Saturday, February 4, 2012

How I helped create the myth of the Flip-Flopping Charity

A line from a historical novel about Lincoln — was it William Safire’s Emancipation? — sticks in my head: “A lie will run from Georgia to Maine while the truth is still putting its boots on.”  Twitter simply makes the process faster.

A couple of days ago, I joined with a bunch of other people in spreading the news that Susan G. Komen for the Cure had “kicked Planned Parenthood to the curb”.  I tweeted it; I posted it on my Facebook page; I did all but hire a plane to drop flyers on the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex (no money).

Meanwhile, Planned Barrenhood was ramping up the propaganda machine.  The story which David McCrary of AP broke was, according to Elizabeth Scalia, actually a leak by PB “in order to sic their buddies in the senate and in the media on Komen.”  And what followed was a blanket party on a national scale — a shameless, hysteria-driven, mob-style beatdown.  (“Nice little charity you’ve got there,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution scathingly remarked.  “Shame if anything happened to it.)

Then, yesterday, SGK surrendered.  Immediately, most of the people who had been singing their praises in blogs and Twitter feeds and numerous other outlets started howling. (“Cowards,” sneered Patrick Archbold in one tweet, and wrote in his National Catholic Register post, “This is one of the most politically craven public acts I have ever seen.”)  People who had donated to SGK in response — over $1 million in 24 hours — now started pulling their donations away, like Mollie at GetReligion.

Nobody got it right in the beginning, so why should we have gotten it right in the end?

Let’s step back a few days, to SGK’s original announcement:

At Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the women we serve are our highest priority in everything we do.  Last year, we invested $98 million in community health programs, which included 700,000 mammograms. Additionally, we began an initiative to further strengthen our grants program to be even more outcomes-driven and to allow for even greater investments in programs that directly serve women.  We also implemented more stringent eligibility and performance criteria to support these strategies.  While it is regrettable when changes in priorities and policies affect any of our grantees, such as a longstanding partner like Planned Parenthood, we must continue to evolve to best meet the needs of the women we serve and most fully advance our mission.
It is critical to underscore that the women we serve in communities remain our priority.  We are working directly with Komen Affiliates to ensure there is no interruption or gaps in services for women who need breast health screening and services.

No hint of investigations here.  But when the AP released the story, it included this paragraph:

Komen spokeswoman Leslie Aun said the cutoff results from the charity’s newly adopted criteria barring grants to organizations that are under investigation by local, state or federal authorities. According to Komen, this applies to Planned Parenthood because it’s the focus of an inquiry launched by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., seeking to determine whether public money was improperly spent on abortions.

This is what happens when your PR flack goes off-script.  While SGK did create a new rule about organizations under investigation, which their “cave-in response” promises will be tightened “to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political”, this was not their prime motivation.

Much of the controversy revolved around a confusion — perhaps deliberate — over mammograms and screenings.  They’re not the same thing.  Mammography is performed with machines, usually low-energy X-rays although they can also be done with ultrasound, positron-emission and magnetic resonance imaging.  Most PB clinics aren’t set up for mammography; instead, they perform clinical breast exams (which differ from home breast exams in that a doctor or nurse is the one feeling your breast, not you), and refer patients with suspicious lumps to other clinics with the necessary equipment.

Komen was aware that PB clinics don’t do mammograms.  However, they offered certain clinics “pass through” grants, which they would use to reimburse the medical centers that actually performed the mammograms.  SGK’s decision was to re-direct their grants to the medical centers themselves, which requires less in the way of monitoring and auditing and is more fiscally responsible. 

However, three PB clinics were still in the pipeline for grants, and funding for current grants had not been shut off.  The three clinics in question are the only providers of screenings  in their areas; according to the AP, Komen has paid for “just 170,000” of PB’s 4 million screenings in the last five years.  (Yet within 48 hours of the news breaking, various donors rich and poor were practically shoveling money at PB — over $3 million as of this writing — to replace funds they hadn’t lost yet!)

 “I’ve never seen anything catch fire like this,” Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards said on a Friday conference call. “Today it sends an important message about these bullying kinds of tactics. [Yeah, that they work.] It sends a really important message that women are willing to stand up for women and women’s health.”

What it has shown to many people is that Planned Barrenhood is owned, operated and supported by thugs.  But we on the pro-life side wouldn’t feel so betrayed or let down had we stopped to understand the original Komen announcement in the first place.  We would have realized that Komen hadn’t stopped funding PB completely, and that the door was still potentially open for them to qualify for new grants.  Yes, PR Flack Aun helped us along with her impromptu embroidery of the news release.  Yet our hatred for Margaret Sanger’s monstrous legacy has us looking for victories in the least likely places.

So from here on out, I’m going back to my old policy of waiting a couple of days on an issue before I open my yap about it.  And I’ve learned my big lesson:

Think before you tweet.

Update: February 4, 2012 5:24 pm
The Tennessean (A Gannett Company — they're the ones that publish The McPaper) just announced that two Tennessee Planned Barrenhood groups are now suing the Volunteer State for having cut $150,000 in grant money to them "based solely on an aversion to abortion."  Clearly now they're flexing their muscles; having beat Komen down, now they're tackling a state.  This next year is going to be very interesting, if you think of the old Chinese curse ....