Behind the Scenes of the Komen-Planned Parenthood Battle

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 6, 2012   |   7:14PM   |   Washington, DC

As the dust settles on the row between Komen for the Cure and Planned Parenthood, new information is coming to light about the decision-making process that took place when Komen decided in December to change its grant-making standards in a way that would result in cutting Planned Parenthood funding.

Last week, that decision came to light when Planned Parenthood decided to release the news through a friendly Associated Press reporter, who wrote a one-sided story making Planned Parenthood the victim and starting the process by which the abortion business aggressively attacked the breast cancer charity.

As LifeNews reported, the decision came about in part because Komen hired pro-life former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel as its new Vice-President for Policy. While media reports have differed about the level of influence she had on the Komen decision to change its grant policies, the liberal Huffington Post alleges in a weekend story that that was the case:

But a Komen insider told HuffPost on Sunday that Karen Handel, Komen’s staunchly anti-abortion vice president for public policy, was the main force behind the decision to defund Planned Parenthood and the attempt to make that decision look nonpolitical.

“Karen Handel was the prime instigator of this effort, and she herself personally came up with investigation criteria,” the source, who requested anonymity for professional reasons, told HuffPost. “She said, ‘If we just say it’s about investigations, we can defund Planned Parenthood and no one can blame us for being political.'”

Emails between Komen leadership on the day the Planned Parenthood decision was announced, which were reviewed by HuffPost under the condition they not be published, confirm the source’s description of Handel’s sole “authority” in crafting and implementing the Planned Parenthood policy.

Handel’s strategy to cut off Planned Parenthood involved drafting new guidelines that would prevent Komen from funding any organization that was under investigation by local, state or federal authorities. Since Planned Parenthood is currently the target of a congressional inquiry prompted by House Republicans into the way it uses government funds, the family planning provider would have been immediately disqualified from receiving new Komen grants.

According to HuffPo, Handel’s strategy was to bring to Komen leaders’ attention any public criticism of Komen from pro-life advocates because of the hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to Planned Parenthood.

“Komen’s been dealing with the Planned Parenthood issue for years, and you know, some right-wing groups would organize a protest or send out a mailing every now and then, but it was on a low simmer,” the source said. “What Karen’s been doing for the past six months is ratcheting up the issue with leadership. Every time someone would even mention a protest, she would magnify it, pump it up, exaggerate it. She’s the one that kept driving this issue.”

The source said Handel submitted a final version of the new grant criteria to Komen leadership in November, and the board approved it in December, at which point Komen’s top public health official, Mollie Williams, resigned “on the spot.”

The pro-abortion side is upset with Handel — to the point that it has sponsored a petition asking Komen officials to axe her from her position.

Because of the backlash Komen faced from Planned Parenthood and abortion advocates — and the subsequent backlash from pro-life activists from appearing to reverse its decision — board member John D. Rafaelli, a Democratic lobbyist and a supporter of Planned Parenthood, told HuffPo he takes the blame.

“Honestly, I didn’t think it through well enough,” Rafaelli said. “We don’t want to be pro-choice or pro-life; we want to be pro-cure. We screwed up, I’m saying it. We failed to keep abortion out of this, and we owe the people in the middle who only care about breast cancer and who have raised money for us an apology.”

Meanwhile, Ari Fleischer, former press secretary for President George W. Bush, reportedly helped suggest a PR firm to Komen because he is friends with founder Nancy Brinker and may have helped with some Komen decision-making.

“It’s just sad for everybody concerned,” he told HuffPo. “Komen is a great group, but politically speaking, they’re no match for Planned Parenthood.”

HuffPo’s anonymous source agrees.

“Komen’s not equipped to spend its days fighting political battles,” the source said. “Abortion is not our issue, and I think [leadership] tried to finesse a way out of it, and this investigation criteria was the solution. And it blew up in their faces. They were just naive in the face of [the] incredibly sophisticated Planned Parenthood operation.”

Fleischer’s name has been bandied about in left-wing circles with reports like one from ThinkProgress suggesting he was involved in helping Komen.

