Debate Forum 12/8/15

Does video kill?

Could manipulated Planned Parenthood videos be responsible for murder?

By Tim Walker

Abortion is a subject that has always stirred passionate debate in this country. Ever since the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in the Roe V. Wade case legalized abortion in the United States, citizens on both sides of this controversial issue have marched, debated, and tried to share their opinions and influence our lawmakers to see things their way. Whether pro-choice or pro-life, the vast majority of these citizens are calm and law-abiding when challenging public policy—or defending the policies that may be in line with their beliefs. Unfortunately a small percentage believe in inflammatory rhetoric and change by any means necessary. An even smaller percentage turns violent.
On Black Friday 2015, the day after Thanksgiving, Robert Dear entered a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs. Using a semiautomatic rifle, he killed three people and wounded nine others at the clinic before surrendering to police after a tense, nationally televised standoff. After his arrest, Dear allegedly stated “no more baby parts” to investigators, a law enforcement official recently said.
His comment has been interpreted by many as a reference to a series of nine heavily-edited online videos released this year by the Irvine, California-based Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group. In these videos the group claimed they documented how Planned Parenthood is selling fetal organs for a profit—a felony—while violating medical ethics by altering normal abortion procedures so as to preserve the organs. What was altered, it turned out, were the videos themselves. Planned Parenthood countered that it donates the tissue for scientific research and receives only reimbursement for its expenses, which is historically legal. The group also says it helps people donate tissue “with full, appropriate consent from patients and under the highest ethical and legal standards,” according to a statement from Planned Parenthood spokesman Eric Ferrero. Critics of the videos have stated that they are manipulative and misleading, and subsequent investigations have shown that many of the images included in the footage are inaccurate. In one video, for example, an online image of a woman’s stillborn child—posted by the mother in tribute to her lost baby—was captured, used and then falsely labeled as an “aborted fetus.”
Dawn Laguens, an executive vice president with Planned Parenthood, repeated the defense that the women’s health group and its many supporters have been trying to convey since the first of the Center for Medical Progress’s videos was released. “All of the tapes and footage David Daleiden has released out into the world has been heavily edited,” Laguens said. “And I think pretty thoroughly discredited.” Daleiden insists the video and photos are not misleading, and says the entire controversy has been manufactured by Planned Parenthood and its “allies in the mainstream media” in order to divert attention from the main point of his documentary: that Planned Parenthood uses aborted fetal tissue as a revenue source.
The videos, factual or not, resulted in nationwide cuts of funding for Planned Parenthood’s facilities. Statements from the various Presidential candidates criticized Planned Parenthood and the supposed “selling of fetal tissue” and have created a climate which some say encourage pro-life radicals to commit violent acts. Could the inflammatory rhetoric used against Planned Parenthood be somehow responsible for Robert Dean’s shooting in Colorado Springs?
Proponents say that the manipulating of video images to demonize Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers is a root cause of the Colorado Springs shooting. Inflammatory rhetoric, they say, simply incites the radical element of the pro-life movement and compels someone as unbalanced as Dean to commit acts of violence.
Opponents say the very idea of inflammatory rhetoric as a violence source is ridiculous in the extreme, that the debate is passionate on both sides and that the videos, and the resulting rhetoric, cannot be held responsible for the actions of one lunatic. Violence is unacceptable, they argue, and an entire movement—or the producers of a series of videos—can’t be held responsible.

Tim Walker is 50 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their 2 children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz and black t-shirts.

The buck stops with the trigger

By Brad Sarchet

This is an interesting case that raises issues regarding “cause and effect” that appear to be rather common in our legal system. However, legal arguments relying on “cause and effect” seem to use the concept a bit differently than it’s used in science.
In this case, we see the effect of people being murdered by a semiautomatic rifle, but for some reason in the legal arena we must argue about the true “cause” of this effect. Isn’t the cause simply that Robert Dean pulled the trigger of the gun? This causal connection appears to be rather straight forward, and I think in the realm of science it would be just so simple. Every effect must have an immediate cause, and in this case the immediate cause of people being murdered (the effect) is very clearly the action of Robert Dean. There can be no logical arguments that reach a different conclusion.
However, in many cases there is confusion regarding things that influence the cause of an action with the genuine cause itself. This confusion seems to be a common mistake upon which many legal arguments rely. Even questions presented in the Debate Center allude to this confusion. The Debate Center begins with, “could manipulated Planned Parenthood videos be responsible for murder?” and then ends with a similar question, “can those behind the manipulated Planned Parenthood videos be held accountable for the Colorado killings?” Both questions point not only to the influence the videos may or may not have had on Robert Dean, but also to the real possibility that other people, even the videos themselves, may share the blame for the killings in Colorado.
This line of reasoning may seem compelling, and I’m even speculating that the other writer in this debate is resting his or her argument on this very point—that an influence of a cause can be treated as the cause itself and thereby blamed or prosecuted as such. However, there is simply no logical merit to making a direct cause-effect connection between either the videos or those who produced them with Robert Dean’s act of pulling the trigger. Dean’s knowledge of the videos is still in question but, regardless, labeling the videos as an influence on Dean’s actions is as far as the argument can go. How many other things may have influenced Dean’s actions that day? Had he just read about previous attacks on Planned Parenthood and decided that he should continue the insanity? Or had he been watching a televangelist the night before from which he gained some twisted inspiration? The fact is, we cannot know what influenced Dean’s actions that day and, in any case, any influence cannot take the blame away from Dean as the trigger man.
So back to facts of the issue itself. The “facts” of this case, as I understand them, are:
The Center for Medical Progress (CMP) posted a series of videos online during the past year, which they claim document illegal (and immoral) activities performed by Planned Parenthood.
The truth and authenticity of the videos posted by CMP is suspect.
On Friday, Nov. 27, Robert Dean killed and wounded numerous people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs with a semiautomatic rifle.
During questioning, Dean allegedly uttered the phrase, “no more baby parts,” which may be a reference to the videos posted by CMP, but this is still unclear.
As far as I can tell, all conclusions regarding the case and Dean’s guilt are either deduced or inferred from the above facts. Therefore, based on these facts and my discussion above, I reach the following simple conclusions:
The videos posted by CMP are either truthful and accurate, or not.
Robert Dean pulled the trigger of a semiautomatic weapon and killed/wounded numerous people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs.
Dean may or may not have watched the CMP videos, such that the videos may or may not have influenced his actions that day.
There may be an unlimited number of things, people or actions that influenced Dean’s actions that day.
Any of the above mentioned influences cannot be held responsible for his act of pulling the trigger and killing numerous people at Planned Parenthood.
All of the possible guilt falls on Robert Dean.
In conclusion I think that finding an exact link between cause and effect even in the simplest of cases can be extremely difficult because in the end we observe only effects and must infer cause. And when a cause-effect issue is complicated by human psychology and motivation, the link becomes even more elusive.

