Why No One at the White House Can Find the Time to Watch the Planned Parenthood Videos

WH press secretary Josh Earnest (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

Josh Earnest is a busy man, apparently. Busy morning, noon, and night. Busy before sunup, busy after sundown. Josh Earnest, the busiest bee.

Nothing else could explain how, a full two weeks after the release of the Center for Medical Progress’s first Planned Parenthood video, Earnest, White House press secretary, still had not seen it.

That is what Earnest told Breitbart reporter Charlie Spiering during the daily White House press briefing on July 30. “Has anyone at the White House watched these videos?” Spiering asked. “I suspect somebody has,” Earnest speculated. Since that pronouncement came after Earnest had called the videos “fraudulent,” Spiering asked the obvious follow-up: Whence Mr. Earnest’s information? “[It’s] based on the public comments of Planned Parenthood,” said Earnest. “I am merely repeating what I’ve seen that they’ve said and what has been reported publicly about what they’ve said.”

Here’s the exchange:

Tapper wrapped the conversation with a suggestion: “Well, somebody at the White House should maybe watch the videos in full.”

Alas, it’s not going to happen. Not, of course, because Josh Earnest or any of his superiors is too busy — the first video was eight minutes and fifty-one seconds long; someone could have squeezed it in — but because they don’t want to watch them. Doing so creates a political problem. Earnest would have to admit that the footage is “disturbing,” and so open himself to the obvious question: Why is the footage disturbing? Or he would have to say that he was not disturbed — and appear callous. The safest tactic is to not engage at all. See no evil, hear no evil.

#related#By adopting such a strategy, the White House is trying desperately to keep the discussion of Planned Parenthood strictly in the realm of the political, narrowly defined — a question of laws and policies and congressional funding. In the short term, that may succeed. But abortion is, at heart, a moral question. Abortion laws express underlying moral assumptions. But our permissive abortion regime is so politically controversial because America has no consensus on the moral status of the unborn (at least before 20 weeks). The Planned Parenthood videos remind us of that. Our laws allow babies to be snipped apart in the womb and medical technicians to sift through their remains on pie plates. Those are not morally neutral actions. To legislate with regard to them, we must first address whether they are right or wrong, good or evil.

The White House, by making this simply a question of political machinations, is pretending no such questions exist. But the refusal to acknowledge the moral debate here forthrightly is itself immoral. It encourages a vacuous, superficial public discourse, and it implies that the most basic laws — those concerning life and death — have no grounds besides political will. President Obama has made his stance on abortion clear. It would be far better for the White House to declare what we already know: that it believes a baby is not a baby until it is delivered (if then). That would at least allow the debate over abortion to take place on the relevant level: the moral.

But the White House will not do that. The nation’s abortion politics make it too politically costly. So it will pretend to see no evil and hear no evil — and thereby guarantee that Josh Earnest speaks a lot more evil going forward.

Ian Tuttle — Ian Tuttle is the former Thomas L. Rhodes Journalism Fellow at the National Review Institute.

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