The Marketing of Aborted Baby Parts

Posted on Wednesday, March 8, 2000 in Reports

The Congressional Hearing began the morning after the 20/20 piece aired. In the weeks leading up to the hearing, those of us at Life Dynamics clearly saw that we were headed for a train wreck. In fact, about fifteen minutes before the hearing began, I gave an interview to Greta Kreuz – a reporter for the DC area affiliate of ABC Television – in which I emphatically made that very point.

This debacle was caused by several flawed decisions made by me. First, I went into this process with a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of Congressional hearings. I naively assumed that they are about uncovering truth when, in reality, they are about political gamesmanship, media hype and career advancement. My failure to recognize this early in the process caused me to trust the wrong people.

Immediately after we first began publicly releasing information about the baby parts trade, Senator Bob Smith of New Hampshire contacted us. He was outraged at what we had uncovered and said that he wanted to hold a hearing in the Senate. We informed him that we had a large amount of additional information that we had not made public and would turn it over to him if the hearing became a reality. During our many conversations with Senator Smith, the sticking point was that Senate protocol makes it difficult to issue subpoenas. We all agreed that this was a major stumbling block given that the main players in this scandal were not about to testify without being forced to.

About this same time, we started getting calls from staffers representing the Republican members of the House Commerce Committee. They also wanted to hold a hearing and asked if we would release the additional information to them. They were aware of the Senate rules that made it hard to get subpoenas and they used that as leverage to convince us to work with them rather than Senator Smith. On several occasions, they emphatically assured us that getting multiple subpoenas would be no problem. They also informed us that a hearing could get scheduled much faster in the House than in the Senate.

However, they also made it clear that they were only interested in a hearing under two conditions. First, we had to give them the additional data before giving it to Smith so the House could beat the Senate to the hearings. They told us point blank that if the Senate held a hearing first, some Senator would end up with all the “face time” in the media and the House would have no interest in a hearing after that. Second, they informed us that they were aware that 20/20 was conducting an investigation and they wanted us to understand that they were not going to hold the hearing if 20/20 backed out. The consistent theme was that the motivating force for members of the House is what they call “face time” in the national media.

Meanwhile, 20/20 was telling us that they didn’t care whether a hearing happened in the Senate or in the House, but unless a hearing was held in one or the other they would probably drop the baby parts story altogether. That put us in the bizarre position of having to make sure the 20/20 piece happened in order to keep Congress interested, while having to make sure that a hearing was held in order to keep 20/20 on board.