Brad Sarchet, Ph.D., has advanced degrees in philosophy and physiology and is currently a biology professor at a local university. He is interested in the philosophy of science and animal physiology. He’s also an old hippy and Dead Head. Reach him at BradSarchet@DaytonCityPaper.com.

Incitement argument possible

By Rob Scott

Abortion is one of the most divisive political and moral topics in the U.S. today. This has been the case since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Roe v. Wade and subsequent decisions that honed the high court’s original decision.
The issue has intensified since the advent of stem cells and other uses of aborted babies or fetuses, as the choice advocates claim.
Many in the pro-life movement have resorted to extreme tactics, including killing doctors who perform abortions. Many have bombed abortion clinics and other dangerous actions. The pro-choice movement also has resorted to extreme tactics as well.
This has come to the forefront after some secretly recorded video footage had a clinic employee speak about selling parts of aborted babies. She discusses in detail costs and how they go about doing it.
The pro-life movement began producing videos that the pro-choicers claim to be heavily edited. Some are now drawing a correlation between these videos, and the individual in Colorado who went on shooting rampage at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, killing three.
Many in the pro-choice movement would like to file suit against those who produced the videos, claiming they led the individual to do what he did. The pro-life movement, many of whom have denounced the shooting, say the pro-choice movement including Planned Parenthood themselves are using this to bolster their opinions.
However, under the law, the pro-choice movement does have a possible legal argument. The legal principle of incitement can apply in this case.
The rationale of incitement matches the general justification underpinning the other inchoate offenses of conspiracy and attempt by allowing the police to intervene before a criminal act is completed and the harm or injury is actually caused. There is considerable overlap, particularly where two or more individuals are involved in criminal activity. The plan to commit crime may exist only in the mind of one person until others are incited to join in, at which point the social danger becomes more real. The offence overlaps the offences of counseling or procuring as an accessory.
The inciter must intend the others to engage in the behavior constituting the offence, including any consequences which may result, and must know or believe (or possibly suspect) that those others will have the relevant mens rea.
The inciter is one who reaches out and seeks to influence the mind of another to commit a crime, although where, for example, a letter conveying the incitement is intercepted, there is only an attempt to incite.
So legally, merely making suggestions is not enough. There must be actual communication so that the other person has the opportunity to agree, but the actus reus is complete whether or not the incitement actually persuades another to commit an offense.
The shooter, after he was taken into custody, was allegedly rambling about “No more baby parts,” which is a reference to the videos put on the Internet by pro-life groups.
Taking the Colorado Springs shooting example, if the shooter claims the videos inspired him to do it and he did the shooting because of the videos, this is a step towards legally proving incitement, but still is not enough. The person or persons who made the videos would’ve had to have the purpose of making the videos to essentially give the shooter the mindset to do it. Also, the video producers would have had to encourage or push the shooter to actually commit the act.
For the prosecutors to prove both steps will be a very tall order. The criminal standard is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the video producers’ intent and purpose was to incite the shooter to have the mental state and act to commit murder or serious bodily harm.
Legally speaking, the pro-choice movement and Planned Parenthood do have a legal argument to make. However, like in many cases, just because you have a legal argument does not mean it can be successful in many circumstances.
Circumstantial evidence and inferences could be made the videos produced and edited were used to incite the shooter into a rage and the video producers should know the video would encourage action from pro-lifers.
The court would need to weigh whether the incitement factor truly existed from the video producers versus whether there is a legitimate free speech protection for the group.

Rob Scott is a general practice attorney at Oldham & Deitering, LLC. Scott is a Kettering City Councilman, founder of the Dayton Tea Party, member of the Dayton Masonic Lodge and Kettering Rotary. He can be contacted at rob@oldhamdeitering.com or gemcitylaw.com.

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Tim Walker
Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz, and black T-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com

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