Busting Through the Media Firestorm: 6 Essential Facts About the Komen Controversy

How many of the rumors are inflated, and how many get at the real heart of why people responded to this decision with so much outrage?

From: AlterNet

N.B.: Yet another example of the value of the first clause of the First Amendment! (“Congress Shall Make No Law Respecting an Establishment of Religion, “)

By: Sarah Seltzer

“The melodramatic tale of the breakup and pseudo-makeup between the Susan G Komen Foundation and Planned Parenthood — and the ensuing media firestorm — simply will not die. Last week, after Komen announced it would end its grants to Planned Parenthood affiliates around the country and promptly spent several days fending off a barrage of criticism, it at last issued an apology and a promise to restore Planned Parenthood’s eligibility for grants.

But the fury at Komen hasn’t ended: it has outlasted the Nevada caucuses, the Superbowl and even Madonna’s halftime performance. And as with any incident that blows up in such a massive way, there are rumors and inflated facts obscuring the kernels of truth, and the important lessons embedded within a narrative which is constantly being added to by embarrassing leaks by insiders and revelatory digging by outsiders.

Komen is not the true champion of women’s health many thought it was. But how many of the rumors and stories are inflated, and how many get at the heart of why women responded to this decision with so much outrage?

Here, we push aside some myths and present the essential facts.

1. Yes, Komen reversed itself, but the exact future of the grants to Planned Parenthood remain unclear.

This is the most important thing to know. It’s true that the new rule that would have excluded Planned Parenthood from Komen grants has been changed. This stipulation previously barred any organization under investigation, but has now been altered so that the investigation must be criminal, not political.

So while Planned Parenthood is now once again “eligible” for grants from Komen, the funding is not yet assured.

As the Washington Post explains, “It did not specifically state that the foundation would fund Planned Parenthood but said that the group would be eligible to apply for future grants.”

There are a few more hurdles on the way back to funding, the article notes — for instance, it might be too late to apply for those Komen grants.

Martha Edmonds, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Central New Mexico, said she thought it was unlikely her group could obtain Komen funding this year because the deadline for applying to the local affiliate has already passed.

“We didn’t end up submitting a grant application for this current cycle because we thought we wouldn’t be eligible,” she said.

Furthermore, in its reversal, Komen didn’t address its second reason for denying funds to PP — the fact that it provides mammogram referrals and initial screenings, not actual mammograms.

Again, from the Washington Post:

Nonetheless, because Komen officials have not backed away from their earlier talk of refocusing funding on groups that directly provide mammograms and other breast screenings, [Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life] said she is hopeful that the ultimate result will be that the foundation ceases future funding of Planned Parenthood.

So while the PR and initial fundraising victory was decisively Planned Parenthood’s, the story of this partnership is not necessarily written in stone, and it doesn’t necessarily have a happy ending.

2. The deeper problems with Komen include a lack of checks and balances and a strong connection to Republican politics.

Komen Foundation CEO Nancy Brinker, a well-known Republican donor who traded favors with George W. Bush, is both the chair of the Komen board and its president, while her son and several close friends serve on the board. “A review of the board of directors of Komen…reveals that Brinker has the likely votes to control board decisions at any given time, and that those votes are either Republican stalwarts or individuals personally loyal to her,” Buzzflash reports. In addition, Komen is one of many nonprofit giants with fairly high executive compensation (read all about it here (PDF).

Still, those who study the nonprofit world are less concerned with the more than comfortable salaries at Komen, and more with how the organization is structured. Lori Stahl at “She the People” spoke to experts:

James Abruzzo, a management and global business instructor at Rutgers Business School, said the picture that emerges from the Komen documents does raise several concerns, however.

First, he said, Brinker’s duals roles at Komen may hobble the decision-making process. “When you have a chairman who’s also the president, you have a lack of checks and balances,’’ Abruzzo said. “The founder generally populates the board with friends and associates.’’

And that’s where the problems come in.

3. Right-wing Republicans Karen Handel and Ari Fleischer both had direct influences on this decision that was so fateful for Komen’s brand.

Karen Handel, a Tea Party type who came on board as a Senior VP recently at Komen, has been the subject of much speculation about her link with this policy, despite repeated (and continued) denials from the company, and leaks which made it clear those denials were false.

At the Huffington Post, Laura Bassett received a particularly damning leak from within the organization:

Karen Handel was the prime instigator of this effort, and she herself personally came up with investigation criteria,” the source, who requested anonymity for professional reasons, told HuffPost. “She said, ‘If we just say it’s about investigations, we can defund Planned Parenthood and no one can blame us for being political.'”

Emails between Komen leadership on the day the Planned Parenthood decision was announced, which were reviewed by HuffPost under the condition they not be published, confirm the source’s description of Handel’s sole “authority” in crafting and implementing the Planned Parenthood policy.

