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Undercover Investigative Journalism

James A. Watkins is an entrepreneur, musician, and a writer with four non-fiction books and hundreds of magazine articles read by millions.

Nellie Bly

Nellie Bly

Undercover Reporters

Undercover investigative journalism involves deception. That naturally makes it controversial. Is it morally right to deceive someone to expose their crimes?

It is not like you could approach an abortion mill and say, “I’ve heard you sell baby heads. Can I get you on video bragging about it so I can upload it onto the Internet and ruin your career?” Cloak and dagger are required.

Food critics may engage in stealth. Companies hire mystery shoppers. Governments have used them to expose unlawful discrimination by landlords or bankers.

Spies conceal who they are and their intentions. Secret agents are famed for honey traps and pillow talk. Police departments have long employed undercover officers and wired informants to infiltrate criminal enterprises.

The hit television show Cheaters uses hidden cameras to prove adultery, as detective agencies utilize 'sexy decoys' to entrap husbands into infidelity.

Upton Sinclair

Upton Sinclair


Undercover reporters were once known as muckrakers. Historians consider the first of them to be Julius Chambers. In 1872, he pretended to be insane to gain admission to the Bloomingdale Asylum in Manhattan. The book A Mad World and Its Inhabitants reveals the inside story of that institution, which led to the release of people who were not mentally impaired, a reorganization of the facility, and new lunacy legislation.

Nellie Bly became far more famous in 1887 with her book Ten Days in a Mad-House. She had also faked madness to unmask the horrible treatment of patients at the Manhattan Women's Lunatic Asylum. She first fooled several doctors who pronounced her "undoubtedly insane," "a hopeless case," and "positively demented." Bly exposed neglect, brutality, filthy food, dirty drinking water, and freezing cells in the rat-infested hospital.

The granddaddy of muckrakers was Upton Sinclair, who created a sensation with his book The Jungle in 1906. Sinclair worked undercover in a Chicago meatpacking plant for seven weeks. I will spare you the sickening details of what he found. Suffice it to say; his book led to the creation of the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act.

Mirage Tavern in Chicago

Mirage Tavern in Chicago

Muckraking 1971-2021

In 1971, Life magazine sent undercover reporters armed with a hidden tape recorder and hidden camera to the home of A. A. Dietemann. A disabled veteran, Dietemann had gained a reputation as a healer using natural herbs and minerals. The reporters pretended to be patients. The resultant magazine article led to the prosecution of Dietemann for practicing medicine without a license. He, in turn, sued and won, being awarded $1000 for invasion of privacy because "a person's home is an area that an ordinary person would expect to be protected from undercover media.”

In Chicago, undercover videos have proven widespread election fraud, unsanitary conditions in abortion clinics, and abuse of dementia patients in nursing homes. The Chicago Sun-Times bought a bar in 1977 to launch an undercover investigation of corruption by city and state inspectors. They used hidden cameras to catch officials on tape demanding and accepting bribes to overlook blatant and egregious code violations. The resulting 25-part story almost won the Pulitzer Prize. The Pulitzer committee decided it would be a bad precedent to reward undercover reporting since it involves deception. In response to the story, one-third of Chicago's electrical inspectors were fired, and the State of Illinois created a corruption division named the Mirage Audit Unit.

Operation Abscam was a massive scandal around 1980. It marked the first time in history that Americans could see elected officials taking bribes recorded by hidden cameras. Agents of the FBI had pretended to be millionaire Arab sheiks in the sting, offering $50,000-$100,000 for immigration rights, building permits, and gambling licenses. Thirty-one politicians were convicted, including seven members of Congress.

In 1992, the ABC program Primetime Live featured an undercover expose’ of a Food Lion grocery store selling cosmetically doctored meat well past its expiration date. Two ABC reporters had gone to work there wearing wigs equipped with secret cameras. Food Lion sued ABC and won $5.5 million, reduced on appeal to $316,000, reduced on further appeal to $2.

The Washington Post won a Pulitzer Prize in 2007 for using undercover reporters to expose mistreatment of patients and unsanitary conditions at Walter Reed Veteran's Hospital. New York University law and journalism professor Brooke Kroeger applauded their work as "yet another demonstration of how deception in investigative reporting is not only permissible but a necessary tool regularly exposing wrongdoing that can't be found any other way."

Mercy for Animals routinely uses undercover reporters with hidden video cameras who become employed on farms or in slaughterhouses to reveal cruelty to animals. As a result of their efforts, criminal charges have been filed in several cases. They put one large poultry hatchery out of business in 2012.

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The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation went undercover to show Apple charging $1200 labor for a two-minute repair. The Animal Recovery Mission busted Fairlife Dairy for severely abusing cattle using hidden camcorders. Greenpeace activists went undercover, pretending to be job recruiters, and caught an Exxon-Mobil executive on video bragging about how he could influence legislation with money.

