Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Red Cross Bloodied Again by NPR and Pro Publica

And Another PR Fumble by Charity Run Amok

On tonight's "All Things Considered," NPR ran a devastating report from Laura Sullivan about the apparent mishandling by the American Red Cross of hundreds of millions of dollars donated in the wake of the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

The 19-minute report as as startling for its length as it was for its sweeping indictment of broken promises, lame excuses and a choking bureaucracy that swallowed up too many donations. It's a compelling listen that will make you think twice the next time a disaster strikes. The investigation was a collaboration with Pro Publica, where the headline for its report makes very clear where it's headed: "How the Red Cross Raised a Half Billion Dollars for Haiti and Built Six Houses."

In other words, it's not going to end well for the Red Cross.

For NPR and Pro Publica, whose dispatch is also well worth your attention, this is not the first time the Red Cross has come up in their crosshairs. They collaborated last year on a scathing report about how the Red Cross badly botched its response to Hurricane Isaac and Superstorm Sandy.

During Isaac, Red Cross supervisors ordered dozens of trucks usually deployed to deliver aid to be driven around nearly empty instead, “just to be seen,” one of the drivers, Jim Dunham, recalls.
“We were sent way down on the Gulf with nothing to give,” Dunham says. The Red Cross’ relief effort was “worse than the storm.”

And that's just the tippy tip of the iceberg.

In both stories, the Red Cross--to the extent that it's forthcoming--displays a stunning lack of hubris and tone deafness in its response to reporters' questions. To wit, this telling nugget from a portion of the Haiti story about a supposed $24 million project for the "physical renewal" of one Port au Prince neighborhood and a brochure touting its benefits.

[T]he Red Cross' head of public affairs in Washington, D.C., sent NPR and ProPublica an email saying we had mischaracterized the project, though they did not dispute the information in the brochure. NPR and ProPublica were "creating ill will in the community, which may give rise to a security incident," the email says. "We will hold you and your news organizations fully responsible." No security incident happened — but residents did ask if they could keep the brochure.

Kill the messenger? Really? Wow. And it gets better.

NPR published on its website a response from the Red Cross, which just doesn't get it.

The Red Cross is disappointed, once again, by the lack of balance, context and accuracy in the most recent reporting by ProPublica/NPR, which follows the pattern of all their previous Red Cross stories. It is particularly disappointing to see our work misrepresented considering we answered more than 100 questions in writing and provided an interview with the head of our international programs.

Quantity doesn't trump quality, alas. That head of international programs wouldn't answer questions about specific programs, how much they cost and their expenses. The report said much of the money donated never reached people in need and was eaten up paying third parties to run programs after the Red Cross took its own cut for administrative fees. How did NPR and Pro Publica know this? Because it was all in writing. In Red Cross documents.

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