Reince Priebus Wants the Media to Rebrand Planned Parenthood, Please

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
April 3 2013 3:40 PM

Reince Priebus Wants the Media to Rebrand Planned Parenthood, Please

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Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus talks with members of the press after speaking at the National Press Club March 18, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

If you don't spend much time in the conservative sectors of the Internet you may have missed this story from John McCormack. In it, a Planned Parenthood lobbyist named Alisa LaPolt Snow stood before a panel of Florida legislators and answered hypothetical questions about a bill that would tighten the laws governing abortions. Among other features, it defined "born alive."

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

"Born alive" means the complete expulsion or extraction from the mother of a human infant, at any stage of development, who, after such expulsion or extraction, breathes or has a beating heart, or definite and voluntary movement of muscles, regardless of whether the umbilical cord has been cut and regardless of whether the expulsion or extraction occurs as a result of natural or induced labor, Cesarean section, induced abortion, or other method.
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"Born alive" legislation is one of the pro-life movement's white whales. One, they believe in it. Two, they are furious that Barack Obama opposed similar legislation (I use "similar" advisedly, because the details really matter with these bills) but the media never called him on it. But Alisa Snow isn't the rhetorician that Barack Obama is. Over six minutes, given more and more tender hypothetical scenarios, Snow repeatedly refused to say that a doctor had a responsibility to resuscitate a baby outside the womb.

Your reaction to the video will probably be determined by your views of abortion law. If you're pro-choice, you might focus on the fact that Snow was being grilled exclusively by men. If you're trying to plead journalistic objectivity, you notice that she never actually says "sure, kill the baby," though this video generated headlines like Planned Parenthood champions killing babies born alive. The Born Alive Infants Protection Act, which turns 11 this year, extends legal rights to any child outside the womb. Abortionists have been sent to jail for violations of the law. Snow's sin here was evasiveness.

But Republicans want the blame for that sin to be spread around. Today RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, two weeks off his rebranding report, writes at RedState.com about how the media's wan coverage of Snow reveals a bias.

First, in North Dakota the governor signed into law bills that would ban abortions when a fetal heartbeat is present and when the procedure is sought solely because of the baby’s genetics. The media, including most major outlets, went into a frenzy to stir up controversy, often casting pro-life conservatives in a negative light. Then later in the week in Florida, lawmakers held a hearing about a bill to protect the lives of babies born during an attempted abortion procedure... not once in her testimony did the Planned Parenthood representative say the newborn baby has a right to life.

Priebus is arguing that the media is unfair to Republicans because both stories didn't get the same play. But why would they? Effectively, the North Dakota legislation bans abortion after the first six weeks of pregnancy. Bans like that have been struck down because Roe legalizes abortion up to the viability of the fetus. The Florida proposal tightens up a law that already exists. Actively, if we're talking "narrative," both are laws being pushed by one party, in power in both states -- why would the answers of a Planned Parenthood lobbyist have the same news value as that?

Oh, I'm not playing dumb. They're supposed to have value because Republicans want to define Planned Parenthood funding as an extreme position. Rebranding isn't all about apologizing and asking voters to take another look at you. It's about defining the other side as crazy, and working the refs so that they go along. Not sure if RedState is the place to do it, but a worthy effort.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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