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Busting Through the Media Firestorm: 6 Essential Facts About the Komen Controversy

How many of the rumors are inflated, and how many get at the real heart of why people responded to this decision with so much outrage?
Photo Credit: AFP


The melodramatic tale of the breakup and pseudo-makeup between the Susan G Komen Foundation and Planned Parenthood -- and the ensuing media firestorm -- simply will not die. Last week, after Komen announced it would end its grants to Planned Parenthood affiliates around the country and promptly spent several days fending off a barrage of criticism, it at last issued an apology and a promise to restore Planned Parenthood's eligibility for grants.

But the fury at Komen hasn't ended: it has outlasted the Nevada caucuses, the Superbowl and even Madonna's halftime performance. And as with any incident that blows up in such a massive way, there are rumors and inflated facts obscuring the kernels of truth, and the important lessons embedded within a narrative which is constantly being added to by embarrassing leaks by insiders and revelatory digging by outsiders.

Komen is not the true champion of women's health many thought it was. But how many of the rumors and stories are inflated, and how many get at the heart of why women responded to this decision with so much outrage?

Here, we push aside some myths and present the essential facts.

1. Yes, Komen reversed itself, but the exact future of the grants to Planned Parenthood remain unclear.

This is the most important thing to know. It's true that the new rule that would have excluded Planned Parenthood from Komen grants has been changed. This stipulation previously barred any organization under investigation, but has now been altered so that the investigation must be criminal, not political.

So while Planned Parenthood is now once again "eligible" for grants from Komen, the funding is not yet assured.

As the Washington Post explains, "It did not specifically state that the foundation would fund Planned Parenthood but said that the group would be eligible to apply for future grants."

There are a few more hurdles on the way back to funding, the article notes -- for instance, it might be too late to apply for those Komen grants.

Martha Edmonds, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Central New Mexico, said she thought it was unlikely her group could obtain Komen funding this year because the deadline for applying to the local affiliate has already passed.

“We didn’t end up submitting a grant application for this current cycle because we thought we wouldn’t be eligible,” she said.

Furthermore, in its reversal, Komen didn't address its second reason for denying funds to PP -- the fact that it provides mammogram referrals and initial screenings, not actual mammograms.

Again, from the Washington Post:

Nonetheless, because Komen officials have not backed away from their earlier talk of refocusing funding on groups that directly provide mammograms and other breast screenings, [Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life] said she is hopeful that the ultimate result will be that the foundation ceases future funding of Planned Parenthood.  

So while the PR and initial fundraising victory was decisively Planned Parenthood's, the story of this partnership is not necessarily written in stone, and it doesn't necessarily have a happy ending.

2. The deeper problems with Komen include a lack of checks and balances and a strong connection to Republican politics.

Komen Foundation CEO  Nancy Brinker,  a well-known Republican donor who traded favors with George W. Bush, is both the chair of the Komen board and its president, while her son and several close friends serve on the board. "A review of the board of directors of Komen...reveals that Brinker has the likely votes to control board decisions at any given time, and that those votes are either Republican stalwarts or individuals personally loyal to her," Buzzflash reports. In addition, Komen is one of many nonprofit giants with fairly high executive compensation ( read all about it here (PDF ).