The thick, black, ill-omened plumes of smoke belching out of the Planned Parenthood videos have for over a month been virtually impossible to ignore. For some of the country’s self-described watchdog organizations, however, an ideological commitment to the taxpayer-subsidized abortion provider and prolific Democratic donor has clouded their vision. This week, smoke finally gave way to flames. They lap ominously not only at the feet of Planned Parenthood administrators and their defenders in the political class, but they also threaten to engulf a political press that has lashed itself unapologetically to the scandal-plagued institution in solidarity. 

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate voted down a procedural measure that would begin the process of defunding Planned Parenthood – a long, complex legislative effort that begins with a cloture motion and may possibly end in a government shutdown showdown when the president vetoes a federal budget in which Planned Parenthood’s remittances are zeroed out. Less than 24-hours after the measure failed and every Senator’s position on the Planned Parenthood scandal was recorded, the Center for Medical Progress released a fifth undercover video of Planned Parenthood officials all-too-cleverly boasting about their skirting of the laws that prohibit profiting from the sale of dismembered fetuses.

“If we alter our process and we’re able to obtain intact fetal cadavers, it’s all a matter of line items,” said Melissa Farrell, director of research for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, in the latest video. “If we alter our process and we are able to obtain intact fetal cadavers, then we can make it part of the budget. I mean that’s — it’s all just a matter of line items.”

This admission was eerily similar to that made by Dr. Savita Ginde, vice president and medical director of Planned Parenthood in Denver, who similarly intimated that the return on investment and not simply recompense for costs incurred motivated the abortion provider’s participation in the marketplace for fetal organs and limbs. “I think a per-item thing works a little better, just because we can see how much we can get out of it,” Ginde said of the discarded human byproducts of abortion.

Budgets, line items, bulk versus individual purchases; these are all terms familiar to anyone who has ever had any experience in business. For a month, the smoke billowed from the Planned Parenthood scandal, and yet it was largely covered not as a controversy but as a political power play. To the extent that the videos were shown and their content reported on, those reports also included tenuous claims about suspicious edits that Planned Parenthood spokespeople claimed render the entire trove of videos suspect (despite the fact that unedited, long form versions of the damning tapes had also been simultaneously released). CNN’s Alisyn Camerota went so far as to ask Center for Medical Progress’ David Daleiden in an interview whether he and his organization were “violent extremists.” When did you stop beating your wife, Mr. Daleiden?

The media’s determination to portray this scandal as something invented by myopia-maddened conservatives has, however, been betrayed by Florida Governor Rick Scott. The Sunshine State Republican governor set out to investigate the actual merits of the implication that Planned Parenthood was abusing taxpayer funds and his investigation quickly bore fruit.

“Three of the 16 Planned Parenthood facilities inspected in Florida last week were performing procedures beyond their licensing authority, and one facility was not keeping proper logs relating to fetal remains, officials announced Wednesday,” an Associated Press report published by the local outlet on Wednesday, WOKV, read. “The Agency for Health Care Administration released a report saying clinics in St. Petersburg, Fort Myers and Naples were performing second-trimester abortions when they were only licensed to perform first-trimester abortions. The report also found that a Pembroke Pines clinic was not following its own procedures for the labeling and dating of the disposal of fetal remains.”

It is quite the coincidence that, of the handful of Florida-based Planned Parenthood facilities inspected, nearly one-fifth was violating procedures specifically related to abortion practices and the transfer of aborted fetal tissue. Just imagine what might be uncovered at the hundreds of other Planned Parenthood facilities across the country if the press took even the slightest interest in disconfirming or, worse, confirming the appearance of misconduct on Planned Parenthood’s part.

But they have not. According to a recent YouGov survey, seven in ten Americans have heard little or nothing at all about the undercover videos. “The revelations from the videos have led to federal and state investigations, calls to end the $530 million a year in taxpayer funding, and questions from human rights activists about the propriety of the practice,” The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway noted with palpable exasperation. “Democrats are particularly uninformed on the videos, with more than three out of four reporting they have heard little to nothing about the videos.”

Even many determinedly pro-choice Americans, people of good faith who do not object to family planning and share a once-cherished Democratic value that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare, have expressed revulsion over Planned Parenthood’s practices uncovered in these videos. They are so powerful, so threatening to the future of this sacrosanct institution, that they cannot be presented to the public without also being accompanied by some or another form of exculpation. But the deeper investigators dig into this scandal, the more it appears as though it is no mere invention of fevered conservative imaginations. That seems a thoroughly terrifying prospect not just for pro-choice advocacy organizations but also for many in the reporting class.

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