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October 1, 2010

Inside "Right On The Edge"

Posted: 10:10 AM ET

By Scott Zamost
Senior Investigative Producer


(Programming note: "Right On The Edge" airs Saturday and Sunday at 8 and 11 p.m. ET).

It started with a tip about someone who was going undercover in Planned Parenthood clinics. She was about to release a new video showing what happened during that operation. Her name was Lila Rose, a 22-year-old anti-abortion activist. While she had made multiple appearances on Fox News the last several years, she had never been on CNN.

Around the same time, we learned that 21-year-old Hannah Giles, who posed as a prostitute to take down ACORN, would be speaking at a Tea Party rally in Searchlight, Nevada. Hannah also had never done an interview with CNN.

Two young activists. Both conservative and part of a growing movement that they say had been largely ignored by the mainstream media.

Investigative Correspondent Abbie Boudreau and I talked about the idea of following these young activists around. If we could gain their trust, it would be a fascinating story to follow for a documentary. It would not be easy.

Hannah was our first interview. Or at least we thought. I set it up through Levi Russell, a spokesman for the Tea Party Express. But the night before we were leaving for Nevada, Levi called with bad news. He said Hannah's attorney had cancelled the interview because of a pending lawsuit connected to one of the ACORN workers caught on hidden camera. I tried to explain our idea for the project to the attorney, but he would not change his mind.

However, when we got to Searchlight and met Hannah, she decided to do the interview anyway. Abbie asked her for the names of other young conservative activists. And then our project began.

We ended up following Lila Rose, Jason Mattera, Christian Hartsock and Ryan Sorba. Even though Abbie and I are investigative journalists, we kept telling them this documentary was not an investigation. We simply wanted to document their activism. But their distrust of mainstream media kept returning to nearly every conversation. At varying times, I thought the project was in jeopardy. Finally, I think they accepted that we would portray them fairly. But they were still skeptical.

During an interview outside a Planned Parenthood clinic that Lila and her team were protesting, she and I talked about the mainstream media.
"Some of the mainstream media has ignored our message, but some of it definitely has been covered," Lila told me.
"Would we be considered the mainstream media?" I asked.
"Yeah, you definitely would be," she said. "Well, a little bit fringed on the liberal side."

I assured her, as I had done over the past several months, that we weren’t taking sides. The documentary was to be a glimpse into a world we hadn't seen before - at least not in an in-depth way - and because of that, it was a story worth telling.

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JBS   October 1st, 2010 1:15 pm ET

One notes this story and also the militia story both being prominently featured are about "right wing" people and "the radical right". I would be interested to note, not having a Lexus/Nexus search access, how often stories are done by CNN on the "left wing" and "the radical left" or how often CNN simply uses the terms as juxtaposed to references to conservatives.

Is Bill Ayres regularly referred to as part of the radical left? Was the late Ted Kennedy ever referred to as "ultra-liberal" as the late Jesse Helms was often referred as "ultra-conservative"?

Language and how we use it is powerful. It often defines our bias and/or our prejudice. Political prejudice is no different from that of any other prejudice. The tone, context, and choice of words we use speaks volumes to our own leanings.

Is it any wonder when biased, emotionally or politically "loaded" language is used by the various media that others will judge them based on that usage? The use of prejudicial labels, regardless of the group, is the very thing our media loves to jump on others for doing, but rarely likes to have laid at their doorstep.


Nikki   October 1st, 2010 1:23 pm ET

I just saw a promo for this show. Not taking sides?
My my my.

I am not far RIGHT – to clarify. But this is shameful. Putting the elephant up as the "logo". Irresponsible. FOX is the only biased network? It's like pairing the cross with the KKK.

I do think the story is compelling – just like any cult or story of people on the fringe. But the way you are selling it is in no way unbiased.


Allan Marcum   October 1st, 2010 2:02 pm ET

I saw the selection of the guerilla "journalists" chosen for this, but the four featured on CNN.com have never done any journalism. Lila Rose is the closest you can get to it. Sorba is an activist and and author, as is Jason Mattera. There isn't anything wrong with that, but they just simply are not what CNN is making them out to be.


