Rick Scott's shameless Planned Parenthood deception: How Florida Republicans tried to bury exonerating evidence

A Florida investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood—but Scott's office wasn't having it

Published September 8, 2015 11:59AM (EDT)

Gov. Rick Scott             (AP/Chris O'meara)
Gov. Rick Scott (AP/Chris O'meara)

Launching a series of statewide investigations into Planned Parenthood based on a series of fraudulently edited internet videos is not unlike basing foreign policy decisions on "Call of Duty." But that's exactly what's happened over the past few months since an outfit called the "Center for Medical Progress" incited every kneejerk anti-choice Republican to erupt in yet another collective outrage-gasm based on what amounts to a glorified conspiracy theory.

Out of more than a dozen state investigations so far, inquests by health officials in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts and South Dakota have each exonerated the embattled healthcare provider of any wrongdoing, including allegations of illegally selling fetal tissue. Exactly none of these investigations turned up evidence matching the accusations made by the Center for Medical Progress. Because of course not.

None of the subsequent investigations will either. Why? Because clearly, as numerous fact-checks have proved, the videos are deceptively edited, and no degree of tantrum-throwing from Tea Party governors, congressional Republicans or Fox News will alter the reality that the public has been deceived by yet another series of hoaxes, not unlike previous videos falsely claiming to indict ACORN and others.

Now we can add Florida to the list of states exonerating Planned Parenthood. Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) conducted a probe into 16 of the state's Planned Parenthood locations and, yet again, found no evidence of illegal fetal tissue sales. None.

So, then, what do you do if you're a far-right governor and the facts don't match the lie you've told your people? Obviously, you delete the facts.

That's exactly what Florida Governor Rick Scott did. Politico Florida reported last week that Scott's AHCA delivered to his office a press release detailing the results of its investigation, including the text:

"There is no evidence of the mishandling of fetal remains at any of the 16 clinics we investigated across the state."

However, in emails obtained by Politico, the governor's office and communications director Jackie Schutz deleted the exculpatory text from the statement. They deleted the most important line!

AHCA officials weren't happy:

When the revised release was sent back to the AHCA for review, Katherine Riviere, the communications director, sent an email to senior staff, including Secretary Liz Dudek, that said, "I would have thought a line on no evidence of mishandling of fetal remains would be included as that’s what questions will be on."

Worse yet, the governor's office added a line about disciplinary action against various Planned Parenthood doctors. The charges appear to stem from accusations by the AHCA that second trimester abortions were performed at facilities not licensed to perform second trimester procedures. But the AHCA has since acquiesced to objections by Planned Parenthood showing that the agreed-upon threshold for the onset of the second trimester is 14 weeks, not 12 weeks as was reported in the findings. Thus, no wrongdoing and no disciplinary action. Again.

Here's why the actions of Scott's government actions are shocking. It's not necessarily that his staff went so far as to bury the results of the investigations because the outcome contradicted the official GOP meme; it's that they engaged in acts designed to deliberately deceive the public, even though, at the end of the day, the AHCA's findings are irrelevant because the conventional wisdom about Planned Parenthood is already entrenched. In the age of social media and Fox News, the truth is irrelevant. As the saying goes, a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth gets its pants on. The initial lie is all that matters. The lie invariably soaks rapidly into the conventional wisdom and metastasizes there, and even the most universal and incontrovertible counter-assault can't successfully dislodge it.

More than ever before, as soon as an initial story breaks, it's almost immediately pegged as "reality," even if it's absolutely not. Then the false story spreads like the Ebola virus. The antidote barely mitigates the symptoms.

That's why Scott's underhanded evidence scrubbing is completely bizarre. Realistically, no one cares about exculpatory evidence clearing Planned Parenthood at this point. Most observers wrongly believe at some level that the clinics are wantonly harvesting fetus organs and selling them on the black market. (They're not!) Generally speaking, no one cares about the day-two story, much less the month-three story. Most people have moved onto something else.

In the age of liking, sharing and retweeting, the lack of critical engagement has made it eminently possible to not only spread fake news stories on Facebook, but even to fabricate a series of sting videos then to dump them into the public square via social media and Fox News, and do it with impunity. Any subsequent accountability will be too late to influence the debate. In this case, way too many viewers of the Planned Parenthood videos, including Democratic candidates for president, by the way, were so completely suckered by the clever editing and emotional trickery of the videos, the nonpartisan fact-checking articles that followed were almost pointless. That's not to say the fact-checking was worthless, but in terms of negating the false narrative, the debunking was ineffectual because, frankly, the false narrative had already traveled around the world at light speed. Several times over.

In spite of it all, though, the GOP continues to pursue the flimflam. Not only are they wasting taxpayer dollars on frivolous and pointless investigations based on these atrociously deceptive videos, but now they're engaged in a cover-up of the truth subsequent to the obvious lies they're telling about Planned Parenthood. Indeed, the anti-choice Republicans are conspirators after the fact -- helping to perpetuate a series of falsehoods in an attempt to shut down an organization that objectively-speaking saves millions upon millions of lives, while also preventing abortions via contraceptive services, every year.

By Bob Cesca

Bob Cesca is a regular contributor to Salon. He's also the host of "The Bob Cesca Show" podcast, and a weekly guest on both the "Stephanie Miller Show" and "Tell Me Everything with John Fugelsang." Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Contribute through LaterPay to support Bob's Salon articles -- all money donated goes directly to the writer.