Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Are CMP's full footage videos actually the full footage?

Planned Parenthood hired Fusion GPS to analyze the CMP videos.

On August 25, a forensic research firm called Fusion GPS produced a report on the first four Center for Medical Progress (CMP) videos. The report has been well-covered by the media (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPRLos Angeles Times) and Planned Parenthood (PP) supporters are pointing to it as evidence that the CMP videos are maliciously edited to the point of giving no real information.

Not long before Fusion GPS released the report, I read what I considered a very objective, reasonable article on the CMP videos. The author, Sarah Kliff, has written a follow-up in response to the Fusion GPS analysis in which she seems to agree that Fusion GPS has some serious points CMP hasn’t sufficiently addressed. I expect many of us pro-lifers are going to be suspicious of anyone hired by PP who decides PP is innocent, but because Kliff's first article already seemed reasonable and objective to me, her follow up concerns made me more concerned about the Fusion GPS report than I otherwise might have been. The full report is available online, so I read it myself.

In their report, Fusion GPS talks about how CMP edited not only their shorter videos (a fact CMP has readily admitted from the beginning), but also their longer videos, which CMP has labeled simply “full footage.”

Specifically, Fusion GPS says they've identified “cuts, skips, missing tape, and changes in camera angle” and that “the full footage videos contained numerous intentional post-production edits.” The report states upfront that “many of these edits removed likely irrelevant content from the beginning and end of the interviews” but goes on to point out that there were “edits that removed content from the middle” of all four videos as well. 

The Fusion GPS report sometimes seems to grasp at straws.

The report discusses in detail the edits from the middle of interviews: video cuts that ranged anywhere from 14 seconds to a few minutes to up to an hour. The report also discusses issues with CMP’s transcripts, including words in the transcripts missing from the videos, and phrases in the transcripts that seemed unintelligible in the videos. 

In particular, the report discusses at length why Fusion GPS believes PP employees were unlikely to have said the phrases “it’s a baby” or “another boy.” Here I think the report gets pretty subjective. A forensic report should give facts (e.g. “this video was cut at this timestamp,” “an independent transcription firm could not discern this phrase” and so on). Fusion GPS moves from fact to opinion when they start discussing whether phrases like “it’s a baby” are things a PP employee would likely say. Moreover, they seemed unable to find any facts to suggest the phrase “another boy” was faked or incorrect; indeed, their report states they found no evidence of audio manipulation in any of the videos. But instead of leaving the analysis at that, they veer into speculation by wondering what context might make the phrase "another boy" less jarring.

Fusion GPS also speculates as to what might have been in the footage cut from CMP’s “full footage” videos. (Perhaps CMP actors were the ones to bring up gender?) Again, this kind of speculation seems to veer from a forensic report; it sounds more like Planned Parenthood damage control. Similarly, Fusion GPS details places where the video shifts from one camera to another, but they don't suggest these shifts represent any loss of video or audio, so what is their point? Lumping changes that don't affect meaning with changes that do just makes it seem as if they want their report to be as heavy hitting on PP's behalf as possible, as opposed to simply being a report of the facts.

But I wouldn't want to dismiss every point Fusion GPS makes just because some of the points are iffy, especially since that is exactly the type of dismissal we pro-lifers are hoping the public won't do with CMP. Fusion GPS makes several points that are significant and, I believe, pretty disconcerting.

CMP released "full footage" that was actually still edited.

While pro-life bloggers (LifeNewsLiveActionMatt Walsh) have dismissed Fusion GPS for being biased for PP and grasping at straws, I think Fusion GPS did make some very significant points: CMP appears to have cut large chunks from its “full footage” videos, and there is footage in the short, edited videos that never appears in the full footage videos.

For example, page 4 of the Fusion GPS report states that CMP cut about 30 minutes of footage from the meeting with Melissa Farrell of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast. Moreover, the report suggests that the missing content seems to be the same content from which CMP created some of the edited video. This is particularly troublesome because the purpose of releasing full footage is to show the entire context of edited footage. If the edited footage doesn't even all appear in the “full footage,” it defeats the purpose of releasing the "full footage" at all. On top of that, Fusion GPS states that the missing section of the “full footage” video coincides with about 4,000 words of dialogue in CMP’s transcript that isn’t in the “full footage” video either, meaning independent analysis couldn't confirm whether that part of CMP’s transcript actually took place.

There are other examples of this kind of manipulation besides the Gulf Coast video.  In general, CMP’s short, edited videos contain some camera angles, video, and audio that never appear in the “full footage” videos.

