Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina's challenge to Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama is itself being challenged.
Planned Parenthood on Wednesday accused the former Hewlett-Packard CEO of “lying” when she described the contents of an undercover video during the second primary debate.
“There is no polite way to say this: Carly Fiorina is lying,” Planned Parenthood spokesman Eric Ferrero wrote in a statement. “There is no video showing anything like what she claims. It's just totally false, no matter how many times she repeats it.”
During the Sept. 16 debate at the Ronald Reagan library in Simi Valley, California, Fiorina gave an impassioned account of the undercover videos that have led some conservatives in Congress to seek a government shutdown unless it defunds Planned Parenthood.
“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,” Fiorina said.
Almost immediately, however, fact-checking groups and journalists began refuting Fiorina's assertions of what the videos contained. The Tampa Bay Times' Politifact, for instance, noted that none of the 10 videos released so far by the Center for Medical Progress actually contained scenes that, as described by Fiorina, were conducted at a Planned Parenthood facility.
The videos, which amount to at least a dozen hours, are produced by the anti-abortion Center for Medical Progress. They primarily show people posing as tissue brokers and talking with Planned Parenthood employees about procuring fetal tissue for medical research.
Fiorina’s claim makes it sound like there is actual footage of Planned Parenthood examining an aborted fetus whose heart is still beating, while someone says "we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain." There isn't.
Yet, when confronted with the videos' selective editing and absence of the scene Fiorina described on the Sunday talk show circuit, Fiorina doubled down on her claims about what they contained.
“Do you acknowledge what every fact-checker has found, that as horrific as that scene is, it was only described on the video by someone who claimed to have seen it?" Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace asked Fiorina. “There is no actual footage of the incident that you just mentioned.”
“No, I don’t accept that at all,” Fiorina responded. “I’ve seen the footage. And I find it amazing, actually, that all these supposed fact-checkers in the mainstream media claim this doesn’t exist. They’re trying to attack the authenticity of the videotape.”
CARLY for America, the super-PAC supporting Fiorina, kept the controversy rolling last week when it released an ad that employs footage of an aborted fetus seen in the original videos that Planned Parenthood said came from an anti-abortion group in Florida—as well as an image of a Pennsylvania woman's stillborn son—interspersed with the candidates debate challenge and audio from the original sting videos.
Complaining that the super-PAC's video that was meant to prove that Fiorina was telling the truth did just the opposite, Planned Parenthood sent the candidate a letter Wednesday asking her to take down the ad.
“Simply put, the video you described at the debate does not exist, and the video you’re now asking people to watch is not what you claim it is,” Dawn Laguens, executive director of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, wrote Wednesday. “This fraudulent video is beneath a serious candidate for the presidency, and you should take it down immediately.”
Conservative critics, however, disagree. Writing at the conservative outlet National Review, Jonah Goldberg concedes that the scene recounted by Fiorina is not found on any of the videos. Then he argues that critics are missing the larger point.
“Fiorina’s critics want to claim that because she didn’t take into account these distinctions, she’s just making stuff up,” Goldberg wrote. “To this end they’ve become Jesuitical nitpickers, muddying the water to conceal the fact that late-term abortions offend the conscience when discussed or displayed with anything like journalistic accuracy.”
Bloomberg Philanthropies provides financial support for Planned Parenthood.
(Correction: An earlier version of this story should have identified Fiorina as the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard. The piece has also been corrected to reflect that one of the original undercover videos did contain )