Planned Parenthood is in a crisis mode and attempting to launch a public relations counterattack after an undercover video surfaced that seems to indicate that the organization sells fetal tissue from abortions to researchers for a profit. Such action if true would be illegal.
The video was released by the Center for Medical Progress on Tuesday. It shows two undercover CMP activists posing as employees from a biotech company having lunch with Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical research, and discussing about which body parts are in demand. In the video, Nucatola is seen and heard discussing Planned Parenthood’s policy of donating fetal tissue to researchers. The activists ask Nucatola whether clinics charge for the organs, which she skirts around.
The language is graphic. “Yesterday was the first time she said people wanted lungs,” Nucatola says. “Some people want lower extremities, too, which, that’s simple. That’s easy. I don’t know what they’re doing with it, I guess if they want muscle.”
Nucatola discusses how they are able to get other organs without “crushing” them. “We’ve been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I’m not gonna crush that part, I’m gonna basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above, and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact.”
Conservative politicians rushed to condemn Planned Parenthood and demand a cutoff of federal funding and investigations into the organization. But even some in the medical and research community expressed deep reservations about Planned Parenthood and Nucatola. Planned Parenthood is denying it sells organs for profits and is attacking the Center for Medical Progress.
This whole lessons for those in public relations.
1. In this day and age of smartphones nothing is ever off the record. Someone may be recording a client without the client knowing it and it that tape may appear on social media or in the media. In addition to Planned Parenthood, think Mitt Romney and Donald Sterling.
2. Various issue advocacy groups on both sides of the aisle are sending undercover members to businesses and associations hoping to catch executives saying something embarrassing or awkward. This trend will continue.
3. Social media and non-traditional news sites are becoming dumping grounds for stories that once they go viral, the traditional media picks up and reports with a vengeance since they felt they have been scooped and must make up for that lapse.
4. A good defense is not always a good offense. Planned Parenthood’s response to this video has been more to attack the Center for Medical Progress and conservatives who are criticizing the group rather then to provide a detailed rebuttal and provide Nucatola to the media for questioning. The organization seems to be sidestepping the major issue raised in the video that is leading even supporters of abortion to question it.
5. Emotional issues such as abortion need to be dealt with sensitivity. Planned Parenthood in its response has come across angry which doesn’t sit well with many people even some of its supporters. A more nuanced response addressing concerns people might have would have served the organization much better.
Social media, bloggers, and citizen activists drive the news in this 24/7 news cycle. Brands and organizations need to realize that and that they may be a target of this and the old rules of journalism don’t apply with these people. Failing to realize that may put you in the same boat Planned Parenthood is in currently.