What Planned Parenthood is experiencing right now is a perfect example of the downside of having received years of uncritical coverage from most of the members of the media who pay attention to your activities. Witness the coverage of this supposed website “hack”, which very obviously wasn’t one at all.  Planned Parenthood at some point became used to the idea that they could claim just about anything – sure, radical extremists hacked our website and left up a handy donation page! – without having it receive further questions from the media.  But there are limits the lack of skepticism – limits that tend to be tested when more and more evidence emerges that you are not being up front. No journalist likes to be made to look like a fool, not even journalists who are willing to suspend their normal critical thinking when it comes to a deeply divisive issue where they are so typically in lockstep.

Of course, it’s not just the media that has this view. Since the debacle of the McConnell Highway Bill approach, I have repeatedly heard expressed from Capitol Hill staffers the view that yes, they wish they had done something to send defunding to President Obama’s desk prior to the August recess, forcing him to veto it in a news vacuum, as opposed to waiting to deal with this in the Continuing Resolution process, which allows for the normal conflict over government shutdown politics to cloud the issue. I largely agree – but the normal response goes on to turn into an expression of fear that Republican actions toward defunding Planned Parenthood will be depicted as a clear-cut war on women, just as the PP officials maintain.

This is a lack of critical thinking of a different type. Look at the experience in Texas, and use it to question your own assumptions about how arguments over extreme cases (such as 20 week bans, a measure for which polls show overwhelming support) actually play out in practice.  “Does pro-life messaging work as a wedge issue? To find out, we conducted a randomized-controlled experiment testing three different pro-life radio ads attacking Davis. I want to belabor this point – we didn’t ask voters what they thought of the ads, which is what standard message testing does. People are terrible at introspection and self-prediction. Rather, we observed how the ad influenced their likelihood of supporting Abbott or Davis compared to the placebo-control group. We ran a randomized-controlled experiment, just like a blind clinical drug trial.

“We found something remarkable. The best targets for pro-life messaging were Democratic-leaning women, young voters and Hispanic voters. Exposure to just one pro-life video ad shifted Democratic-leaning women by 10 points away from Davis and toward Abbott. Moreover, voters aged 18 to 34 shifted about 8 points, and Hispanic voters shifted about 13 net points from Davis to Abbott. Those were staggering results for these demographic groups on this issue. Of course, it wasn’t all positive: these same ads caused a backlash among white men.”

In much the same way that soft coverage in the media has negative consequences for the subject, abortion politics and messaging is difficult to predict because so few candidates engage with it directly and intentionally. Instead they tend to walk into situations where they are unprepared, forced to respond to an unexpected question. This situation is very different: pro-life politicians have an opportunity to go on offense in an intentional manner, and not even on the question of what is legal as regards abortion, but what is legal as regards the dissection and distribution of the aborted. The underlying message about personhood is a very dangerous one for Planned Parenthood, as dangerous as what defunding would do to their budgets. It reminds people that what is dead was human, and cuts to the core of the American discomfort with abortion, a discomfort that Planned Parenthood and its allies have never been able to assuage – a nagging feeling that there is something very wrong about all of this.

RELATED: 8 shocking moments from latest video.  4th video catches Planned Parenthood VP discussing how to break the law to sell aborted baby parts.   Planned Parenthood official airs legal concerns.   Damage control, indeed: Democrats don’t have a response to Planned Parenthood videos.  PR Firm scrubs website of tie to Planned Parenthood.

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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