Late last week the filmmaker team of Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney announced a crowdfunding project for a new, dramatic film about abortionist and convicted murderer Kermit Gosnell. The team had previously used Kickstarter to fund FrackNation, a sort of riposte to Josh Fox's Oscar-nominated Gasland. The Gosnell movie would get into similiar territory, charging a biased media with covering up facts—in this case, an unimaginably gruesome series of murders—in order to further an agenda. (Irin Carmon has pointed out that feminist writers covered Gosnell when he was arrested, in 2011—the "blackout" charge is directed at the mainstream media, which didn't initially cover Gosnell's 2013 trial.)
So a fundrising page went up at Indiegogo. Nothing unusual about that, as the site plays the same crowdfunding middleman role as Kickstarter. But according to McAleer, the filmmakers had initially tried to work through Kickstarter again, turning tail after the site wanted them to tone down their pitch language. The abortion mentions were just too gruesome.
McAleer forwarded me the email exchanges after redacting full names. On Thursday, March 27, at 3:17 PAcific, Kickstarter responded to the pitch copy he'd provided.
Sorry it’s taken so long to get back to you. We have reviewed your project, and before we approve it there are two concerns we want to address:
First is the statement that this is the biggest funding request for a Kickstarter film project. Previous film projects have set funding goals as high as $21 million. Just FYI.
Second, we ask that the phrase “1000s of babies stabbed to death” and similar language be modified or removed from the project. We understand your convictions and the horror of this person’s crimes, however we are a broad website used by millions of people. Our Community Guidelines outline that we encourage and enforce a culture of respect and consideration, and we ask that that language specifically be modified for those reasons. Thanks for your patience and understanding. Once you’ve made these adjustments give us a head’s up, and we can proceed. If you have further questions let us know.
McAleer responded within the hour.
It's a real pity we didn't hear about those requests when you reviewed the project on Monday. We are left with very little time but we will get to it immediately and address the issues you listed. We will have our editor work overnight to get this done, but please let me know specifically right now what other language you want us to remove from the video and the text apart from “1000s of babies stabbed to death” and the statement about the biggest crowdfunding for a film on Kickstarter. Also, could you please confirm that if we make those changes, we will get the project approved by close of business tomorrow, as we put enormous effort and resources into launching on Monday 31st. This late request is causing us a lot of stress. Appreciate your help with this.
He supplied the Kickstarter rep with the script. "Kermit Gosnell is the most prolific serial killer in American History, but almost no one knows who he is," it read, in part. "The media have basically ignored his crimes and his trial. He ran an abortion clinic in Philadelphia where he delivered live, viable babies – and then murdered these newborns by severing their spinal cords with scissors. ... We think the reason no one acted is because the women in question were poor and of color, because the victims were infants without identities, and because the subject was the political football of abortion."
At 5 he got a response.
Thanks for the quick reply. Script looks good, but phrases like "1000s of babies stabbed to death" and "1000s of babies murdered" will need to be removed or modified to comply with the spirit of our Community Guidelines. We also recommend removing the phrase "This is an historic campaign, it is the biggest ever ask for a film on Kickstarter" as it is simply not true. (Film projects have set goals as high as $21 million.) Let me know when you've made the changes do this and we can proceed.
Finally, at 11:20 PT, McAleer sent this lengthy explanation of why he couldn't change the text.
We just had a team meeting and we realized that we cannot, in good conscience, edit out the "1000s of babies stabbed to death" and other descriptions of Kermit Gosnell's crimes.
You say these descriptions of Gosnell's crimes offend your Community Guidelines which you "encourage and enforce", but these are the facts of what Kermit Gosnell did. The court found he stabbed babies in the back of their necks with scissors. Those babies were viable and they were murdered. Kermit Gosnell is serving several life sentences for his crimes. The Grand Jury found he had been doing this for decades. In 1972 he took part in a series rogue abortions that were so gruesome and inflicted so much injury that it was described by the press at the time as the "Mothers Day Massacre".
Below are just some extracts from the Grand Jury report into the crimes of Kermit Gosnell - America's biggest serial killer. As you can see our descriptions in the Kickstarter video are actually mild compared to the Grand Jury descriptions:
"The pain, suffering, and death that he and his employees perpetrated were not the result of accidentally botched procedures. It was Gosnell’s standard business practice, to slay viable babies," (Pg 25)
"The doctor’s unorthodox methods.....virtually mandated the premature delivery of live babies – whose spinal cords he would then routinely slit. These practices persisted for many years without interruption by any regulatory body," (Pg 25)
"Gosnell routinely cracked jokes about babies whose necks he had just slit," (Pg 39)
"After the baby was expelled, Cross noticed that he was breathing, though not for long. After about 10 to 20 seconds, while the mother was asleep, “the doctor just slit the neck,” said Cross. Gosnell put the boy’s body in a shoebox. Cross described the baby as so big that his feet and arms hung out over the sides of the container. Cross said that she saw the baby move after his neck was cut, and after the doctor placed it in the shoebox," (Pg 101)
"The neonatologist testified that what Gosnell told his people was absolutely false. If a baby moves, it is alive. Equally troubling, it feels a “tremendous amount of pain” when its spinal cord is severed. So, the fact that Baby Boy A. continued to move after his spinal cord was cut with scissors means that he did not die instantly. Maybe the cord was not completely severed. In any case, his few moments of life were spent in excruciating pain," (Pg 101)
Kickstarter has hosted and promoted 16 projects about stabbing including the chance to contribute to make Stab 1, 2 and 3. Kickstarter has hosted 5 projects about incest, one project with the "C" word in the project description, 44 projects about rape and 28 projects with the word F**k or F**king in the title. Some of these projects were based on true stories, some were works of fiction, but all were allowed onto Kickstarter.
It appears that the Gosnell project is being censored not because it offends "Community Guidelines" but because it will shine an unwelcome spotlight on some of the darker realities of abortion. It is clear this is not welcome on Kickstarter.It is ironic that Kickstarter is censoring a project that is attempting to expose censorship. You are trying to force us to tell the stories of one of the biggest criminals in American history but banning us from describing his crimes. We had thought Kickstarter was a place where all creative projects, ideas and opinions were welcomed and could bloom. It is disappointing to learn that this is not true and that the truth is not welcome on your platform. Telling the truth shouldn't violate any Community Guidelines. A community with guidelines that enforce censorship of the truth is not a community that we as filmmakers want to be a part of. Therefore we are withdrawing our project from Kickstarter.
Eight hours later, the next morning, Kickstarter gave McAleer the go-ahead. But a warning was appended to the approval email.
Our review process is not an exact science. When we find things that are objectionable, whether they were missed during review (we're sorry, but it happens!) or they were added after the fact, we remove projects from our site's browse functionality until they're fixed. In extreme cases, we remove the project altogether. That's unpleasant for everyone, so just be sure everything's within code before you launch.
"Those are new conditions," McAleer told me. So the project was taken elsewhere.