LTF   October 2nd, 2010 7:00 am ET

1. Fox is far more "right wing" (corporatist) than any other network is "left wing"
2. Right and Left wing seem to be dated terms now
It's more like the forces used by the Super Elite Moneyed Interests versus the rest of us.
3. The Democrats are the Conservatives now, and the Republican Party is only interested in doing more for the top 2%. There is no liberal party (contrast and compare the USA to Europe to see what I mean)

Dems = Center-right
Repubs = brown shirts (for the most part)

Our Military spending is outrageous while our schools are suffering, and the repubs want to privatize social social security (auspiciously for budgetary concerns when Social Security is doing well and would do better with only minor adjustments) If they are truly concerned about the Budget .. the 800 pound Gorilla in the room is our MILITARY Spending
(btw .. I'm former military)... why is it always cut stuff for the people but not for the super rich?


Richard Becker   October 2nd, 2010 5:26 pm ET

I haven't seen your "expose" yet, but from the breathless setup, it looks like your coverage will be more biased than the subjects you're exploring. You have an opportunity to go at it with an open mind. Here's hoping you did. CNN, your ideology is showing.


John Sauer   October 2nd, 2010 8:23 pm ET

Twenty Years and still going in circle the spin doctors are good. Republican and Democrats are only different in name. And for the sake of History the Brown Shirts and Nazis both start out has Liberal Left Wing Groups.

CNN or as some people I know refer to you as the Communist News Network, first get over the Sixties There are too many nut jobs on both sides of aisle, Left and Right. I consider myself for the last twenty five years a Progressive Conservative, some my “Dying Liberal” friends caution me on using that term here.
As someone who regularly does media analysis I would say that your news bias is showing heavily at that too. For example; why did you us the term anti-abortion, rather than Pro-Life? If the person was Pro-Choice would you have called them anti-life? Probably not, therein lies you bias. It’s like when you cover Immigration, particular Illegal Immigration and classify some as anti-Immigration, when really they are probably Anti-Illegal Immigration. You want to restore creditability to the Media Get Out the Sixties, this is 2010 after all the World has changed, and Stop Hawking on the Military, go after the 95 percent of the US Tax Dollar that goes to Other Government Programs and look at the corruption there, the you will really have bunch of angry Americans. I know a quite a few angry foreigners who tell that its nuts what goes on there.
Now Left, Right, Whatever; try CNN iMedia, and if that don’t work hit the Blogs, YouTube, do whatever it takes get the word out the American People are being taken and previous Gate Keepers are in on it.


will mixon   October 2nd, 2010 10:05 pm ET

wow...cnn just lost me as a viewer...


judy   October 2nd, 2010 10:29 pm ET

What an amazing group of young people. Maybe there is hope for us.


Max   October 3rd, 2010 12:15 am ET

Miss Boudreau
After watching your report on the various individuals I can’t help but to feel sorry for those profiled. They are proved that parents are failing to give kids direction within the frames of our laws. We are watching the future “Uni-Bombers”of our society. Sociopaths bomb throwers whom have decided to take the lower road. They may think their ideals are noble, but the truth is their actions are border line criminal. I believe these selfish people are dying for attention and in some twisted way.. fame. Time will tell. I would like to see an interview with each one of their parents so we know where to look for those ill signs. I notice that everyone of those so called “young” individuals have selfish motives such as selling books, becoming actors, directors, or dancers. One thing they all have in common...selfish egomaniacs. So much for conservatism and the Britney Spears generation.


mellene   October 3rd, 2010 10:36 am ET

This was an excellent documentary and should be required viewing.


MR1956   October 3rd, 2010 12:19 pm ET

I watched the show last night, it gave me chills. What a bunch of nothings, with no constructive message, just a mass of angry people. Their target is to destroy what others build. They want all to think like them, as bully little brats do: "you play what I want you to play". They have no substance and serious issues: O'Keefe loves to dress as a pimp... hmmm! The anti-gay guy (I don't remember their names), really?!!!! The anti-abortion girl, if her mom had aborted she wouldn't be doing that s.... They look like a group who sat down way back in the classroom and learned nothing.
I agree with Max, they are sociopaths, selfish egomaniacs. Only Freud can explain.


