The Planned Parenthood ‘sting’

THE PLANNED PARENTHOOD ‘STING’…. I’m glad conservatives are interested in investigative journalism. I just wish they were better at it.

Between Jan. 11 and Jan. 15, five separate Planned Parenthood clinics received mysterious visits from men who claimed to be involved in underage sex-trafficking. This meant, obviously, that someone was trying to pull a James O’Keefe-style “sting,” in which deceptively edited Internet videos would prove that some organization dedicated to providing services to the poor or otherwise non-privileged was in fact engaged in high crimes and conspiracy against freedom.

It didn’t really work, because Planned Parenthood quickly caught on and alerted the FBI. (BigJournalism.com exclusive: Planned Parenthood alerts the authorities when confronted by self-proclaimed human traffickers!) Planned Parenthood suspected that the hoaxer had ties to Live Action, an antiabortion activist group run by Lila Rose, a sometime O’Keefe partner-in-undercover-stinging. And Live Action confirmed its involvement by posting the sad results of its exhaustive video investigation today. It caught one staffer possibly advising a make-believe pimp to send a make-believe underage prostitute somewhere where her abortion would not be reported. (It is obviously impossible to tell what actually happened without the unedited video.) (And also this Planned Parenthood alerted the authorities about the weird visit.)

In a case like this, we have conservative activists — who appear to enjoy playing dress-up a little too much — who make wild assumptions, and then go about hatching schemes intended to make their ideas credible. The result is a “sting” that appears to be a flop.

But the larger point is that the right just doesn’t seem to be good at this sort of thing.

Looking back over the last several decades, most of the time, quality investigative journalism has come from mainstream news organizations and left-leaning outlets like The Nation and Mother Jones. The right, historically, has avoided this kind of work, preferring to create outlets like Fox News, National Review, and the Weekly Standard.

Whether you find those conservative outlets valuable or not, it’s fair to say investigative journalism isn’t part of their m.o. The Republican-friendly outlets just don’t do in-depth, shoe-leather journalism to break major news stories.

Over the last couple of years, conservatives have begun taking steps to change this, bolstered by far-right financial backing. What’s wrong with this? In theory, nothing. Investigative journalism can play a valuable role in holding officials accountable and ensuring transparency. If folks on the right want to do some digging and turn up public malfeasance, more power to them.

The problem isn’t that conservatives are doing investigative journalism. The problem is that conservatives haven’t figured out how to do investigative journalism especially well.

Laura McGann had a great piece on this in the Monthly last year, noting that “conservative investigative journalism tends to produce reports that are wrong,” a problem compounded by the fact that while their efforts are ostensibly about improving transparency, the far-right activism is nearly always shrouded in secrecy.

This is bound to continue, but there’s no reason for the mainstream to take it seriously.