In a situation that proves that the defense of civil liberties can sometimes create peculiar allies, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and other free speech groups have issued a brief in defense of David Daleiden, a journalist who faces criminal charges for taking undercover videos of Planned Parenthood.
Daleiden posed as a potential buyer in his investigative probe of the fetal-tissue business and discovered that Planned Parenthood was actively participating in selling human body parts. After the videos were released, then-Attorney General of California Kamala Harris crusaded against Daleiden, charging Daleiden with 14 felony counts of illegal taping of confidential information and one count of conspiracy. Harris’ successor, Xavier Becerra, a pro-abortion advocate who was recently confirmed as the Secretary of the Department for Health and Human Services for the Biden Administration, continued the prosecution of Daleiden.
Daleiden also faces multiple lawsuits claiming that he fraudulently gained access to Planned Parenthood clinics and released highly edited videos to smear the organization. Critics claim Daleiden is not an investigative journalist and should not receive legal protection.
PETA, the Government Accountability Project, and other animal abuse and free speech organizations, however, are standing up for Daleiden, even filing an amicus brief in support of his methods. The brief states,
“Amici have a strong interest in ensuring that individuals remain able to use undercover methods to investigate and report on matters that might otherwise remain unavailable or inaccessible to the public, continuing an American tradition of important journalism conducted using undercover techniques….The deception-based techniques used by journalists, activists, and whistleblowers are absolutely necessary to access facts hidden from public view and thereby enable accurate stories.”
The brief went on to cite several examples where undercover and deceptive investigations by journalists and activists made a difference in exposing injustice, exploitation, and criminal activity, including those that were able to “reveal animal abuse and food-safety issues in factory farms, living conditions in welfare hotels, working conditions in New York sweatshops, working conditions of low-wage retail jobs in the United States, the availability of drugs in prisons, and deplorable conditions at a military hospital.”
These organizations are correct. Undercover, investigative journalism has long been utilized to uncover atrocities and illegal activity. Prior to the Civil War, writer Mortimer Thomson posed as a slave buyer to infiltrate slave auctions. In modern times, 60 Minutes has routinely utilized undercover journalism (and has even relied on video footage obtained using deceptive practices by non-profit organizations and political advocates), as has Dateline and 20/20.
The tactic has not just been used by “established journalists,” however. Lewis Hine was a former teacher who quit his job to join the National Child Labor Committee, a group with a political interest that sent teams of investigators to try to find out what was happening to the nearly 2 million children working in manufacturing facilities and other worksites. Hine was particularly effective. By going undercover, he was able to speak to children who worked grueling hours in harsh conditions for miniscule pay and tell their stories. It was his powerful photographs, however, that provided the undeniable evidence needed to sway federal legislators to end the practice and pass laws that protected children.
Today, however, there are many who want to narrowly construe who is “allowed” to be considered a real reporter. For example, Media Matters published an article entitled “David Daleiden Is Not A Journalist.” The author compiles the opinions of various members of the media, many from far-left organizations such as Salon, as well as some court opinions, to “debunk” the claim that Daleiden is an investigative journalist.
Many of the journalists chimed in to add their own righteous indignation that Daleiden is not a journalist and only used the description to defend himself. They argued that it was proven that his videos were falsified.
Amanda Marcotte argued in Salon,
“The reason that Daleiden isn’t a journalist is because of his relationship to the truth. Regardless of your political views, the truth should always be the trump card for a journalist. Daleiden, however, has never shown anything but utter contempt for the truth in his work. Whenever the truth and what he wishes were true collide, Daleiden has chosen to lie rather than tell the truth.”
However the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Daleiden’s videos were not falsified. In their opinion, they said, “The record reflects that OIG had submitted a report from a forensic firm concluding that the video was authentic and not deceptively edited. And the plaintiffs [Planned Parenthood] did not identify any particular omission or addition in the video footage.”
“Journalists” love to tout the importance and virtue of their profession. They will stand on claims such as Marcotte’s that journalism is about truth and a real journalist would never let their political bias interfere. Yet these gatekeepers of journalism have proven time and again that truth and integrity are expendable in pursuit of their political goals.
Take, for example, the Washington Post. Most recently, the prestigious publication, which likes to skate by on its reputation for breaking the Watergate scandal, had to print a correction after admitting that its reporters had significantly misquoted President Trump during a phone call with the Georgia Secretary of State regarding voter fraud claims. The reporter had taken the quote at the word of an anonymous source rather than insisting on hearing — and then quoting — the actual audio recording of the call. When the Wall Street Journal leaked the real thing, the Post — and all the publications that had reported on the Post’s reporting — had no choice but to issue a correction.
Then there’s the equally prestigious New York Times, which has long touted itself as “the paper of record.” In 2020, it illegally published leaked copies of the sitting President’s tax returns.
The idea that the modern-day media are the guardians of truth is fast becoming historical fiction.
The media trying to decree that Daleiden is not a “real journalist” is an example of pure bias and elitist thinking. By their standard, Lewis Hine was not a journalist either. Hine was a former teacher working for an activist organization, not a graduate of a journalism program working for a prestigious newspaper.
Those working for blatantly biased news organizations have no claim on determining who is or is not a journalist. Theirs is an attempt to bar the door to prevent the unwashed masses from joining their exclusive fraternity. If Daleiden is not a journalist, then the self-appointed “fact-checkers” have no right to claim the role of arbiter of truth either.
PETA, on the other hand, understands the importance of free speech and undercover journalism in exposing potentially dangerous, illegal, or inhumane practices. If traditional media outlets are not going to check the power of government, Big Business, or other formidable institutions, then it is left to the “citizen journalists” and “participatory storytelling” that CNN and other media players once touted as positive and critical to “how we understand the news.”
The Washington Post has a motto that tells us that “democracy dies in darkness.” Although their use of it is highly ironic, it is nonetheless a true statement and it informs another truth: America needs more members of a free press, not fewer.