Sunday, March 1, 2009

In Defense of the Taping of Abortion Awareness Week and What Really Happened

As promised, I've finally thought out where I stand on the clandestine taping of "Abortion Awareness Week." (See photo up top.) First, it's essential that I give a little background as my defense of the students in this case has little to do with my own somewhat pro-life views and more to do with both policy and the law than anything else.

On February 19, 2009, several pro-life students attended a discussion led by Serena Josel from Planned Parenthood. They asked very tough questions of Ms. Josel, including the systematic cover up of underage rapes that have tragically become far too commonplace in this country.

Understandably, VOX, which organized the event, didn't like that there were questions being asked that made Planned Parenthood's representative uncomfortable. The questions were about documented events that Planned Parenthood is unwilling to talk about because their actions are indefensible. Ms. Josel was totally unprepared for those kinds of questions, expecting as is usual, that college students would be enamored with Planned Parenthood and its defense of abortion on demand. Boy, was she wrong. As she answered the questions, she made several untrue and demeaning statements about Lila Rose, the head of Live Action, and Planned Parenthood's response to their alleged cover up of underage rape. (I'll have more on that in a subsequent blog post.)

Unbeknowst to Ms. Josel, one of the students was recording the event and her responses. He placed the camera on his knee and turned it on. It was openly displayed and perfectly legal.

I've watched the raw video in its entirety and have discovered that Deans Feldblum and Holmes's statement which they emailed out to the Pomona student body isn't true. They wrote,

"The students began asking disruptive questions, and one of the students was secretly videotaping the event without the knowledge or consent of the college or the individual participants. When the student organizers became aware of the videotaping, they requested that it be stopped. The students who were doing the recording refused."
The video recording shows something actually quite different. Several times one of the pro-life students asked if VOX wanted them to leave. A few of VOX members argued that the pro-life students had "violated" their "safe space" and the pro-life students returned that California law allows the taping of a public lecture.

The taping caused considerable stir. Two Pomona College deans, Dean Miriam Feldblum and Dean Holmes, emailed this out to the Pomona College student body. They refer to the recording as "hostile" and "harassment." They write,
Secretly recording conversations is a violation of the Women’s Union space and is contrary to the values of the Pomona College community. The Women’s Union, like many other spaces on our campus, is identified and recognized as a space on the Pomona campus where individuals are invited to participate in these kinds of discussions.
That's interesting that they are trying to portray the event as some kind of "intimate" session. If that were so, why were their fliers like the one above that advertised the event as raising "awareness" about abortion? It seems odd for something to be "intimate" at the same time one is trying to promote "awareness." One word suggests privacy; the other publicity. Shouldn't the students who raised "awareness" about "abortion" and the largest abortion provider in the country, Planned Parenthood, be applauded, not threatened?

Threatened they were. Pomona College, one of the pro-life students told me, has threatened to have Claremont McKenna bring the students before a judicial board. Although nothing has happened yet, given the sad history of show trials at J-Boards they could conceivably be convicted even though recording a public event is perfectly legal.

California Penal Code 632 (c) reads the following,
"(c) The term "confidential communication" includes any communication carried on in circumstances as may reasonably indicate that any party to the communication desires it to be confined to the parties thereto, but excludes a communication made in a public gathering or in any legislative, judicial, executive or administrative proceeding open to the public, or in any other circumstance in which the parties to the communication may reasonably expect that the communication may be overheard or recorded." [Emphasis added]
There were fliers promoting the event, so it's fair to say that it was open to the "public." There's little precedent for suggestion that the event was closed. In the case, Wilkins v. NBC, Inc., 71 Cal. App. 4th 1066 (Cal. Ct. App. 1999), the Court ruled that NBC could secretly tape the conversation of two businessmen taking place in a public restaurant! The restaurant was a private owned establishment, much like Pomona College is a private university.

