from the prior-restraint dept
Abortion is one of those issues that infuriates me chiefly because it causes everyone to retreat to whichever camp they call home while throwing nuanced discussions out the window. In case I'm not being clear: that's stupid. Around these parts, however, we love a good moral stand, and we love a moral stand all the more when it forces us to stand up for a person or group we don't particularly like. That's what a moral stand is, after all. Take the Center for Medical Progress, for instance. These are the folks that propelled the abortion issue back into the public consiousness through sheer force of will and by publishing videos of their interactions with Planned Parenthood staff that was equal parts subterfuge and crass editing. Even as political candidates continue to slam Planned Parenthood as a result of these videos, state investigation after state investigation has found that the carefully edited work done by CMP portrayed a lie and that no criminal wrongdoing was uncovered. In fact, CMP has found itself indicted in Texas (!), rather than Planned Parenthood.
In other words, whatever your opinion on abortion might be, these people suck. Editing videos to make it seem like something that isn't happening is happening isn't virtuous. It's called lying, and it's a no-no.
And yet it's also at least questionable to attempt to silence these people. Echoing a judge in California who tried to suppress the original videos, a federal judge has now issued an injunction on CMP from releasing further videos it has produced of undercover interactions with abortion providers.
The ruling, by US district judge William Orrick, also details for the first time how members of the group, the Center for Medical Progress, pursued their targets and tailored their footage to maximize political damage. At the annual meeting, hosted by the National Abortion Federation, activists operated off a “mark list” and, in one case, waited to approach a particular doctor until after she had been drinking.Again, operating under the stipulation that the CMP is disingenuous at best and that its videos are the worst kind of biased journalism, it's difficult to see exactly on what grounds Judge Orrick has deemed himself the arbiter of journalism standards. And he better have some hefty ground on which to stand, because prior restraint of speech isn't the sort of thing entered into lightly in America. Garbage journalism is still journalism, after all, and if we're really going to consider stripping speech rights from those that selectively edit content in order to make their point, then we're going to have to cull a great deal of the journalism out there as well.
Before releasing its first videos of Planned Parenthood employees, the center circulated a press release with “messaging guidelines”, Orrick wrote. The goal, the release said, was to inspire “Congressional hearings/investigation and political consequences” for Planned Parenthood, and increase “political pressure”.
Orrick previously blocked the center from releasing any footage taken at the NAF meeting. On Friday, he rejected claims by the Center for Medical Progress and its founder, David Daleiden, that its activities were a form of investigative journalism protected by the first amendment.
Orrick focuses on how misleading the videos are and then claims them to not qualify as journalism. But, should these new videos indeed constitute defamation by being so egregiously edited, there are legal remedies for that. That's what the courts are for, after all. But to proactively attempt to restrain speech on the evaluation of a single judge?
For what it's worth, reports seem to suggest that the CMP has decided to ignore the judge's orders and has released at least some of the new videos anyway. That will likely lead to more legal action against the group. But it shouldn't. Speech is to be protected as a moral stance, even bad speech.