Pro-life spat takes NPR sta­tion to ethics board

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

The Na­tional Public Ra­dio sta­tion in Seat­tle is go­ing be­fore an ethics board Satur­day af­ter a pro-life me­dia group filed a com­plaint ac­cus­ing the sta­tion of air­ing a slanted story.

The Washington News Coun­cil Board of Di­rec­tors is hold­ing a hear­ing over a story aired by KUOW-FM in April 2011 on a con­tro­versy sur­round­ing bill­boards ad­ver­tis­ing pro-life preg­nancy op­tions. The bill­boards were placed in the Seat­tle area by the Vi­tae Foun­da­tion, a pro-life me­dia group, on be­half of Care Net.

“We look for­ward to fi­nally be­ing able to air our side of the story in a public for­mat, some­thing we have wanted from the day KUOW ran its mis­lead­ing and bi­ased story about Vi­tae last April,” said Vi­tae Pres­i­dent Carl Landwehr in a state­ment.

The story, “Con­tro­versy sur­round­ing limited ser­vice preg­nancy cen­ters” by then-in­tern Meghan Walker, airs com­ments by a Planned Par­ent­hood rep­re­sen­ta­tive who chides Vi­tae for be­ing in­suf­fi­ciently trans­par­ent about its agenda in its ad­ver­tis­ing and on its web­site. At the time, Planned Par­ent­hood was push­ing for a state bill that would re­quire limited-ser­vice preg­nancy cen­ters to be more ex­plicit about their pro-life tilt.

The sta­tion did not at­tempt to con­tact the Vi­tae Foun­da­tion and later said that Care Net did not respond to a re­quest for com­ment. Vi­tae Foun­da­tion of­fi­cials were out­raged, com­par­ing the story to “a Planned Par­ent­hood ed­i­to­rial about Vi­tae’s mes­sage — which is in di­rect com­pe­ti­tion with Planned Par­ent­hood’s,” said Mr. Landwehr.

In other states, the best Vi­tae could do at that point would be to fire off a sternly worded let­ter to the ed­i­tor, but Washington is dif­fer­ent. The state is home to the na­tion’s last re­main­ing news coun­cil, an in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ism or­ga­ni­za­tion that me­di­ates con­flicts and pro­motes eth­i­cal re­port­ing.

The three-hour hear­ing, which is slated to take place at the Univer­sity of Washington, has no le­gal force, but it will have an im­pres­sive lineup. For­mer Washington State Supreme Court Chief Jus­tice Gerry Alexan­der will pre­side over the meet­ing, and the hear­ings board in­cludes Bill Gates Sr., fa­ther of Mi­crosoft founder Bill Gates.

The hear­ing, which comes af­ter sev­eral at­tempts to me­di­ate the is­sue, is only the fifth in the coun­cil’s 14-year his­tory. The sta­tion is un­der no le­gal obli­ga­tion to at­tend the hear­ing, and the big ques­tion for John Hamer, the coun­cil pres­i­dent, is whether some­one from KUOWFM will show up.

“We tried to me­di­ate this one, but it didn’t fly,” said Mr. Hamer. “[The ra­dio sta­tion] re­ally didn’t meet them half­way.”

Guy Nel­son, KUOW-FM pro­gram di­rec­tor, ar­gues that the sta­tion met all the con­di­tions of a com­pro­mise res­o­lu­tion reached in Au­gust. The sta­tion did con­duct an in­ter­view with a Vi­tae of­fi­cial, which did not air, but a tran­script of which was posted on the KUOW-FM web­site. He said the sta­tion also met the sec­ond con­di­tion, which was to “se­ri­ously con­sider do­ing an on-air story at the same time, com­pa­ra­ble in length to the orig­i­nal story.”

Even though the sta­tion has yet to run an­other on-air story on the is­sue, Mr. Nel­son said they did se­ri­ously con­sider it.

“They said, ‘You need to se­ri­ously con­sider it,’ and now it’s like, ‘When are you go­ing to do it?’ “Mr. Nel­son said. “Well, I said I’d se­ri­ously con­sider it. The is­sue died in the leg­is­la­ture in 2011, so that’s what I’m wait­ing on, I’m wait­ing on a news an­gle.”

He also pointed out that the in­ter­view with Vi­tae Foun­da­tion rep­re­sen­ta­tive Deb­bie Stokes was more ex­ten­sive than the com­ments aired by the Planned Par­ent­hood spokes­woman in the orig­i­nal story.

“At this point, we’re plan­ning on at­tend­ing the hear­ing, although things could change be­tween now and then,” Mr. Nel­son said. “What­ever the news coun­cil and Vi­tae want to do, they’ll do. I feel like the sta­tion has ba­si­cally done ev­ery­thing they’ve asked us to do.”

Com­pli­cat­ing the mat­ter is that KUOW-FM is li­censed by the Univer­sity of Washington, which is a state school. That means all the sta­tion’s em­ploy­ees, in­clud­ing re­porters and ed­i­tors, are also state em­ploy­ees, even though, as the KUOW-FM web­site notes, more than 89 per­cent of its fund­ing comes from in­di­vid­ual and busi­ness sup­port. The Cor­po­ra­tion for Public Broad­cast­ing and the univer­sity pro­vide 9 per­cent.

Sta­tion of­fi­cials in­sist that they op­er­ate with­out state in­flu­ence. “I think they make a good case that they’re sep­a­rate and in­de­pen­dent,” said Mr. Hamer.

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