Thursday, May 24, 2007

Unequal undercover reports

By Michelle Malkin
May 20, 2007

Here is a tale of two breeds of undercover journalists. One has been celebrated by the national media and journalism organizations, the other has been shunned. One has champions in Congress. The other faces litigation.
Both engaged in sting operations with secret cameras catching their targets on videotape. Both were deceptive about their true identities and life circumstances. Both exposed their targets' aggressive methods and law-subverting recruitment tactics. But you've probably only heard of the efforts of one of these breeds. You'll know why in a moment.
Over the last several years, local and national news outlets have conducted stings on military recruiters. Last week, a Nashville, Tenn., station set up hidden cameras and reported it caught Army recruiters telling an undercover producer posing as a recruit that taking medication for depression would not disqualify a recruit. The Democratic chairman of a House Armed Services subcommittee now urges an Army probe of recruitment and the mentally ill, based on the station's report.
Last fall, ABC News and New York affiliate WABC enlisted students to help them in a similar gotcha game with recruiters. They armed the kids with hidden video cameras for visits to 10 Army recruitment offices in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Recruiters were accused of misleading students to get them to enlist.
The ABC News sting came on the heels of a Colorado student's undercover operation in Denver in 2005. David McSwane, a high school honors student, posed as a dropout and druggie. "I wanted to do something cool, go undercover and do something unusual," he told the Rocky Mountain News. Mr. McSwane deliberately failed a high school equivalency test, caught recruiters on tape driving him to purchase a detox kit, and reported they urged him to obtain a phony diploma. A local CBS station picked up the story -- prompting the Army to close its recruiting stations nationwide for ethics training.
Mr. McSwane earned a "laurel" from the prestigious Columbia Journalism Review "for conduct most becoming" and announced he was headed to journalism school. His reporting garnered attention from the New York Times to Editor & Publisher -- and spawned copycats like those at ABC News.
No such laurels have been awarded to Lila Rose, however -- and none will be, I predict. Miss Rose is an 18-year-old student journalist at the University of California-Los Angeles. Like Mr. McSwane and his breed of undercover reporters, she surreptitiously infiltrated a massive organization that enlists young people. Like Mr. McSwane and his breed of undercover reporters, Miss Rose exposed deceptive practices. Miss Rose posed as a 15-year-old seeking the services and advice of her target. Like Mr. McSwane and his breed of undercover reporters, she caught her targets urging her to lie and evade the law in order to sign her up.
But Miss Rose's target was the Left's beloved Planned Parenthood, not the military. And that has made all the difference in the nonexistent national coverage of her undercover journalism. Miss Rose edits the Advocate, a pro-life campus publication of the student group Live Action. She posed as a minor impregnated by a 23-year-old boyfriend and caught a Planned Parenthood employee advising her to lie about her age to relieve the abortion provider from a legal obligation to report statutory rape to the police.
"If you're 15, we have to report it," the staffer told Miss Rose in a secretly taped video. "If you're not, if you're older than that, then we don't need to."
"OK, but if I just say I'm not 15, then it's different?" Miss Rose queried.
"You could say 16," the worker helpfully suggested. "Just figure out a birthdate that works. And I don't know anything."
Other than coverage from a few pro-life groups and conservative Web sites, Miss Rose's stunning revelations have received virtually no mainstream media attention. And no calls from lawmakers for investigations of Planned Parenthood's predatory tactics and practices --which have been also caught on tape in other states by undercover citizen investigators.
Instead, Miss Rose faces threats of a lawsuit by Planned Parenthood, which sent her a cease-and-desist letter and had the appalling nerve this week to lecture her about the need "to be more respectful of California laws," according to the conservative Cybercast News Service.
Where are the muckraking champions when you need them? Intrepid Lila Rose has learned the hard way: Not all undercover journalists are equal.

Michelle Malkin is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of "Unhinged: Exposing Liberals Gone Wild."