On Friday, ThinkProgress exclusively reported that Ari Fleischer was involved in Komen’s strategy regarding Planned Parenthood. We revealed that, in December, Fleischer was retained by Komen to advise how to fill their top communications position, and he drilled candidates on how they would handle the Planned Parenthood issue.

The web site Ad Age reports “Fleischer has personally advised Komen CEO Nancy Brinker on how to handle the Planned Parenthood issue.”

Former George W. Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer, who had previously been brought in by Komen to assist with an executive search for a senior VP-communications, provided informal advice. “When Nancy called me, I gave her my two cents worth,” he said via email. Ogilvy is Komen’s corporate and issues firm on retainer and was helming the issue as of Feb. 3.

But conservative writer Erick Erickson says liberals are wrong to be focusing on Fleischer and he says it’s a former aide to Nancy Pelosi who has been fouling things up at Komen.

“In fact, according to people I’ve spoken to who are aware of the decision making processes at Komen, Fleischer had nothing to do with Komen’s strategy or decision on this matter,” he said. “According to people close to the Komen Foundation I’ve spoken to, it was not Fleischer who was involved in the strategy and PR related to the Planned Parenthood decision, but rather Nancy Pelosi’s former press secretary and Ogilvy Public Relations executive Brendan Daly. Think Progress seemingly wanted to jump the gun and blame a Republican for a disastrous PR strategy when it was not just any Democrat, but one tied to Nancy Pelosi, who was quick out of the gate condemning the Komen Foundation.”

Fleisher also told the Washington Post he wasn’t involved.

“They ask me stuff, they say, `What do you think about this statement, about that statement,’” Fleischer said. “And I give them my thoughts. But obviously somebody else was leading their PR efforts. It certainly wasn’t me.”

“She called me two times last week,” Fleischer added, speaking about Brinker. “When Nancy calls, I’ll give her my informal advice.”

“Somebody else is doing and driving their PR and I wish them the best of luck. Komen’s a great group and they need help,” Fleischer said. “No one has talked to me about helping them going forward.”

Regardless of how Komen made its decision, Jill Stanek blogs today about how Komen was clearly ill-prepared for the social media and old guard media onslaught it eventually faced.

Politico’s Keach Hagey has predicted Planned Parenthood’s successful ambush of Susan G. Komen for the Cure last week will “likely to go down as a textbook case of the political power of social media.” He’s right, and pro-lifers need to learn from it.

This post does not discuss reasons why Planned Parenthood felt it had to bring Komen down. In this post I’ll only be discussing what PP did in three short days to totally annihilate Komen. Komen’s first mistake was underestimating the enemy. Worse than that, Komen didn’t even realize Planned Parenthood was the enemy.

Knowing it had all the time it needed, Planned Parenthood’s team took six weeks from when it learned Komen was cutting it loose to put all the pieces in place before giving the Associated Press the “exclusive.” Planned Parenthood’s online and social media team was standing by when the AP story broke.

As Stanek rightly notes, Planned Parenthood put together a strong reaction to the story by effectively using the mainstream media, social media, petitions, and harnessing the power of its supporters in Congress to put political pressure on Komen and the situation.

Whether Komen goes from here in terms of its final statement that Planned Parenthood is eligible for funding is anyone’s guess. Komen could allow grant requests and approve them or not, but the bigger lesson in the Komen-Planned Parenthood feud is the pro-life movement still has a ways to go to a) counter the pro-abortion side in terms of its political strategy or b) use social media to build a case for an organization, an elected official or a cause.

As LifeNews reported extensively on the Komen-Planned Parenthood situation, pro-life organizations often seemed to lack the latest information, deeper knowledge of Komen thinking beyond public statements and comments in the media, and seems to lack cohesion in terms of a response to Komen’s initial decision (whether to praise it) or its subsequent “reversal” (whether it is indeed a reversal).

That the pro-life movement essentially got what it has been asking for Komen for years only to see massive political and media pressure cause it to fold or almost fold speaks volumes. In the battle to get other groups and businesses out of the abortion industry, the pro-life movement had better be ready to help the organizization or corporation build public support the next time a Komen comes along.