Vitae Caring Foundation vs. KUOW
March 16, 2012
Nearly a year ago public radio station KUOW in Seattle ran a story about the controversy surrounding limited service pregnancy centers and whether their advertising is misleading.
The KUOW story begins by focusing on billboards that have been placed advocating for a website, YourOptions.com, aimed at giving pregnant women alternatives to abortion. "But some say the billboards are misleading," the story asserts.
KUOW reporter Meghan Walker then interviews Kristen Glundberg-Prossor, the director of Planned Parenthood in Seattle, at the Planned Parenthood office. There the two of them are looking up YourOptions.com on Ms. Glundberg-Prossor's computer where she says, "This does not really seem to have all the options. If abortion is one of the options, let me look here and see."
Glundberg-Prosser continues to say, "When we're looking at this website we just want them to give full disclosure and be up front about what kind of information they're going to provide."
Ms. Walker's story then continues:
"The website was created by the Vitae Foundation, a religious group aimed at reducing abortion rates. YourOptions.com refers pregnant women to Care Net. That's a national chain that provides some pregnancy services. But Glundberg-Prossor says Care Net's pro-life agenda isn't as clear as it should be in their advertising."
The story also quotes Dr. Jeff Smith, who works with Life Choices, an Eastern Washington limited-services pregnancy center.
Nevertheless, there were several problems with this story according to Deborah L. Stokes, chief operating officer of Vitae.
First and foremost, Ms. Walker never contacted the Vitae Foundation for comment.
Second, the YourOptions.com website does list abortion as an option.
Finally, the Vitae Foundation says it is an educational, not-for-profit organization, not a religious one.
Ms. Stokes complained to KUOW, and six days later Ms. Walker responded. In her response, she said, "I recognize I could have taken an extra step to contact you for my story."
However, in terms of the two other complaints, Ms. Walker said she based her conclusion that the organization is religious because of a declaration on the website that states: "Our inter-denominational organization subscribes to the belief that life is ordained by God, with an inalienable right to be protected. This conviction is at the heart of everything Vitae embarks upon as an organization."
Ms. Walker said that description, as well as a featured quote by Sarah Palin, "gives the reader clues that your organization is indeed religiously founded."
Finally, Ms. Walker said the story never explicitly says "your website fails to address abortion."
"I regret not contacting your organization for this story," Ms. Walker wrote. "However, I think our characterization of the Vitae Foundation is accurate and the story presents both arguments to the question of transparency in advertising."
The Vitae Foundation then asked KUOW to appoint an ombudsman to investigate its complaint. However, KUOW does not employ an ombudsman, and I had not yet been hired by CPB to investigate complaints such as this. Vitae also asked KUOW to make an on-air correction. Instead, KUOW did issue an addendum to the story that was posted on its website. As part of that correction, KUOW wrote, "The Vitae Foundation does list abortion as an option on its website."
But while KUOW does not have an ombudsman, the state of Washington does have something that no other state now has: a news council. The idea of a news council actually stemmed from the 1942 Hutchins Commission report, which recommended the establishment of a new and independent agency to appraise the performance of the press. A National News Council was established in 1973 and lasted until 1984.
Minnesota created the first state news council in 1971; it was made up of 24 members—half from the media and half from the public. That news council closed last year.
The Washington News Council was patterned after the one in Minnesota and established in 1998. Half of the council members are current or former media professionals and half are from other professions. Those members share a belief that "fair, accurate and balanced news media are vital to our democracy."
The Council also supports transparency, accountability and openness in media organizations and among individual journalists.
The website for the Washington News Council is http://wanewscouncil.org/
The Vitae Foundation has filed a formal complaint against KUOW, and a hearing is scheduled for March 31. Former Washington State Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerry Alexander will be presiding at the hearing.
Detailed information about the hearing that includes both sides can be found at
I am looking forward to the hearing and to see how an organization like the Washington News Council works. Perhaps it could become a model for those upset with public media and what they perceive as a lack of objectivity and balance. I am also prepared to weigh in on this complaint, but I wish to see how the news council resolves this case first.
I will revisit this incident following the council's decision.