Vacuous NYT report props up Planned Parenthood’s “videos were edited” meme


The New York Times reports today that “Undercover Planned Parenthood Videos Were Altered, Analysis Finds.” There’s almost no value to this story, because the only videos that the company chose to “analyze” were the shorter, edited videos, not the uncut, longer ones. To say an edited video was “altered” is trivial. It implies nothing about the truth of the content of the video.

Notice two things in this snippet from the NYT story:

According to the investigation, the reviewers could not determine “the extent to which C.M.P.s undisclosed edits and cuts distort the meaning of the encounters the videos purport to document.”
But, it said, “the manipulation of the videos does mean they have no evidentiary value in a legal context and cannot be relied upon for any official inquiries” unless C.M.P. provides investigators with its original material, and that material is independently authenticated as unaltered.

First, the analysts balk at giving substance to the claim that the videos were altered. Taking after Derrida, they are totally agnostic about what the video is really trying to say, and how that might differ from what the raw data of the uncut video really says.

Second, I’m not so sure that a “manipulated” video has zero evidentiary value in court. A testimony, whether written or recorded as audio or video, is necessarily a product of a human mind and hands at work. Call this manipulation. Yet, such testimony is often rightly admitted as evidence.

More pertinent to Planned Parenthood’s legal troubles, the longer videos that the Center For Medical Progress recorded are very likely not “manipulated” in the nefarious sense that the analysts suggest. The job of a legal prosecutor will be to draw on that uncut video evidence to produce a case that in effect corroborates the shorter, edited videos. And it is the jury, not these analysts paid big bucks to say nothing of value, who will decide the matter.

So what business does the New York Times have in producing this empty story, if not to carry water for Planned Parenthood? The report uncritically repeats the message of a company hired by Planned Parenthood. The coverage is one-sided; there’s zero effort to get comment by anyone not ultimately commissioned by Planned Parenthood. The headline is clearly meant to prop up the vacuous “videos were edited” excuse for ignoring the content of the CMP releases. Imagine how many social media feeds this unsubstantial NYT story is populating now, giving false relief to people who want to ignore the undeniable brutality, callousness, and illegality that these videos–edited or not–clearly attest to. Whatever The New York Times is doing here, it is not objective journalism.

Photo credit: / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

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Mourdock’s “God intends” comment; or, Much ado about sovereignty

A new abortion/rape gaffe broke out this week, this time from Republican senate candidate Richard Mourdock.  His offending words:

I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And, I think, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.

As with an earlier comment by fellow GOP senate candidate Todd Akin, unmitigated outrage poured from certain corners.  But Amy Sullivan, at The New Republic, is to be commended for at least taking some time trying to see through the liberal cloud of anger.

Sullivan is charitable and sympathetic to Christians of various stripes.  But clearly, her beliefs about God are not orthodox.  And like the anthropologist who reported with amazement on a strange tribe called “Evangelicals,” she’s addressing an audience to whom the basic tenets of Christianity are alien and confounding.

We see this most clearly in her disagreement with “the understanding of God as an active, interventionist deity.”  She also believes that Christians often misread scripture, in a way that leads to frustration at God’s unfilled promises.  Now this is a valid observation and an appropriate concern.  We’d do well to heed apologist Greg Koukl’s advice, “Never read a Bible verse.”  The implication is to not read a verse in isolation by itself, but in context, including with an appreciation for the genre of literature being read.

Sullivan illustrates her concern using part of Jeremiah 1:5 where God states, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.”  Her take is that God is describing his own intention as specific to Jeriamiah alone, and that Christians are applying it, without warrant, to their own lives as well.

Later in the piece, she challenges the idea of a sovereign God who is strongly concerned with each of his created beings, proclaiming “it is hard to square this interpretation of Jeremiah 1:5 with miscarriages or stillbirths or fatal birth defects.”  This is leaning hard on the problem of natural evil.

But on Christian orthodoxy, it is true that God “loves you and has a plan for you” despite any natural evil that may befall “you.”  And surely, bodily death will befall us all, whether in the womb or after a century of walking around on this Earth.  At least, God’s salvific intent is clear when Jesus speaks to a broader audience of the shepherd who leaves 99 sheep to find the one (Matthew 18:12-14).

Still, there are those who can’t reconcile that “God intends” much of anything given the fact of evil.  Take Open Theism.  On this view God is winging it, with no certainty of how things will wrap up in an eschatological sense.  But holding this belief robs the Gospel of its power.  Despite God trying his best, Christ’s faithful might still end up in Hell, or ultimate justice might go undone.  We might as well be Vikings stoically anticipating the defeat of the gods.  Contrary to this, we know better as to what “good news” is supposed to mean.

A strongly sovereign God is much more consistent with the Christian message than a weak God who either doesn’t care or isn’t able to act on evil.  Simply combining God’s omniscience and perfect benevolence means he does know each of us in the womb, and has a positive intention for each of us.  It may not be what Aunt Edna saw in her quiet time last Tuesday, but surely, it’s there.

Sullivan’s dismissal of the classically sovereign God paves the way for her pro-choice policy view.  She’s entitled to that view.  But to chalk the orthodox understanding of God up to a widespread, long-running exegetical error seems incredible given the moral stakes.

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