Fiorina’s pro-life stand could have made greater impact

Carly Fiorina was great but … was she “wrong?”

During the CNN Republican presidential debate, Carly Fiorina accomplished what she set out to do. She stood out.

Fiorina received the loudest applause of the night when she responded to comments Donald Trump made in Rolling Stone. Of Fiorina, Trump said: “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!” Her response was simple and steely: “Women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.” Trump tried to save “face” by patronizing her, calling her beautiful. She glared at him with dagger eyes sharper than a Planned Parenthood scalpel.

Later she delivered an unrehearsed, impassioned speech urging everyone to look at the recent Center for Medical Progress (CMP) videos exposing Planned Parenthood’s trafficking in fetal body parts:

As regards Planned Parenthood, 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.” Remember those precise details.

The speech was met with tumultuous applause. Less than a minute long, this clip became one of the most shared videos coming out of the debate. Pro-life media hailed it as a reigniting of the abortion debate.

However, Fiorina’s memory was slightly inaccurate, which handed her opponents a rhetorical defense.

The video was Human Capital – Episode 3: Planned Parenthood’s Custom Abortions for Superior Product. About five minutes into the video, Holly O’Donnell, an ex-procurement technician from StemExpress, describes the horrible moment she cut into the face of an aborted baby and harvested his brain.

There had been no camera to record O’Donnell’s ordeal, so CMP edited into the video a clip of another baby boy, a victim of a botched abortion, left in a metal bowl to die. This was no sleight of hand. The footage was clearly credited to the Grantham Collection and the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform and the victim in the video was the same age as O’Donnell’s.

Using a comparable image and crediting the source is basic film technique used by documentarians as respected as Ken Burns, Alex Gibney and Errol Morris. “Show, don’t merely tell” is lesson one for any communicator. Illustrating with a comparable image makes the humanity of the victim child more vivid and heightens the viewer’s moral revulsion.

Relying on her memory, Fiorina didn’t mention that the baby in the video wasn’t the actual aborted baby described by O’Donnell. This petty discrepancy, however, allowed Planned Parenthood to circulate a memo: “The images show nothing like what Carly Fiorina said they do … The video footage that she claims exists — and that she ‘dared’ people to watch — does not exist. We have a word for that: It’s a lie.” Unlike Planned Parenthood, reasonable people don’t regard minor imprecisions as lies.

America won’t stop abortion until it sees abortion. The CMP videos show plenty of small human bodies decimated by it. Holly O’Donnell bears witness to her participation in a gruesome abortion. Defensively, Planned Parenthood tries to distract us from the atrocity by waving the red flag of “LIE.” But where is the lie? That brutalized baby in the video is no lie even if it isn’t literally O’Donnell’s victim.

Pathetically, many media, including Huffington Post, Vox, and Politico, uncritically echoed Planned Parenthood’s press release: Fiorina made it all up. On ABC News, George Stephanopoulos interviewed Fiorina and said that “analysts who watched all 12-plus hours said the harrowing scene you describe isn’t actually in those tapes.” Did she misspeak? Fiorina defiantly claimed she did not.

But she had. The video accurately illustrates, but doesn’t precisely show, O’Donnell’s victim. Is that a problem for Fiorina? Absolutely not.

Fiorina did not mislead. In the heat of the moment, she described what she remembered from the video. Her plea wasn’t scripted or planned. That is not the problem.

The problem is, by instinctively doubling down and refusing to admit the imprecision, she and her supporters strengthened Planned Parenthood’s shabby accusation. They were on defense rather than offense.

No respect is lost by admitting the video is not exactly as she described. Admitting a mistake, however trivial, does not show weakness. It shows humility and a desire to expose the truth at any cost. It also gives detractors one less distraction.

Worse was the missed opportunity to continue the public pursuit of the truth. What would have happened had Fiorina met Planned Parenthood’s challenge and said: “Lie? No. But let’s look at the video again, and again, and again until we all see the truth.” Most media outlets would have passed, but some would have taken her up on it. Millions more Americans would have witnessed why abortion is the morally defining issue of this generation. Carly Fiorina had a great moment. She could have had a great few hours.


Al Kresta is president and CEO of Ave Maria Communications in Ann Arbor. His radio program, “Kresta in the Afternoon,” can be heard from 4-6 p.m. daily on 990 AM-WDEO and EWTN.