Jane Rivelli   October 3rd, 2010 1:15 pm ET

Miss Abbie,

I totally agree with Max on this...I watched this late last night and to me they had no real direction except to use their so called "causes" as catalysts for fame and fortune.

I don't know if it was on purpose but I did not capture what they stood for completely....I'm guessing they would only allow so much access to their world in fear of exposure....Of course one was anti-gay...but I did not know who is was at the end of your piece....I hope you can understand what I mean by "know"....

Lila Rose was most interesting in the fact that she was actually fighting for a "cause"....but I did not see any emotional connection to abortion from her....most activists are emotional about the fight....once again...I'm guessing the limited access perhaps prevented us viewers from seeing it? But I did not miss the fact that she wanted to be an actress...

With all the problems in the world today.....I don't believe these "selfish....fame hungry" kids deserve any "air time"......main stream media ignores them because there really is no "meat" to their stories.

The most fascinating part of your piece was the jackass that tried to punk you.....he's a dangerous young man and I truly believe he is one to watch because he's escalating in his so called pranks.....

I am happy you were not fooled by him.....I wonder what would have happend if you did get on that boat....


Tim P.   October 3rd, 2010 5:53 pm ET

What vile journalism! It is not the duty of Planned Parenthood to make things more complicated for young women who come to them for help.

The whole show had the intelligence of one of the very loopiest MTV shows about some really bad rock stars. The "activists" are stupid and smug; the host is a gushing fool who would be lucky to get accepted as a freshman at a journalism school. She takes everything these creatures say without any challenges. Even FOX is better than this.


Bill   October 3rd, 2010 8:02 pm ET

A documentary of young republicans trying to uncover lying and deception through lying and deception. HOW NOBLE. The anti- gay gentleman (haha) seems very angry. It bothers me how anti-gay people focus on the ACT of SEX– being gay is about whom one loves.James O'Keefe will one day cross a line and end up in jail.


MJ   October 3rd, 2010 8:36 pm ET

I watched Right on the Edge last night and I am still no clearer on what exactly the right wing/tea party agenda is or why the movement would be attractive to young people. All I managed to glean from the special is that the young women featured rely a lot on their youthful good looks and sexuality in the service of their 'cause'. And it was quite obvious from the get-go that Lila Rose, the anti-abortion activist, has acting aspirations. And as for the young men, all I got was that they have very impressive video editing and production skills.

I got no new insights as to what the conservative message is. They seem to be more concerned with getting in people's faces or putting people in compromising situations than offering a viable alternative point of view. They're like Merry Pranksters for the right. I wish they had gotten more into Andrew Brietbart's role in funding and mentoring these young people. Why was it necessary for him to be present when Hannah Giles was interviewed? Do the young people featured in the special have jobs? How are they financially able to travel and produce videos? And what is James O'Keefe's deal (who knew right wingers had dance moves like that!)? They could have done a whole hour about him alone.


Oran   October 3rd, 2010 10:06 pm ET

Not taking sides? The acorn tapes were totally exposed as a doctored, edited, and totally misleading lie, and the mainstream media barely touched that story. You neo-fascists shouldn't t complain - they are letting you get away blatantly dishonest propaganda... Just be glad that they spend so much time gushing over you and not analyzing and following up on those stories...


Oran   October 3rd, 2010 10:10 pm ET

So apparently honesty is not one of the good Christian values these kids honor so much...l you can lie all you want if it's in the service of your ideology. Is that the lesson this generation of media is teaching us?


alex   October 3rd, 2010 10:27 pm ET

THERE IS A REASON WHY NO ONE CARES ABOUT THE CONSERVATIVE MOVEMENT. FIRST there isnt even one! and 2nd its all motviated by relgion so its againt US. its not right.


journalism?   October 3rd, 2010 10:44 pm ET

So there is a show that show the left in a bad light? CNN is in the business of being a left-wing smear propaganda machine? I would think you are not so you are going to do a show on the left-wing radicals also correct?


