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It's not Fiorina who is wrong in the Planned Parenthood fight

"Anyone who has watched this videotape, I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes. Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says, 'We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.' This is about the character of our nation, and if we will not stand up and force President Obama to veto this bill, shame on us." — Carly Fiorina, GOP presidential debate, 9/16/2015

The videotape in question was put out by the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group that went undercover to record Planned Parenthood officials discussing the buying and selling of organs and tissue from aborted fetuses — some just shy of 20 weeks — to medical research companies.

Fiorina's description of what takes place in the videos has come under withering attack. Sarah Kliff of Vox.com labels Fiorina's version of the scene as "pure fiction." Politifact says it is "mostly false."

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And they have a point. The exact scene, exactly as Fiorina describes it, is not on the videos. But anybody who has watched the videos would find Fiorina's account pretty accurate.

Most of the center's videos involve hidden camera conversations with current Planned Parenthood managers, as well as interviews with veterans of the abortion industry, discussing the selling of fetal body parts for research purposes. They also include eyewitness descriptions accompanied by borrowed footage of a fetus dying in a metal bowl, its leg kicking, to illustrate the witness' recollection of seeing precisely that in another case. That sort of juxtaposition might not fly on the nightly news, but it's the sort of dramatic device used in documentaries all the time. It's akin to a documentary maker interviewing a witness to Cecil the Lion getting shot, and using footage of another lion getting shot as an illustration.

But what is amazing is the way Fiorina's critics have suddenly become Jesuitical nitpickers. The clear goal is to conceal the fact that late-term abortions offend the conscience when discussed or displayed with anything like journalistic accuracy. That's probably why we get so little of it. Many of the media outlets that even bother to cover the videos have referred to the transferring of "fetal tissue," not "organs" — the correct term for livers, hearts and brains. ("Tissue" is less suggestive of a human being than, say, "heart.")

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We're also often informed that the videos weren't merely "edited" but "highly edited." Left out of such caveats is that the news reports passing along these descriptions come via highly edited newspapers, radio and TV programs.

The larger problem is that people are talking past each other. Fiorina's remarks — and these videos — are really aimed at the abortion industry and its Achilles' heel, late-term abortions. None of these videos would strike a chord if the only images were of blastocysts.

Most Americans are morally troubled by late-term abortions. Planned Parenthood and its allies know this, which is why they refer to "uterine contents," "clumps of cells," "tissue" and even "goop," when a more apt descriptor would be "fetus" or even "baby."

In other words, the people horrified by these videos aren't out of the mainstream — they are the mainstream. The people trying to dismiss the videos are the extremists, and the media give them cover.

For instance, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who once described the videos as "disturbing" — before Planned Parenthood yanked her leash — recited the usual talking points Sunday on "Face the Nation" about how the videos were "misleadingly edited" and "inaccurate." Indeed, what seems to bother Clinton most about those videos is the diabolical editing.

But when host John Dickerson asked if she'd support any federal restrictions at "any stage of pregnancy" — conceivably right until birth — Clinton said she wouldn't, because such abortions only take place for "medical necessity."

That is a far greater distortion of the truth than anything Fiorina said. I won't lose sleep waiting for the nitpickers to care.

jgoldberg@latimescolumnists.com

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