Meanwhile, another influential right-winger was involved in this catastrophic moment for the company, reports AdAge: “Former George W. Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer, who had previously been brought in by Komen to assist with an executive search for a senior VP-communications, provided informal advice. “When Nancy called me, I gave her my two cents worth,” he said via email. ”

These kinds of facts, as well as the stories of the Brinkers’ history as big Bush donors, have torn the “pink curtain” off of Komen, revealing it to be far less neutral than its bland facade would seem.

4. Komen has led lobbying efforts against common-sense healthcare bills for years–even those that would help women.

In 2009, activists trained their ire on Komen because it retained Hadassah Lieberman–just has her husband turned against the public option in the health care reform fight. They cited her own ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

Komen has had a long history of lobbying for the wrong things–a shoddy Patients’ Bill of Rights, among others– and has stood in the way of research into environmental causes of cancer.

And this history is well documented. Back in 2002, AlterNet ran a story from Southern Exposure by Mary Ann Swissler that remains one of the most comprehensive exposés of the nonprofit giant’s extensive insider Beltway lobbying and corporate ties–ties that run much deeper than sponsorships by yogurt and soda corporations.

An example from the article:

It’s no accident the Komen side favors the Republicans. A July 12, 2001 agreement between the President and five companies to run a Medicare prescription discount card program for Medicare patients, included a company called Caremark Rx where Nancy Brinker was on the board of directors, according to financial records. Another vendor, Merck-Medco, is one of the many drug companies found in the Komen investment portfolio. (Nancy Brinker resigned all board seats, including Komen, when she was appointed). If approved, the discount cards would provide up to a 10 percent discount on brand-name drugs.

The entire story is loaded with these not-so-coincidental disclosures, showing the link between the Brinkers, their circles, and legislation they lobbied for–legislation that left poor women and the environment frequently in the lurch, and aided GOP Politicians and big corporations. Swissler profiles a small group of activists outmaneuvered by Komen and its huge feel-good races:

The races, they say, merely focus women on finding a medical cure for breast cancer, and away from environmental conditions causing it, the problems of the uninsured, and political influence of corporations over the average patient.

5. While the PR win of this brouhaha belongs to Planned Parenthood, the backlash has brought up some unfortunate myths — including the myth of abortion having a medical link to cancer.

There is no known link between abortion and breast cancer. The false ideas that has circulated both leading up to and in the wake of this decision by Komen, most notably by Rick Santorum (of course).

From the American Cancer Society, hardly a bastion of liberalism: “At this time, the scientific evidence does not support the notion that abortion of any kind raises the risk of breast cancer or any other type of cancer.” Every major study supports this.

In fact, before Komen took an anti-choice turn — Nancy Brinker herself called rumors of this link an “old wives tale” in her memoir, in the very same section where she mounts a vigorous defense of the exact same Planned Parenthood grants she was prepared to end last week (after an attack by the religious-run Curves fitness centers):

“The grants in question supplied breast health counseling, screening, and treatment to rural women, poor women, Native American women, many women of color who were underserved–if served at all–in areas where Planned Parenthood facilities were often the only infrastructure available. Though it meant losing corporate money from Curves, we were not about to turn our backs on these women.”

In the subsequent pages, Brinker dismisses the “ridiculous old wives’ tale that abortion causes breast cancer.”

So why, Jodi Jacobsen of RH reality Check asks, did Komen add Jane Abraham, of the anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List (SBA) to their board? “Abraham is also closely affiliated with The Nurturing Network, a global network of crisis pregnancy centers,” Jacobsen writes, adding “Groups like Nuturing Network are the nucleus of lies about abortion and breast cancer. ”

6. The backlash against Komen was a widespread grassoots revolt, not a conspiracy by the “liberal media” (sorry, Ross Douthat):

Ross Douthat, unsurprisingly, uses his column space to bemoan what he claims is a media erasure of American “pro-life” voices — but he misses the story that many American women were furious at the decision regardless of their feelings on abortions. Viral videos and stories of women began to pop up talking about how their cancer didn’t give a crap about who was in office or who was “pro-life”–and therefore their cancer organization shouldn’t either.

Deanna Zandt, who created the Planned Parenthood Saved Me tumblr, has a post explaining who was coming to her site, which was gathering so much steam it hit the mainstream media: “You might think our crazy traffic came from those media mentions. Shockingly, no — most of the hits came before the major media. So, to repeat: telling and sharing our stories matters,” she writes.

The media saw this grassroots outrage growing on one hand — and then got crickets, or contradictory information from within Komen. And thus, a narrative was born.

Sarah Seltzer is an associate editor at AlterNet and a freelance writer based in New York City. Her work has been published at the Nation, the Christian Science Monitor, Jezebel and the Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter at @fellowette and find her work atsarahmseltzer.com.

