HSUS vs. Atlanta WSB TV Bad Press

by Mary Haight on May 28, 2009

 
WSB-TV
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I had several calls when the alleged HSUS fundraising scandal was aired by one station in Georgia, bringing this WSB-TV report to my attention, but the content gave me pause, so I did not pick up what has amounted to an unsupported diatribe against HSUS. 

I have and will continue to report and speak out against poorly conceived legislation which has a known history of failure (Mandatory Spay Neuter, Breed Specific Legislation, and Dangerous Dog  Act) and is contrary to animal welfare, no matter what group or agency is backing it.  But I also follow a fairness doctrine.  I don’t see any positive results from some things HSUS is backing, and say so, and they also have solid programs that make a significant difference for animals lives, and I report on those concerning dogs and cats.

Just because bloggers do not have the training, expertise, or are not required to follow ”the rules of the road” of journalists, does not, to my mind, make us any less responsible for attempting to present a fair representation of what is true.  Often, answers are only a phone call away. 

That said, I called HSUS late last Wednesday for their side of the story, since the video report had disappeared from YouTube, having been pulled for ”copyright” and along with it, the HSUS response.  On late Friday afternoon before the holiday, I got a 1400 plus word response from HSUS.  Rather than glean bits and pieces from this, I think it stands on its own as an effective rebuttal. You can read it  for yourself, in its entirety, and in the interest of transparency(there’s more to the story after this quote–a “prize” if you will:):

“WSB-TV in Atlanta has issued a correction and removed from its Web site a regrettable report regarding The Humane Society of the United States. Sloppily reported, inaccurate in its facts, and based on a faulty premise, this report should never have aired in the first place. But publishing a factual correction on its Web site and  removing the report itself from further circulation are important steps in minimizing damage to the reputation of a charity rated four stars, the highest rating possible, by Charity Navigator and one that has a demonstrated an unmatched record of protecting animals from cruelty.

This story emerged straight out of the playbook of the deceptively named Center for Consumer Freedom, a front-group for tobacco, alcohol and agribusiness interests. David Martosko, who was quoted in the story, has been peddling his poisonous misinformation about us around the nation, as he does with other public interest groups. Regrettably, WSB-TV has been the only reputable news organization to swallow his bait. He has since tried to spread this misinformation under WSB-TV’s banner as widely as possible.

Before accepting his propaganda at face value, reporters should have determined that Martosko is a hired gun, and nothing more. In a recent radio interview, he said this, “You can either lose pretty or win ugly” when speaking of his efforts to stop us. Unfortunately, WSB-TV allowed itself to be used to foster Martosko’s smears.

Had WSB-TV reporters checked, they would have quickly discovered that CCF’s stock-in-trade involves taking aim at organizations that promote food safety, public health or animal welfare.

The organization started with a $600,000 grant from tobacco giant Philip Morris. CCF has attacked the National Cancer Institute, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for their anti-drunk driving and public health campaigns. More recently, it has attacked organizations that are fighting childhood obesity. CCF does not disclose its contributors in order to conceal the corporations that pay for these misguided attacks on public interest organizations.

CCF has been condemned by the editorial boards of USA Today and the Washington Post for misleading the public. ABC News and CBS’s 60 Minutes have also exposed the organization as a front group, and CCF has been legally compelled to recant past false statements they made about us. That’s what reputable news organizations find when they look into CCF—more of a scam, than a source.

CCF and its corporate funders do not like The HSUS’ offensives against factory farming, puppy mills, the exotic pet trade, Canada’s seal slaughter, commercial whaling and other large-scale cruelties. The group attacks The HSUS precisely because we are effective.

Among the outrageous falsehoods conveyed in this story concerned The HSUS’ response to Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana. The HSUS was recognized nationwide for its enormous deployment in response to the crisis created by Katrina. Since Sept. 1, 2005, The HSUS has committed or spent more than $34 million on general disaster relief and recovery efforts in the Gulf Coast states, the enhancement of its disaster response capacities, and the transformation of public policy concerning animals in disaster. The most recent accounting is available to the public on our Web site. Simple fact checking would have turned up this information, as would a simple phone call to us about CCF’s false claims.

 On Monday night, the station posted this on its website: 

We have a clarification to make about our story on the Humane Society of the United States. WSB-TV reported that HSUS spent almost $7 million for victims of Hurricane Katrina. HSUS says all $34 million of the funds raised in the wake of Katrina are tracked on its web site in a detailed report. If you would like to see their (sic) entire report, CLICK HERE.