BBC reporter Olivia Davis worked undercover for two months at a hospital for autism and learning disabilities. She filmed with hidden camera patients being psychologically tortured and deliberately injured. Sixteen employees were fired, and the facility closed. The BBC also uncovered a ‘sex for grades’ scandal at universities.

Countless videos have been surreptitiously shot of politicians and wealthy elites dining and partying without masks. At the same time, they forced us to wear them. One sparked outrage in France when broadcast on television.

Lila Rose and her organization Live Action have effectively used secretly filmed videos to expose law-breaking by employees of Planned Parenthood. Among other things, Rose has caught PP covering up rape, aiding in sex trafficking, offering to break abortion term limits, agreeing only to abort a baby if it is female, and accepting donations earmarked specifically to exterminate black babies.

None of the undercover reporters above or their organizations were ever charged with criminal conduct. For that singular distinction, we must turn to David Daleiden.

Lila Rose

Lila Rose

David Daleiden

It is against the law for abortionists to sell baby parts. David Daleiden went undercover and exposed Planned Parenthood (PP) for doing just that in California. However, instead of its employees being arrested, Daleiden was arrested for exposing them and charged with ten felonies!

Daleiden spent two and a half years undercover posing as a purchaser of baby parts. His videos prove that born-alive infants are vivisected while their hearts are still beating for their organs, then illegally sold by Planned Parenthood. Its executives are on tape boasting about the extreme profits they make from selling body parts of aborted babies. One laughed that she would afford a Lamborghini after they close this deal. Another reveals they pack eyes and lungs in Styrofoam coolers to keep them fresh.

His videos provoked congressional investigations and the defunding of Planned Parenthood in many states. PP responded by calling in a favor from its old friend, Kamala Harris, then-Attorney General of California, to whom it had given $81,000. The idea was to smear, punish, and silence Daleiden by having him arrested. In his own words:

“Planned Parenthood specifically instructed Kamala Harris’ office as to what they wanted. Namely, all my video recording footage and equipment were seized. Kamala Harris was happy to put the powers of her office at the service of Planned Parenthood. She personally met with six Planned Parenthood executives two weeks before the raid on my home."

However, this tactic has so far backfired. As the case has proceeded, Planned Parenthood executives have been forced to testify under oath. Not only have they not refuted Daleiden's videos, but they have also verified and amplified what they show.

PP’s Tram Nguyen testified that aborted babies have been delivered alive and then killed so their harvested parts will be fresh. Melissa Farrell of PP testified that she has provided the “products of conception in its entirety.” A PP doctor admitted he sees strong demand for kidneys and livers.

Dr. Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood's National Medical Director, swore she knew about the sale of baby parts, stating, "We've been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I'm not gonna crush that part, I'm gonna basically crush below, I'm gonna crush above, and I'm gonna see if I can get it all intact."

One abortionist declared PP "has been pretty successful" at harvesting intact brains. Another said, “when a fetal brain is able to be harvested, it is because the baby’s head may still be attached to the body after being pulled out of the womb.” And admitted, “StemExpress harvests and transfers unborn children from completely intact abortions.”

StemExpress CEO Cate Dyer confessed that Planned Parenthood sells “a lot of” fully intact aborted babies. Holly O'Donnell told the story of how her boss at PP said to her, "'You want to see something kind of cool? And she just tapped the baby's heart, and it starts beating. And I'm sitting here, and I'm looking at this fetus, and its heart is beating, and I don't know what to think."

We have also learned that the federal government has funded the University of Pittsburg to harvest fresh livers from intact babies delivered alive. The university says it has been "collecting fetal tissue for over ten years, including liver, heart, gonads, legs, brain, genitourinary tissues including kidneys, ureters, and bladders. Infants in the womb, some old enough to be viable, are being aborted alive and killed for organ harvesting, to bring in millions of dollars in taxpayer funding for Pitt and the Planned Parenthood abortion business it supports.”

Former Orange County California District Attorney Tony Rackauckas shut down California's illegal "fetal tissue harvesting" by using Daleiden's videos. The companies Rackauckas investigated admitted guilt and paid $7.8 million in fines. The state has filed a motion that his testimony should be barred from Daleiden's trial. But it is the core of the defense: It is only legal in California to secretly record video if it exposes violent crime. And Daleiden's videos reveal "evidence of infanticide, of partial-birth abortion, of felony battery and the illegal sales of fetal tissues and organs."

The trial is scheduled for April 2022. The State of California has asked the judge to forbid the defense from using the term "baby body parts" in front of the jury. The judge has yet to rule on that as of this writing.

David Daleiden

David Daleiden

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