The 15 felony charges California Attorney General Xavier Becerra leveled at two activist journalists behind a series of explosive Planned Parenthood undercover videos is such an egregious abuse of the law that even the Los Angeles Times felt compelled to call out the Democrat A.G. for his "disturbing overrreach."
On Tuesday, Becerra charged David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt of the Center for Medical Progress with 15 felony counts for violating the state's two-party consent law by recording interviews with Planned Parenthood officials without their consent. The videos set off a series of investigations into the abortion provider's disturbing practices involving the harvesting of "fetal tissue" – in other words, aborted baby body parts – and led to charges against a few companies in the industry. As Daily Wire editor-in-chief Ben Shapiro notes, the footage included "high-ranking Planned Parenthood members joking about selling baby body parts for market rates and picking through baby body parts in order to demonstrate which sorts of body parts were available for sale for medical research, as well as talking about the best methods of abortion for procuring those baby body parts."
While The Los Angeles Times dismisses outright the significance of the videos, saying simply that they were "heavily edited" – despite CMP having released the complete, unedited footage of the most controversial interviews – the paper makes clear that Becerra's "disturbingly aggressive" charges have crossed the line:
There’s no question that anti-abortion activist David Daleiden surreptitiously recorded healthcare and biomedical services employees across the state of California with the intent of discrediting the healthcare provider, Planned Parenthood – something his heavily edited videos failed to do. There’s also no question that it’s against state law to record confidential conversations without the consent of all the parties involved.
But that doesn’t mean that California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra should have charged Daleiden and his co-conspirator, Susan Merritt, with 15 felony counts – one for each of the 14 people recorded, and a 15th for conspiracy. It's disturbingly aggressive for Becerra to apply this criminal statute to people who were trying to influence a contested issue of public policy, regardless of how sound or popular that policy may be. Planned Parenthood and biomedical company StemExpress, which was also featured in the videos, have another remedy for the harm that was done to them: They can sue Daleiden and Merritt for damages. The state doesn’t need to threaten the pair with prison time.
The Times, like Shapiro, underscores that Dalieden and Merritt were acting as journalists attempting to expose the truth of a controversial issue, abortion and fetal tissue research. If the media wants to protect the freedom of the press, the media cannot turn its back on Dalieden and Merritt just because they do not agree with their values. Here's The Times making that case:
In similar cases, we have denounced moves to criminalize such behavior, especially in the case of animal welfare investigators who have gone undercover at slaughterhouses and other agricultural businesses to secretly record horrific and illegal abuses of animals. That work, too, is aimed at revealing wrongdoing and changing public policy.
That’s why the state law forbidding recording of conversations should be applied narrowly, and to clear and egregious violations of privacy where the motive is personal gain.
Kudos to the paper for being consistent on this issue.
More from the Daily Wire on this case:
H/T John Sexton