The line of argument that we did not spend money properly was originally promoted by Louisiana cockfighters, CCF, and other political opponents of ours, and never had a basis in fact. These groups exhibited little knowledge of our actual spending practices—they just did not like the level of public support and media attention we received during the Katrina crisis. The HSUS and state authorities in Louisiana and Mississippi work very closely on disaster planning and response and we continue to fund a range of projects to help shelters, vet schools, and other institutions in the Gulf Coast. The HSUS is the lead disaster response agency for animals in the nation. Also wholly false was WSB-TV’s report that most of HSUS spending is for lobbying. In accordance with the law, we spend only a small percentage of our resources on lobbying. Since the station’s account quoted from our annual report, one might expect a responsible journalist to read a few pages deeper to find the truth. The amount spent on lobbying by The HSUS in 2007: less than 5 percent. The dollar figures are in black and white on our own Web site, available publicly in our IRS filings. Rarely is journalism so breathtakingly wrong when the facts so easily at hand.

 Besides factual errors, the entire tenor of the WSB-TV report was a gross distortion. Reporters attended a single meeting organized in Georgia as a “Lobby Day at the State Capitol.” Apparently from this, they came to the conclusion that The HSUS does nothing but lobbying. Make no mistake, we hold many other events: disaster preparedness training, animal sheltering, law enforcement training, seminars on the connection between animal cruelty and domestic violence, and more.

 The faulty reasoning behind the WSB-TV story was that the only valid use of donations for animal protection work is local sheltering. This reflects a woefully naïve understanding of animal protection. People donate to The HSUS for other charitable purposes, including innovative programs that take place Atlanta and in cities across America. For instance, The HSUS has an animal-fighting hotline for Georgia residents to report dogfighting activity and we offer up to $5,000 for information leading to arrests and convictions in dogfighting cases. We’ve paid rewards and provided information to law enforcement agencies resulting in seven dogfighting busts in Georgia alone. We also run a community-based program that reaches young people on the streets of Atlanta to make sure they don’t get involved in dogfighting in the first place.

 The HSUS has invested millions of dollars in local spay and neuter programs, and is about to launch a national public service campaign encouraging people to adopt dogs and cats from their local animal shelters. We gave more than $6 million in direct grants to those organizations in 2007 alone, and provide extensive ongoing training, evaluations and other support. The HSUS also operates a network of animal care centers, provides rural veterinary services throughout the country, and offers a range of other hands-on programs. In 2008, we rescued and/or cared for 70,460 animals. We also work with law enforcement agencies to rescue animals from dogfights, puppy mills and other large-scale cruelties. In 2007, 84 percent of our costs were spent on animal-protection programs.

 If this was not enough, CCF’s mouthpiece Martasko made the reckless and false claim that The HSUS pays “enormous salaries.”  He knows – and WSB-TV should have found out – that salaries paid to employees of The HSUS are lower than comparable sized organization. The HSUS’s President and CEO, for instance, is paid less than his counterparts at any comparably sized organization in the U.S. And there are much smaller humane organizations – some with only one-tenth the budget of The HSUS – who pay their top executive more than our CEO.

CCF’s online hit squad has tried to ratchet up the fever, even suggesting that The HSUS provides a “mansion” for its CEO.  That’s pure bunk – just like most everything from these paid shills. The HSUS does not provide any housing for its executives. Period.

 The plain fact is that CCF exists for one reason. Its backers cannot step into the sunlight and defend the cruelty they inflict on animals for the sake of profit margins. Its backers are afraid to stand in the open and debate the humane treatment of animals. They cannot show their faces because their customers will run from them. So they hire hate mongers like those at CCF to try and change the subject. So let’s be clear. We operate in the sunshine of transparency. They hide in the shadows. We speak for animals and the humane treatment of animals. They hope to distract Americans from the real point. We thank you for your help in proving them wrong for the sake of animals. Please visit our Web site to find out more or get involved in our work.”

Now don’t ask me how he does it, but John Woestendiek over at Ohmidog has the original video that, once taken down from public view so HSUS wouldn’t sue WSB-TV, became kindling for the conspiracy theorist’s bonfire that burned through internet forums and chat rooms with one hellacious heat.  When the fire seemed to die down, it was then further fed by a transcript of the video.   Gina Spadafori over at Pet Connection adds yet another dimension to this story with who’s behind what campaign using this story to push fundraising for their own cause, and has first person knowledge of them.

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2 comments
Leighanne
Leighanne

Where did Gina Spadafori's story go? The link, "story", now takes you directly to vetstreet's site, and if you go to her posts, it's gone. She had some compelling info to add!!!

MaryHaight
MaryHaight

You will need to ask VetStreet, although Gina's information was on Pet Connection at that time - it is up to owners and authors what they do with their posts but thanks for the heads up on the bad link.

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  1. [...] seems to have been planted in a local news report by David Martosko of the CCF. The HSUS certainly insists upon this: “This story emerged straight out of the playbook of the deceptively named Center for [...]

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