The conning of former corporate CEO Carly Fiorina is apparently proceeding with great success in this still-early race for the Republican presidential nomination.
And now, after careful fact-checking, the only question yet to be resolved is whether the Republican presidential top challenger should be categorized as one of the political con artists or one of the political con victims.
This much is indisputable: Fiorina launched herself into top challenger status in the crowded GOP presidential pack in the Sept. 16 Republican presidential debate. And she accomplished that improbable success mainly due to one moment when she took a position all the other candidates also have — but did it in a far more emotional and memorable way, urging the defunding of Planned Parenthood for performing abortions and providing harvested fetus tissue for scientific research.
“As regards Planned Parenthood, anyone who has watched this videotape, I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes,” she said. “Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.”
But Fiorina couldn’t have watched a video of a “fully formed fetus” from Planned Parenthood abortion on a table, “its heart beating, its legs kicking.” No such video of a Planned Parenthood abortion has ever been shown to exist.
Here’s what Fiorina saw: A carefully edited anti-Planned Parenthood video, one of a series posted online by an anti-abortion group, the Center for Medical Progress. In it, one former technician for a contractor who worked at an Alameda, Calif., Planned Parenthood clinic, Holly O’Donnell, poignantly discussed what she said a Planned Parenthood technician asked her to do with a fetus she said was fully formed.
While O’Donnell’s words were being aired, the anti-abortion group’s editors spliced in unrelated footage of another fetus, its limbs moving. That fetus video was credited to another antiabortion group, the Grantham Collection and Center for Bio-Ethical Reform (which has since declined to identify the source of the fetus video).
Later in the video — when O’Donnell is heard saying, “I remember holding that fetus in my hands …” a photo of a fetus being held in someone’s hand fills the screen. But that photo isn’t from an abortion; it is a 19-week-old fetus from a miscarriage in a hospital in Kokomo, Ind. The woman who miscarried, Alexis Fretz, and her husband, Joshua, posted photos of themselves and their other children with the lifeless fetus in a memorial online blog.
Strangely, when confronted with this fact-checking evidence, Fiorina chose to dig in, double down and deny. When Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace asked whether she accepted fact-checkers’ conclusions that she never actually saw a Planned Parenthood abortion video, Fiorina said: “No … I’ve seen the footage. … I haven’t found a lot of people in the mainstream media who’ve ever watched these things.”
Well, I watched them and heard them. And I know she didn’t see what she says, and probably believes, she saw. But if it makes Fiorina feel better, she isn’t the only big name to fall for the flimflam. Tuesday afternoon, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., apparently fell, too — big-time. His press office issued a press release titled: “Shame on Them.”
“Midway through one of the graphic videos of Planned Parenthood, a newborn baby slated to have his organs harvested gave a little kick, a feeble show of life for anyone willing to look,” McCarthy’s press release began – apparently unaware the video showed nothing of the sort. McCarthy’s release lambasted Senate Democrats for blocking a vote on a House-passed bill banning abortions after the 20th week. (The majority leader’s press office did not respond to telephone and emailed queries.)
With that, the powerful House majority leader has joined the long list of earnest believers who were adroitly conned into thinking their eyes really saw what their ears only heard.
But despite all this deceptive artistry, we must also address the real impact of the heartfelt concerns of decent people who fell for the visual deceptions. And that leads us to a perhaps surprising bottom line:
Planned Parenthood has fallen short in its responsibility to issue, publicly and apparently internally, firm professional guidelines stating just what its abortion and fetal cell research policy is —and isn’t. Planned Parenthood should forthrightly declare what it does, morally and ethically, in providing cells for scientific research — and what it doesn’t, and will never, do.
And finally: Planned Parenthood’s most powerful supporters — including President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden — should urge Planned Parenthood to make clear, at last, its ethical and moral bottom line.
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at email@example.com.