February 20, 2015 3 Comments
So it seems that Propublica struck a nerve with the Red Cross, especially with its response to Sandy and Isaac , and with misleading fundraising as well.
I’m not overly surprised, in recent times it seems to have become more of a fund-raising organization for the enhancement of the lifestyle of its executives than anything else. That’s sad but hardly unprecedented. I have heard stories going back to Vietnam regarding the uncooperativeness of the red Cross regarding provide authorization of emergency leave for soldiers. Personally I have for many years refused to donate to the Red Cross, preferring such organizations as the Salvation Army.
In any case, here’s the main heads of the controversy.
1. Emergency response vehicles diverted for PR purposes
Red Cross complaint (pg. 1):
The charity takes issue with our reporting that executives diverted vehicles for public relations purposes. In particular, the Red Cross asserts that NPR’s version of the story erroneously refers to multiple “incidents” where 40 percent of available emergency response vehicles were used for press conferences. The Red Cross also says our reporting relied on a “lone source.” It both denies that any emergency vehicles were diverted away from providing relief and says that the 40 percent figure is wrong.
The Red Cross’ claim that we referred to multiple “incidents” where 40 percent of vehicles were diverted is based on its use of a misleading, truncated quotation.
NPR’s transcript makes clear the word “incidents” refers to a variety of episodes, not just the diversion of trucks:
Our reporting found incidents where the charity sent as many as 40 percent of its emergency vehicles to press conferences instead of into the field, where it failed to show up as promised to open shelters, allowed sex offenders to hang out in a shelter’s play area. […]
2. Hurricane Isaac volunteers sent where they weren’t needed
Red Cross complaint (pg. 3):
The charity disputes our reporting that the vast majority of Red Cross responders deployed in advance of Hurricane Isaac in 2012 were stationed in Tampa, Florida – site of the Republican National Convention — even after it became clear the storm would not hit there.
“Again, this is the opinion of one Red Cross worker, unsubstantiated by the facts,” the Red Cross writes.
While the Red Cross insists Tampa was under threat, the National Hurricane Center disagrees. As of Friday, Aug. 24, 2012, which was five days before landfall, Tampa was not under a hurricane threat or warning.
Five days out “it was clear the center of the storm would pass well to the west of Tampa,” Dennis Feltgen of the National Hurricane Center told us.
During the period that the Red Cross was stationing around 500 people in Tampa, a hurricane watch was under way for Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. Multiple people, including Red Cross volunteers and staffers, told ProPublica and NPR that the organization had difficulty moving people out of Tampa. […]
3. Failures in Bergen County, New Jersey
Red Cross complaint (pg. 4):
The charity takes issue with our reporting that the Red Cross’ response to Sandy was particularly inadequate in Bergen County, New Jersey. The Red Cross says we ignored “positive comments about the Red Cross while pretending only negative comments exist.”
The Red Cross is not disputing the fact at the center of our reference to Bergen County: That the charity did not show up at the county’s Emergency Operations Center. “They were the only major player not there,” police lieutenant and Bergen County Emergency Management Coordinator Matthew Tiedemann told us. […]
4. Questioning the standing of a key source
Red Cross complaint (pg. 5):
The charity says “much of the criticism” in our stories came from one source, whose role we inflated.
5. The Red Cross wasted large amounts of food
Red Cross complaint (pg. 6):
The charity says our reference to the Red Cross wasting food was based on a single Red Cross responder, specifically Richard Rieckenberg.
Our story noted that Rieckenberg estimated that the Red Cross wasted 30 percent of its food in the early days after Sandy — and we also noted the Red Cross disputed the figure. [..]
Red Cross complaint (pg. 6):
The charity disputes our reporting that the Red Cross sent around empty trucks after Hurricane Isaac just to be seen. In particular, the Red Cross writes, “There is no evidence to support this other than the recollection, again, of Rick Rieckenberg.”
The Red Cross is wrong. […]
8. Refusing to work with Occupy Sandy
Red Cross complaint (pg. 8):
The charity denies our reporting that after Sandy Red Cross executives told staffers not to work with the well-regarded group Occupy Sandy out of concern over the connections to the Occupy Wall Street protest movement.
Our story about the Red Cross and Occupy Sandy is clear: In the early period after the storm multiple Red Cross workers were told by superiors not to work with Occupy Sandy. […]
9. Senator probes Red Cross finances
Red Cross complaint (pg. 9):
The charity objects to various characterizations of Sen. Charles Grassley’s inquiries into its finances. They call our headline “hyper-extended.”
The Red Cross is not alleging a factual error. Following our story on CEO Gail McGovern misstating how donor dollars are spent on services and overhead, Grassley announced: “The public’s expectation for an important, well-known organization like the Red Cross is complete, accurate fundraising and spending information […]
10. Difficulty of finding sources who praised the Red Cross
Red Cross complaint (pg. 10):
The charity disputes a comment by one of us on a Reddit chat that it was difficult to find sources who had positive things to say about the Red Cross’ response to Isaac and Sandy. The charity also complains that we did not include a survey it provided of those who received Red Cross help after Sandy.
Our answer on our Reddit chat was: We “interviewed dozens of people, including many Red Cross officials and volunteers, storm victims, and government officials. It was very difficult to find sources with positive things to say about the Red Cross’ responses to Sandy and Isaac. More importantly, multiple sources confirmed and fleshed out the Red Cross’ own conclusions from its internal assessments.”[…]
There is quite a lot more detail at the sourcelink, here: Red Cross Demands Corrections to Our ‘Misleading’ Coverage. Here’s Our Response – ProPublica.
I’ll simply note that I have always found Pro Publica to be a reliable investigatory organization.