Networks Continue Spotlighting Indictment of Pro-Life Video Producers

ABC, CBS, and NBC's morning newscasts on Tuesday all reported on a Texas grand jury's indictment of David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt of the pro-life Center for Medical Progress on the felony charge of tampering with a government record. At the same time, the panel cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing related to the organization's hidden camera footage, which uncovered the possible sale of the organs and tissue of aborted babies. ABC's Good Morning America and NBC's Today both devoted news briefs to the indictments. CBS This Morning also aired a full segment on the news. [video below]

Anchor Norah O'Donnell led into the segment with CBS News legal analyst Rikki Klieman by noting that "two anti-abortion activists are facing felony indictments this morning in connection with an undercover investigation of Planned Parenthood. Their secretly-recorded videos allegedly showed Planned Parenthood profiting from the sale of fetal tissue. The footage prompted an outcry and a Houston grand jury investigation. But the panel, instead, cleared Planned Parenthood and indicted the activists."

O'Donnell first prompted Klieman to summarize what the grand jury did. The analyst continued by wondering, "So, what do you have? Do you a runaway grand jury?...That is a grand jury that just says, we're going our way; or do you have a very thoughtful two-month investigation....where they said, let's look what's wrong?" The journalist interrupted and underlined that "the prosecutor says, we presented all the evidence to the grand jury; and this is what they came up with." She then asked the legal expert to explain the Texas law under which the two pro-life activists were indicted.

Near the end of the segment, co-anchor Charlie Rose asked the guest, "Is there an exception for journalists?" Klieman contended that "the law may say there is — because we know that journalists have been able to go in undercover....So, his defense is, look, I used my First Amendment right. I'm just like a journalist." O'Donnell replied, "I don't know any journalist that used fake ID's; but maybe, that's me." The analyst retorted, "No. But they certainly have gone in with hidden cameras."

On GMA, ABC news anchor Amy Robach gave an 18-second brief:

AMY ROBACH: A grand jury in Texas has now cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing, following those undercover videos that claim to show them selling fetal tissue. Instead, the grand jury has unexpected indicted two anti-abortion activists who shot that video. They're charged with tampering with government records, which is a felony."

Robach's counterpart on NBC's Today, Natalie Morales, set aside 28 seconds to the story:

Tell the Truth 2016

NATALIE MORALES: A Texas grand jury investigating Planned Parenthood has instead indicted two anti-abortion activists. David Daleiden, a leader of the Center for Medical Progress, faces a felony charge of tampering with a government record, along with a misdemeanor. An employee of his group is also charged with records tampering. The two are accused of using fake IDs to shoot undercover video of a Planned Parenthood official. The grand jury did not indict anyone from Planned Parenthood.

The previous evening, CBS and NBC's evening newscasts also covered the indictments of Daleiden and Merritt.

The full transcript of the Rikki Klieman segment from the January 26, 2016 edition of CBS This Morning:

NORAH O'DONNELL: Two anti-abortion activists are facing felony indictments this morning in connection with an undercover investigation of Planned Parenthood. Their secretly-recorded videos allegedly showed Planned Parenthood profiting from the sale of fetal tissue. The footage prompted an outcry and a Houston grand jury investigation. But the panel, instead, cleared Planned Parenthood and indicted the activists.

CBS News legal expert Rikki Klieman is here. Rikki, good morning.

[CBS News Graphic: "Activists Indicted: Two Charged Over Secret Planned Parenthood Videos"]

RIKKI KLIEMAN, CBS NEWS LEGAL ANALYST: Good morning.

O'DONNELL: We've all been following this case. Planned Parenthood has been accused of illegally profiting from fetal tissue. And yet, what does this grand jury do?

KLIEMAN: Well, the grand jury does exactly the opposite of what was expected. You have here a Republican governor. Rick Perry originally appointed this district attorney. The district attorney and the grand jury had the task of going after and investigating Planned Parenthood. Instead, the grand jury, two months later, after considering all of the evidence, comes out and indicts the people — who were the pro-life people — who were the people who took the videos.

So, what do you have? Do you a runaway grand jury? We've heard that expression out in common parlance. That is a grand jury that just says, we're going our way; or do you have a very thoughtful two-month investigation—

O'DONNELL: Well, the prosecutor—

KLIEMAN: Where they said, let's look what's wrong?

O'DONNELL: But the prosecutor says, we presented all the evidence to the grand jury; and this is what they came up with. Why did they indict these two individuals who had made these videos?

KLIEMAN: Well—

CHARLIE ROSE: And the point is, what they indicted them for — tampering with government records—

O'DONNELL: Yeah—

[CBS News Graphic: "Anti-Abortion Activists Indictment: David Daleiden: Prohibition of the Purchase & Sale of Human Organs; -Misdemeanor; Sandra Merritt: Tampering with a Governmental Record; -2d degree felony; -Up to 20 years in prison; Source: Harris County District Attorney's Office"]

KLIEMAN: Well, I — I think that the charges are really intriguing. What you have are two people — particularly, in the person of David Daleiden — David Daleiden has been going after Planned Parenthood, in a campaign, for years. And he is the person, with his colleague Sandra Merritt, who — what they do, according to Texas law — let's remember: this is Texas law — there's a law called tampering with a government record. What's the record? What you have here is a fake ID of a fake company that goes in and gets access where it wouldn't have access. He's also indicted for a misdemeanor—

[CBS News Graphic: "Anti-Abortion Activists Indictment: Tampering Of Gov't Records In Texas: -Posed as bio tech reps; -Created fake ID cards with a fake company; -Claimed to provide fetal tissue to researchers"]

ROSE: But is there an exception for journalists?

KLEIMAN: Well, he says there is—

ROSE: No. But does the law say there is?

KLIEMAN: Well, the law may say there is — because we know that journalists have been able to go on — go in undercover. But we also know that there have been civil suits against journalists. So, his defense is, look, I used my First Amendment right. I'm just like a journalist.

[CBS News Graphic: "David Daleiden Statement: 'The Center for Medical Progress uses the same undercover techniques that investigative journalists have used for decades in exercising our First Amendment rights...'"]

GAYLE KING: All right. It's an interesting turn of events. Thank you—

O'DONNELL: I don't know any — I don't know any journalist that used fake ID's; but maybe, that's me—

ROSE: Me neither—

O'DONNELL: Yeah—

KLEIMAN: No. But they certainly have gone in with hidden cameras.

KING: Thank you, Rikki.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center