Emphasis Mine


One thought on “Busting Through the Media Firestorm: 6 Essential Facts About the Komen Controversy

  1. REALITY!! And A Fix for Unemployment, Homelessness and Hunger

    In addition to fixing healthcare the right way we need a NewDeal. We need a permanent and updated FDR WPA (Works Progress Administration). A Full employment act requiring the government to provide a job for everyone able to work that wants to work at a living wage or better. At safe, meaningful work where they live. Guaranteed by the US government. With free or very affordable excellent healthcare and free or very affordable education and training for advancement or just personal enrichment.

    ( http://my.firedoglake.com/iflizwerequeen/2011/05/16/how-about-a-little-truth-about-what-the-majority-want-for-health-care/ )

    ( Gov. Peter Shumlin: Real Healthcare reform — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yFUbkVCsZ4 )

    ( Health Care Budget Deficit Calculator — http://www.cepr.net/calculators/hc/hc-calculator.html )

    ( Briefing: Dean Baker on Boosting the Economy by Saving Healthcare http://t.co/fmVz8nM )


    As you all know. Had congress passed a single-payer or government-run robust Public Option CHOICE! available to everyone on day one, our economy and jobs would have taken off like a rocket. And still will. Single-payer would be best. But a government-run robust Public Option CHOICE! that can lead to a single-payer system is the least you can accept. It’s not about competing with for-profit healthcare and for-profit health insurance. It’s about replacing it with Universal Healthcare Assurance. Everyone knows this now.

    The message from the midterm elections was clear. The American people want real healthcare reform. They want that individual mandate requiring them to buy private health insurance abolished. And they want a government-run robust public option CHOICE! available to everyone on day one. And they want it now.

    They want Drug re-importation, and abolishment, or strong restrictions on patents for biologic and prescription drugs. And government controlled and negotiated drug and medical cost. They want back control of their healthcare system from the Medical Industrial Complex. And they want it NOW!


    For-profit health insurance is extremely unethical, and morally repugnant. It’s as morally repugnant as slavery was. And few if any decent Americans are going to allow them-self to be compelled to support such an unethical and immoral crime against humanity.

    This is a matter of National and Global security. There can be NO MORE EXCUSES.

    Further, we want that corrupt, undemocratic filibuster abolished. Whats the point of an election if one corrupt member of congress can block the will of the people, and any legislation the majority wants. And do it in secret. Give me a break people.

    Also, unemployment healthcare benefits are critically needed. But they should be provided through the Medicare program at cost, less the 65% government premium subsidy provided now to private for profit health insurance.

    Congress should stop wasting hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money on private for profit health insurance subsidies. Subsidies that cost the taxpayer 10x as much or more than Medicare does. Private for profit health insurance plans cost more. But provide dangerous and poorer quality patient care.



    This is what the American people are shouting at you. Both parties have just enough power now to do what the American people want. GET! IT! DONE! NOW!

    If congress does not abolish the individual mandate. And establish a government-run public option CHOICE! before the end of 2011. EVERY! member of congress up for reelection in 2012 will face strong progressive pro public option, and anti-individual mandate replacement candidates.

    Strong progressive pro “PUBLIC OPTION” CHOICE! and anti-individual mandate volunteer candidates should begin now. And start the process of replacing any and all members of congress that obstruct, or fail to add a government-run robust PUBLIC OPTION CHOICE! before the end of 2011.

    We need two or three very strong progressive volunteer candidates for every member of congress that will be up for reelection in 2012. You should be fully prepared to politically EVISCERATE EVERY INCUMBENT that fails or obstructs “THE PUBLIC OPTION”. And you should be willing to step aside and support the strongest pro “PUBLIC OPTION” candidate if the need arises.

    ASSUME CONGRESS WILL FAIL and SELLOUT again. So start preparing now to CUT THEIR POLITICAL THROATS. You can always step aside if they succeed. But only if they succeed. We didn’t have much time to prepare before these past midterm elections. So the American people had to use a political shotgun approach. But by 2012 you will have a scalpel.

    Congress could have passed a robust government-run public option during it’s lame duck session. They knew what the American people wanted. They already had several bills on record. And the house had already passed a public option. Departing members could have left with a truly great accomplishment. And the rest of you could have solidified your job before the 2012 elections.

    President Obama, you promised the American people a strong public option available to everyone. And the American people overwhelmingly supported you for it. Maybe it just wasn’t possible before. But it is now.

    Knock heads. Threaten people. Or do whatever you have to. We will support you. But get us that robust public option CHOICE! available to everyone on day one before the end of 2011. Or We The People Of The United States will make the past midterm election look like a cake walk in 2012. And it will include you.

    We still have a healthcare crisis in America. With hundreds of thousands dieing needlessly every year in America. And a for profit medical industrial complex that threatens the security and health of the entire world. They have already attacked the world with H1N1 killing thousands, and injuring millions. And more attacks are planned for profit, and to feed their greed.

    Spread the word people.

    Progressives, prepare the American peoples scalpels. It’s time to remove some politically diseased tissues.

    God Bless You my fellow human beings. I’m proud to be one of you. You did good.

    See you on the battle field.


    jacksmith – WorkingClass 🙂


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