenthood video — depicting an executive allegedly discussing the sale of fetal organs from terminated pregnancies — will give them cover to more aggressively push abortion issues without the political ramifications that have haunted the party in the past. [...][Iowa Republican Steve King] was one of the first lawmakers to urge the defunding of low-income housing group ACORN, which went belly up following similar undercover videos suggesting criminal activity.To this day, he keeps a tiny acorn in his pocket to remember his crusade. Now, he's got his eyes on another organization. "This represents ACORN's scalp," King said off the House floor Thursday, pulling the acorn out of his pocket. "Ask me after the appropriations cycle and see if I have a talisman in my pocket for Planned Parenthood's."
Ah, there it is. Republicans don't have proof of Planned Parenthood wrongdoing, but rather, have a desire to claim a "scalp." When the GOP went after women's healthcare in 2012, it backfired on the party, so Republicans hope a misleading video will offer new opportunities to try the same move again.
That's the point of the GOP calls for investigations, hearings, and probes. That's why Republicans are trying to use this story to raise money and advance their personal ambitions.
Those who were inclined to take the story seriously should probably adjust their perspective accordingly.
Postscript: The video released by the Center for Medical Progress doesn't show Planned Parenthood doing anything illegal, but whether the video itself was recorded illegally is a separate matter.