Monday, April 27, 2009

Gotcha media takes on Planned Parenthood

I'm terribly ambivalent about abortion. On the one hand, I do think it is something that should be reduced as much as possible, but on the other hand, I don't think legally banning it or criminalizing it is the way to go. Bill Clinton's views dovetailed with mine (and those of an apparent majority of Americans) when he said that abortion ought to be safe, legal, and rare. It angers me that the people who are most strongly against legalized abortion have among their ranks many people who want to eliminate conventional sex education in favor of abstinence-only programs.

It's an issue that remains very divisive, one of the biggest fault lines that crisscross American society. Some contentious is this issue, I have long been surprised how little play it gets in Korea (or neighboring Japan), where abortion rates are far higher. A lot of that nonchalance has to do with a utilitarian attitude toward sex (and sexuality) that extends to abortion and birth control, but it runs counter to what one might expect with the growingly vocal number of fundamentalist Christians we have in South Korea. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the Fundies change the landscape on this issue (or at least try) in the next few years.

But back to the US, where the media is all abuzz over the "undercover" videos made by one Lila Rose, a twenty-year-old student at UCLA. Ms Rose has been crisscrossing the country, clandestinely videotaping her encounters with workers at Planned Parenthood (an organization noted for doling out guidance and information on obtaining abortions to any female who walks in its doors), while posing as a pregnant thirteen- or fourteen-year-old, depending on the laws of the state she's when she videotapes the encounter.

She then takes the videotaped encounter and edits it to highlight the moments where the PP workers or counselors advise her to lie about the age of her boyfriend, who she tells them is about thirty-one. In other words, she catches them supposedly breaking the law, as they — as health professionals, we are to presume — are obliged to report any sexual abuse involving girls under a certain age (in Tennessee, under 15; in Indiana, under 14). 

Below is an example of one of her edited tapes:

It's another form of "gotcha" media. We see it with the politician who calls an American of Indian descent "Macaca," a racial slur, right on videotape. In Korea we've seen it with loads of mollae k'amera (or molk'a) shows, as well as incidents like the "dog poop girl." In the US, NBC's widely viewed reality TV series "To Catch a Predator" became a cultural icon, with real people really going to jail because they sought out sex with someone online who was actually an adult but whom they thought was a girl (or, in a few episodes, a boy) who was barely in their teens. 

I'm uncomfortable with all this gotcha media, particularly the contrived bits. Ultimately, the pretext of Ms Rose's videos all rests on a lie. The captions say 13-year-old as if it's true, not even in quotation marks, when in fact the "13-year-old" is twenty years old. 

That's just the beginning of the slippery slope down self-serving mendacity. The lying is significant because, since none of it's true, she can change her story as she goes along until she finally ensnares the Planned Parenthood worker or counselor. And she certainly has a reason to do that since, from the get-go, she is in there lying in order to fulfill her personal agenda.

It only starts with lying about her age. Why is she "fourteen" in Tennessee and only "thirteen" in Indiana? Because her story must change in order to entrap. She is told by a counselor (who may initially presume the boyfriend who impregnated her to also be of a young age) that who the boyfriend is is not important — but Ms Rose, the "thirteen-year-old" blurts out anyway that the person is thirty-one. Would an actual pregnant thirteen-year-old do this? This stinks of entrapment, and I would be dismayed if anyone in Planned Parenthood is fined or put on trial because of it. Meanwhile, Ms Rose would do well to release the entire unedited versions of her videotapes. 

That's not to say that Planned Parenthood shouldn't review — and publicly address — its own shortcomings vis-à-vis these sex abuse notification laws they're required to uphold. That's not Ms Rose's ultimate goal, of course, but it should be one of the outcomes. 

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