Lila Rose has been called the new face of the antiabortion movement. In fact, she might represent something much more ambitious.
This week, the 20-something's antiabortion organization, Live Action, released videos from Planned Parenthood clinics in New Jersey and Virginia that appear to show staffers willing to help a purported pimp get abortions for underage girls. Such guerrilla journalism tactics have been deemed "unacceptable" by critics.
But like her mentor James O'Keefe, a conservative activist who took down community organizer Acorn through a similar video sting in 2009, Ms. Rose has aims that seem to go beyond journalism. The videos, Rose acknowledges, are a weapon, and like Mr. O'Keefe, she is deploying them toward revolutionary ends.
Planned Parenthood is the target of the day. But the ultimate goal of this new generation of right-wing muckrakers is the overthrow of the perceived liberal-leaning mainstream media narrative on touchstone political issues such as guns, racism, and abortion. Rose casts her work in light of the civil-rights movement of the 1960s, and her videos are the tinder for peaceful social insurrection.
"Real social revolutions are basically media revolutions ... and this is a media revolution," says Brian Anse Patrick, author of "Rise of the Anti-Media" and a communications professor at the University of Toledo in Ohio. "There's a battle going on between orthodoxies. What was unthinkable or not discussed – well, here we are, we're talking about it."
Who is Lila Rose?
Rose, a devout Catholic and aspiring actress, founded Live Action as a 15-year-old, and started making films three years later. Since then, she has become a leading light of the antiabortion movement, frequently giving speeches and appearing on cable news shows.
"We take the video cameras, and we use them because in a way they're a weapon. They can reveal truth and show what's really happening, say, inside an abortion clinic," Rose, a soft-spoken California native, said in a CNN profile.
In her work, Rose has focused on issues like the high abortion rate in the black community – an effort supported by Alveda King, Martin Luther King Jr.'s niece. Rose recently quoted King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail and his exhortation for activists to use "creative extremism" to fight for civil rights.
Both Rose and O'Keefe were trained by The Leadership Institute, a conservative Washington organization led by Morton Blackwell, Reagan's youth mobilization coordinator. O'Keefe has taken his creative extremism to greater lengths. He is currently serving a three-year suspended sentence after pleading guilty to trespassing at the New Orleans office of Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, apparently in an attempt to set up another exposé. Earlier, his Acorn "pimp" sting basically destroyed the minority-rights organization.
But Rose, too, has engineered her own stings before now. In the past, she posed as a 14-year-old who claimed to be impregnated by a much older man in order to see how Planned Parenthood reacted. A staffer told her: "Just say you have a boyfriend, 17 years old, whatever."
That case prompted Tennessee to pass a law in 2009 that compels the state health department to award contracts to public clinics before looking at private clinics like Planned Parenthood.
Campaign against Planned Parenthood
The videos released this week are an attempt to persuade Congress to take similar action. They are part of "Expose Planned Parenthood," an initiative joined by several antiabortion groups to push the "No Taxpayer Funding of Abortion Act" in the House. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D) of New York this week called the bill "the deepest attack on a woman's right to choose in my lifetime."
"The goal [of the Live Action effort] is to take public support or public funding from clinics to limit the number of service providers" and, thus, the number of abortions, says Nancy Maveety, an abortion-policy expert at Tulane University in New Orleans.
Planned Parenthood, which fired a worker shown in the New Jersey video, has called Rose's tactics "an astoundingly cynical form of political activity." The organization notified the FBI in January, correctly surmising that the visits by Live Action's purported pimp to 12 of its clinics might be a sting.
"If a multistate sex-trafficking operation is in place, those responsible must be pursued to stop the exploitation of girls and young women," said Planned Parenthood spokesman Stuart Schear in a statement. "If these visits are part of a 'dirty tricks' campaign, they must be condemned."
Rose defended Live Action's videos on Fox News this week: "Institutionally, Planned Parenthood is covering up the sexual abuse of minors, and now it goes as far as aiding and abetting a prostitution ring."
By taking on Planned Parenthood, which provides not just abortions but also a full range of reproductive health services, especially to young, impoverished women, Rose has evoked the ire of many on the left.
Rose "is the face of divisiveness. She is the face of all-out war," writes Lilly Copeland on Slate's Double X blog.
Reframing the media narrative
To Rose and her compatriots, however, she is merely giving the media a taste of its own medicine.
The videos are "possibly unfair coverage," but no more unfair than the preponderance of news coverage directed at, for example, the Natonal Rifle Association in the past, says Mr. Patrick, who has studied how media organizations present conservative viewpoints.
"The classic NRA story from The New York Times or The Washington Post was a reporter would go to an NRA convention of 80,000 people and find some dummy in the parking lot with a coonskin hat and interview him," he says.
In the case of the Live Action videos, Patrick adds, "they might have found the dummy with the coon skin hat" at Planned Parenthood.