Ross Douthat has a fair, detailed, accurate, well-written piece about the controversy regarding Carly Fiorina and the Planned Parenthood videos. Here’s the meat of what he says:
Then if you watch the full film, you’ll see that the situation the technician is describing involves the worker showing her how she can tap the heart of the just-aborted fetus they’re looking at and make it start beating again, just before they jointly cut open the fetus’s face in order to actually acquire the brains. Again, we don’t see the tapping or cutting happen; the footage of the fetus that we see is from a different case, an undercover video obtained by a different pro-life group. And then the film as a whole is using the technician’s anecdote and the footage as part of an argument — buttressed by footage of interviews with Planned Parenthood higher-ups and others — that because fetal tissue harvesting is much easier when the fetus comes out intact, abortionists have incentives to perform later-term abortions in ways that sometimes/often end with fetuses alive in the air before they die.
So that’s a (no doubt partial) attempt at a summary of the film and footage that’s at issue. And having completed it, I’m a little bit confused about what’s being debated here. On the one hand, I think Fiorina’s critics are correct that she misdescribed the video, in two ways: She implied that the footage of the fetus was part of the scene being described (maybe because she thought it was; the documentary doesn’t make it clear that it’s a different fetus), and she has the Planned Parenthood worker saying “we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain,” as opposed to “look at this, I can make its heart beat; okay now let’s harvest its brain.” Neither of these misdescriptions strike me as lies, per se, in their original form: If you watch the film as a whole it’s easy to see how you could misremember the scene the way Fiorina describes it rather than the way it actually plays out. (Just as lots of people think they remember the line “play it again, Sam,” which is never actually uttered in “Casablanca.”) But I agree with Lithwick that it would have been, and still would be, appropriate for Fiorina to correct herself, to say that she misremembered some of the details, instead of standing by her original words in their entirety.
But for her words to rise to the level of an extraordinary “big lie,” a vicious slander of abortion providers everywhere, it seems to me that something more than this kind of misdescription would need to be in play. If the scene in question literally did not exist, which is what the language of her critics consistently suggests — if Fiorina had conjured up a vision of an intact fetus with a working heart and twitching limbs having its brains harvested out of her hyperactive pro-life imagination — well, that would merit liberal shock and outrage. But she didn’t conjure or invent it: It’s very easy to figure out what scene she’s talking about, and the discrepancies between what’s in the documentary and her description aren’t wild or incredible or weird. There’s no outright fabrication here, in other words, and what Lithwick calls “the big lie about the kicking fetus and the brain harvesting” is a roughly-accurate summary of what the film actually shows. (A twitching, dying fetus? Check. A firsthand description of harvesting a brain from an intact fetus? Check again.)
I agree with every word. Well done.
On Dahlia’s Facebook page, where she linked Douthat’s piece, I asked Dahlia whether her outrage about uncorrected factual inaccuracies extended to Amanda Marcotte’s incorrect statement regarding footage of a kicking, twitching baby:
The provenance of the video is unknown, there is no audio on the video, and there is no indication that the fetus was aborted.
As I discussed in this post, the folks at the Federalist asked the people who provided the footage. (Journalism! Imagine that!) The providers of the footage responded that the footage was of an intact delivery abortion done at an abortion clinic. Marcotte’s claim was wrong. I wrote Slate about this, and in their corrections page for that week, I saw this . . .
In a Sept. 18 Behold, David Rosenberg misspelled Hartford Art School.
. . . .
In a Sept. 14 Future Tense, Mike Godwin misspelled Sen. Orrin Hatch’s first name.
. . . .
In a Sept. 14 Slatest, Ben Mathis-Lilley misspelled the city Gautier, Mississippi.
. . . but nothing about Marcotte’s error.
What a surprise, huh?
The folks at Dahlia’s Facebook page are doing a lot of handwaving, citing to articles about a different issue, remonstrating me for being insufficiently upset about Fiorina’s inaccuracies, and wholly refusing to acknowledge even that Marcotte got it wrong.
I guess some uncorrected factual inaccuracies are privileged over others . . .