Gerry   October 3rd, 2010 11:08 pm ET

I applaud anyone who stretches the notion of activism; regardless if I agree with the message or not. But this James Okeefe character is a fruit cake of the highest caliber and no doubt discredits his cause. I found Okeefe to be very distasteful and unprofessional.


kieryn   October 4th, 2010 4:53 am ET

Abbie, I carefully read and thought about your blog before I watched the full-hour piece. I understand and admire your desire to be taken seriously as a reporter, and I suspect your compelling good looks sometimes have hurt as much as they may have helped. I watched the piece twice, in fact, eyes and ears open for bias or distortion. In my opinion, you managed everything with perfect objectivity–especially including the part that drew you, unwillingly, into the story. I could not help grinning from ear to ear at your closing line with James O'Keefe, "It has been a pleasure." We midwestern girls learn early to use our manners as both tools and weapons, and I felt proud of you for that. My daughter, a high school senior, counts you among her heroines and role models; I encourage her admiration, because you honor your values and show your work ethics in all your pieces. And, for the record, your work goes a long way to redeem us blondes.


Jordan   October 4th, 2010 12:11 pm ET

I watched the documentary and as a conservative was terribly disappointed in the behavior of Mr. O'Keefe. Trying to set up some embarrassing, sex-related publicity stunt? Talk about completely out of line. Unfortunately, there are crazies on both sides (Michael Moore comes to mind).

What's this in MR1956's comment about wishing someone had been aborted? What a hateful comment–and in a way admitting that abortion is killing. He/she was literally wishing someone dead.

Also, the mere fact that CNN hasn't covered this side of politics before is the strongest evidence of bias.


HeyZeus   October 4th, 2010 12:14 pm ET

John Sauer,

Sorry but Brown Shirts/Nazi's were Ultra Right wing. Hence their hatred and mistrust of Left wing governments such as the communists and socialists. Come on man, crack a book. Anything to make the comparison of Repubs and the Nazi movement to seem distant I guess.

As far as media bias, I agree CNN has a left lean to it, but no other news channel is a political pulpit as FOX news is. Charlie McCarthy would be proud!


teflon ron   October 4th, 2010 7:39 pm ET

Attack, if people classify the Liberals in America as Communists because a few thousand show up to the Liberal rally doesn't sound fair does it?
ROFL, America the media lies all the time and you know it.


Amber   October 4th, 2010 8:52 pm ET

I just got finished watching the documentary, I watch CNN and Fox News daily, I didn't feel as though you were trying to portray them in a bad light. They did that all on their own. But I would also like to know when CNN plans on making a documentary about left-wing radicals? On the other hand, when is Fox News going to make a documentary on right-wing radicals? Both networks are guilty of being biased. MSNBC is the worst though, doesn't seem like they even try to hide it anymore.


Mike   October 6th, 2010 8:16 pm ET

People on the left and right have far differing ideas on what left and right actually are, and so the perception change of each other grossly affects what they see in the media, and leaves nothing in the middle. It becomes more of a my team/your team thing. I probably lean left and have scoffed/chuckled at articles about how liberally biased PBS is, or how "liberal" G.W. was (ha ha, what?) or Bill O'Reilly because he's against capital punishment.. But when they watched the same events, they see it through a different filter, with a different idea of what liberal/conservative actually is, which is the actual problem: perception


JayTay   October 7th, 2010 6:57 pm ET

This was amazing to see on CNN. I have to also admit that I was surprised to see that CNN was airing this show. I watched the part with Lila Rose and was totally inspired / blown away. Congratulations to CNN for airing this program.


HJA   October 8th, 2010 7:43 am ET

I saw the show and there was no doubt these "activists" are only interested in using their "cause" to advance their own careers. Like most of the right wingers it's all about "Me." Show me da money!!!!


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