Seattle NPR Station Subject of Complaint Over Abortion Story

State   |   Martha Schieber   |   Jun 9, 2011   |   1:38PM   |   Seattle, WA

The Vitae Foundation filed a complaint with the Washington News Council (WNC) today about a story NPR Seattle affiliate KUOW ran on April 13. 

In the story, they took issue with the Vitae Foundation’s billboard campaign in Seattle and its website,  The station falsely asserted that each was “misleading.”  KUOW reporter Meghan Walker never contacted Vitae for comment about the billboards or website.  Her only contact for the story was a Planned Parenthood representative.  The story was, in essence, a Planned Parenthood editorial about Vitae’s message.  Vitae is asking the WNC to investigate KUOW’s violations of its own ethics policy regarding this story.

Vitae Foundation’s formal complaint to Washington News Council follows:

On April 13, 2011, NPR Seattle affiliate KUOW ran a story about the Vitae Foundation, taking issue with its billboards and website,  The station falsely asserted that they were “misleading.”  KUOW reporter Meghan Walker never contacted Vitae for comment about the billboards or website.

However, Ms. Walker did interview Kristen Glundberg-Prossor, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood in Seattle.  Sitting in Planned Parenthood’s office, they viewed Vitae’s website. In the interview, Glundberg-Prossor asserts, “This does not really seem to have all the options.  If abortion is one of the options, let me look here and see…” At this point, the interview switches to another discussion thread, suggesting that the website does not offer this information.

Had the interview been accurate, the listener would have learned that does, in fact, list abortion as an option and provides extensive information about it.  Instead, Ms. Walker suggested the contrary and asked, “So looking at the website, what should they do differently here?”

Glundberg-Prossor responds, “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.”  In fact, Vitae’s site clearly states, “YourOptions does not promote abortion or link to abortion providers.”

The reporting was undeniably biased. KUOW did not provide full disclosure and transparency in its story. They ran an opinion piece as an unbiased news piece instead.  Vitae was never contacted. Instead of interviewing Vitae about its billboards and website, KUOW interviewed Planned Parenthood, an organization that views Vitae as a competitor.

Vitae knows that a pregnant woman needs comprehensive information about her options during her pregnancy. The billboard reads, “I may be pregnant…what do I do? What did others do?”  The website offers information and personal accounts so that women are better informed to make their own choices.

Vitae values informed consumers and emphasizes life-affirming resources available in their communities.  In reality, this was a story that dealt with competing non-profits with different visions, but they were not treated equally or fairly.  One was given a voice, and the other was not.

Vitae sent a letter by e-mail to KUOW management on April 14 expressing its disappointment in not being contacted for the story about its billboards and website.  Guy Nelson, KUOW News Director, e-mailed a letter on April 19 from reporter Megan Walker, which stated she “could have taken an extra step to contact” us for her story and that “I regret not contacting your organization for this story.”  No steps were taken to correct Walker’s error (and possible expression of personal bias).

On May 5 Vitae Foundation asked KUOW to appoint a local ombudsman to work to resolve the way the April 13 story about Vitae’s website and Seattle billboard advertising was reported.

Our request to appoint an ombudsman went unanswered by the station.  Mr. Nelson responded by e-mail on May 11 simply thanking Vitae for clarifying its concerns about this story, and he explained how the station had added the following clarification to the online version: “The Vitae Foundation does list abortion as an option on the website.”

Although this cryptic, after-the-fact admission is appreciated, it should not be allowed to gloss over the fundamental bias that permeated the entire coverage.  The intentional factual error was just a symptom of a larger problem.  The story was in essence a Planned Parenthood editorial about Vitae’s message. If the propriety of Vitae’s message is being critiqued in a public forum, Vitae deserved a seat at this important discussion, and a minor unpublicized correction of one factual error does not address the issue in our complaint.

In response, Vitae e-mailed Mr. Nelson asking for the station’s Ethics Policy.  To date, no reply has been received.

The KUOW website states, “[T]he fundamental values that guide our mission” are “accuracy, thoroughness and fairness in reporting.”  Vitae believes the journalistic principles of ‘accuracy, thoroughness, and fairness in reporting’ have been compromised.

Additionally, the fact that there was no opportunity for rebuttal left the Vitae Foundation vulnerable to the misconception it is an organization that is misleading the public.

We are asking the Washington News Council to investigate KUOW’s violations of its own ethics policy regarding this story. Note: Martha Schieber is the Communications Director for Vitae Foundation. The pro-life organization has long sponsored pro-life advertising campaigns that haven been proven to reduce abortions and change public opinion.