CMP’s initial response to Fusion GPS 

As I said earlier, I get that we pro-lifers will be suspicious of a firm hired by PP that determines PP is innocent. But CMP's own response to Fusion GPS furthered my concerns about CMP's "full footage." CMP issued a one paragraph response stating, “The absence of bathroom breaks and waiting periods between meetings does not change the hours of dialogue with top-level Planned Parenthood executives…” This isn't at all reassuring. 

First, their response seems to acknowledge that, yes, they did cut chunks from the videos they labeled “full footage.” Right away this is a major problem. Many pro-life people and groups, including Secular Pro-Life, have responded to the “heavily edited” accusations by saying CMP released the full footage for anyone’s perusal. Now CMP seems to be admitting they did not release actual full footage, but rather a kind of extended footage that was still edited in some ways. 

Second, their response is dismissive, not detailed and concrete. 
  1. It doesn’t matter if the reason they cut footage was they deemed it too boring or irrelevant to leave in. The whole point of releasing full footage is to leave in everything so people can see for themselves that CMP didn’t cut any context that changes the overall meaning of the videos. As a contrasting example, Live Action has released full footage videos that include over 20 minutes of someone just sitting in a waiting room before an appointment with Planned Parenthood. That is full footage, that’s what everyone assumes you mean when you say “full footage,” and that is apparently not what we have with CMP.
  2. It’s not at all clear that CMP really did just cut bathroom breaks and waiting periods. It would have been more transparent (though still not full footage) if they had left in a dialogue along the lines of “I’m going to use the restroom,” fade to black, and then fade back in with, “Okay, so where were we…” (or whatever was said). Likewise, the 30 minute cut doesn’t appear to be between meetings but instead appears to begin and end in the midst of the same meeting with Melissa Farrell. The way CMP cut their “full footage” isn’t transparent; it’s suspicious. And given PP suporters and the uncomfortable “mushy middle” will look for any reason to be suspicious and ignore videos like this, CMP had every reason to be much more careful and forthright.
  3. CMP did leave in a lot of other boring and irrelevant footage in their “full footage” videos, which raises the question: why did the cut footage merit getting cut if they weren’t cutting all boring, irrelevant footage?

The CMP videos made compelling points.

As Sarah Kliff summarized well, the first few CMP videos contain fairly damning footage. Planned Parenthood claims it only recovers costs for fetal tissue donation, yet Dr. Mary Gatter sounds very much as if she is haggling over prices. Planned Parenthood has been known to underplay and dismiss fetal development, yet we hear PP employees discussing hearts, brains, livers, and kidneys. There’s also the bioethical issue of altering an abortion procedure in the interest of obtaining intact organs instead of the interest of what is best for the woman. More recent CMP videos have brought up concerns about whether Planned Parenthood employees are even consistently obtaining consent from the women before collecting the fetal organs. And then there’s the broader issue of late-term abortion. The average American is not okay with abortion after the first trimester, and if more people realized both how frequent and how gruesome it is, maybe we could get enough momentum to make some changes.

The CMP videos bring all of the above issues to the forefront, and that’s why the videos are so important. But the videos are only going to be influential insofar as people trust the source, and that’s why CMP’s apparent edits of the full footage are also so important.

We should not need to manipulate information.

It’s possible that CMP really did cut a bunch of irrelevant content that would not change the meaning of these videos one way or another. But if that’s the case, they really had no reason, no benefit at all, to making the cuts in the first place, and especially no benefit to making the cuts without being upfront about what they cut and why.

We pro-lifers are trying to find ways to get the people on-the-fence—the begrudgingly pro-choice—to face head on how unhindered acceptance of abortion can produce such a cruel and callous disregard for fetal life. Getting people to face abortion is a real challenge. Many of you have told us about how you share the CMP videos and basically get back crickets—no one wants to talk about it, no one even wants to consider it. There are very strong emotional and social reasons for people to just ignore abortion, and if we are going to overcome those strong biases, we have to be a movement they trust. If people believe the pro-life movement will lie and manipulate to try to win a debate, they aren’t going to listen to us even when we have evidence of real atrocities. (I’ve talked about this before, specifically in the context of pro-life sting videos.) That’s why the Fusion GPS analysis is a big deal: if it appears CMP can only make their point by manipulating information, any evidence CMP has of real horrors will be readily ignored.

We pro-lifers must be meticulous about our facts. If we sacrifice some transparency for a more compelling narrative, we cut our own feet out from under us and we do a great disservice to the unborn lives we are trying to protect. We can’t afford that.

Post Scripts

According to a LifeNews article from yesterday (August 31), CMP has further responded to the Fusion GPS report by releasing the missing half hour from the Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast video along with a much more detailed rebuttal to the report. While I wish CMP had included this half hour in the original "full footage," I'm glad they've released it now. The release and the subsequent rebuttal are steps toward more transparency, which are steps in the right direction.

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