In this past week's The Student Life, VOX members Amal Karim, PO '11, Sara Aceves PO '11, Julie Braker PO '09, Erin Buika PO '09, Eliza Finley PO '09, Ariana Jones PO '11, Samantha Jones PO '10, Melody Liu PO '11, Reena Patel PO '10, Jeanne Segil PO '09, Bryn Starbird PO '09, Lauren Tonetti PO '11, Alexander Tran PO '09, and the Women's Union Staff 2009, signed an op-ed attacking the pro-life students. They write, [emphasis mine]
An individual began asking inflammatory questions of the representative from Planned Parenthood. It became apparent that other members of the group he came with had been secretly videotaping the discussion without any notice and without the consent of those in attendance. Not only are such actions a violation of the safe space that is the Women’s Union, but secretly videotaping is against school policy. The group left without deleting the footage or conceding that they had unlawfully flmed [sic] a private event in a private space (Pomona College is a private institution) without receiving consent from the Women’s Union, VOX, the other attendees, or the Communication’s Offce (as, to our understanding, is required by policy).
It may not have been allowed by Pomona policy, but I would doubt that such a policy then is legal. The Leonard Law protects students's "other communication" as if it were the First Amendment. If the event were private, why were there fliers like the one up top advertising the event? If the event were advertised, which it was, then "the private event in a private space" argument doesn't apply. It was a good attempt to try to punish or intimidate the pro-life students, but the laws are on their side.


Anonymous said...

Why not show the video and let folks come to their own conclusions

Charles Johnson said...

I'd love to, but I don't have a physical copy. I'll try to get one.

Anonymous said...

Thought you'd love this, shows that on both sides of the isle, there are....hypocrites? And this just happens to be Bill-O. Hope you don't want to be emulating him...some of the things you've said on this subject in the past have been kind of near that line.

Charles Johnson said...

Sorry, but no one but committed left wing ideologues takes Think Progress seriously.

Anonymous said...

Same could be said for NRO.

Anonymous said...

"Sorry, but no one but committed left wing ideologues takes Think Progress seriously."

Ha, actually addressing the content of the link, even a bit, wouldn't be that difficult.

And I agree w/ the above: no organization is more unapologetic, insular, and laughable in its intellectual bankruptcy than NRO.

Charles Johnson said...

I don't have to address every nutty left-wing thing out on the internet and I reject the characterization that anything I've said is similar to what O'Reilly is alleged to have said. Alleged, because as is typical of the left-wing blogosphere, we aren't given any context for his remarks. Remember the attacks on Bill Bennett from citing arguments from Freakonomics, anyone?

Anonymous said...

You nailed it Charles.

There is nothing remotely illegal about the taping that took place in this instance.

One may argue that the event was not PUBLIC, but the event would clearly qualify, under the penal code section you identified, as "any other circumstance in which the parties to the communication may reasonably expect that the communication may be overheard or recorded."

She was speaking to a room full of people during an event that was publicized on the campuses.

Case Closed.

Now whether that violated campus policy is another story. If it did, and students are punished for it, that's a sad story.

If the speaker had appeared at a publicized off-campus event, people taping in the audience would face ejection, at worst.

Apparently students at Pomona College have fewer rights than the general public in the real world.

Anonymous said...

Meh, you don't have to take that sources word for it, Charles. It was an uproar when Bill O Reilly said it, just look it up. Do some of your famed research. What he said, was that a college girl who was raped and killed in the suburbs was "asking for it" because she had been drinking with friends and was wearing a miniskirt and haltertop.

And now he will supposedly go to a charity for rape victims? Sounds like hypocrisy to me.

Don't act like right wing sites are some gospel of truth and justice.

Jeremy said...

I support this neat thing called property rights. Pomona clearly (by any conception of property) owns this Women's Union and has the right to tell people what they can and can't do on that property. No one (save perhaps Pomona students guaranteed access to the resources by their agreement with Pomona to pay tuition and attend Pomona) has any right to do anything on Pomona campus; that is, Pomona can tell you to leave whenever they want to.

Any law (incl. the Leonard Law) which gives people extra rights on private property is bullshit and an abrogration of private property rights.

That all said, the California wiretapping law is bullshit -- there is no non-arbitrary difference between drawing a shitton of sketches of a scene and videotaping it.

Also, it doesn't necessarily follow that an open-to-the-public event is necessarily not "private" or "confidential" in the legal sense. I have no idea how this Women's Union thing worked, but it's possibly it was meant to be anonymous and/or confidential, and as such, Mr. Deleiden's videotaping of the event may have, in fact, violated California wiretap law.

Finally, I would (and I'm sure you'd too) love to hear what Messrs. Starr and Chemerinsky have to say about this whole orgy of douchebaggery and unethical behavior.