Archive for June 16, 2010

Objectivity FAIL

There have been some interesting goings on at the StarTribune this week. It started on Sunday when Jean Hopfensperger published a piece titled Humane Society, fighting a “smear”.

The story quickly hit local dog boards and generated some interest both because of the subject of the story and… because the piece was quickly scrubbed not only from the paper but also from google’s archives, shortly after it was published. A few people (including yours truly) wrote to the paper asking why the story was pulled. No answers were given but the story mysteriously re-appeared on the StarTribune’s website today.

The piece presents a strongly one-sided defense of Janelle Dixon’s condemnation of Humane Watch’s campaign to inform pet owners about how little money fund-raising behemoth the Humane Society of the United States uses to directly support animals in need.

While readers may assume that a woman representing a local animal shelter is primarily driven by a desire to save as many pets as she can, it may not be quite that simple. Ms. Dixon is not only president of the Animal Humane Society in Golden Valley, she’s also the president of the National Federation of Humane Societies (NFHS).

What is the NFHS? According to the social activist networking website care2:

Earlier this year when Pacelle was criticized for his role in euthanizing dogs rescued from a dog-fighting operation, HSUS made a commitment to begin evaluating all rescued dogs on an individual basis.  This commitment has led HSUS to launch The Shelter Pet Project – a multi-million dollar marketing campaign to end euthanasia of healthy and treatable homeless animals.

It has also led to the creation of the National Federation of Humane Societies. This is a coalition of dozens of major shelters and rescue groups throughout the country that have vowed to stop euthanasia for healthy homeless pets by the year 2020.

Stopping the euthanasia of pets is a laudable goal, but the StarTribune opinion piece story appears to have been lifted entirely from a letter NFHS wrote to Mr. Richarad Berman of the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) dated May 25, 2010. A letter that is posted prominently on the HSUS website.

The letter states that the HSUS’s “charitable purpose has never been questioned.” Apparently Steve Putnam, author of the letter and the executive director of NFHS, doesn’t spend much time on the internet. HSUS’s ‘charitable purposes’ have been called into question for years by yours truly and a host of other bloggers, forums, webgroups and advocacy groups. It’s old news.

Putnam goes on to state that “The HSUS mission has always included a focus on large-scale animal cruelty and eliminating animal suffering. HSUS has always been transparent about that mission.” Perhaps HSUS is completely transparent when they’re dealing with groups who share their ideals, but in my experience, the group makes millions by taking advantage of the fact that a very large number of pet lovers think that the Humane Society is the same thing as their local humane society. HSUS further obfuscates the truth by prominently featuring the plight of homeless pets (the same ones they spend less than 1% of their funds to help directly) in their advertising copy.

While he calls CCF’s motives into question, Putnam, for some reason, does not feel the need to mention the very strong ties between NFHS and HSUS. Neither does Dixon.

So Putnam and Dixon both have a pro-HSUS bias. Big deal. I’m a huge fan of freedom of speech, and as such, I support the rights of Putnam, Dixon, CCF, HSUS and NFHS to lobby and speak out on issues as they see fit. While I would fight to the death to support the rights of these people to speak their minds – I’m convinced that it’s immoral (and quite possibly illegal) to engage in misleading advertising.

As I’ve stated before I meet a very disturbing number of average Americans who donate money to HSUS in the mistaken belief that their money is going directly to fund their local shelter. While we all bear the responsibility to make reasonable efforts to investigate where our donations are being used, the deceptively ambiguous ads used extensively by HSUS – in my opinion – lead most people to a false sense of assurance that their money will go directly to support the care of pets in need rather than to support lobbying efforts that many of these same people disagree strongly with.

I’m also not a fan of advocacy journalism. The words you read here, on this blog, represent my opinions. I do not present this site as a news outlet so you can safely assume that anything you read here reflects my own personal bias. And unless you’re a complete dimwit, you probably understand that’s pretty much status quo for the blogosphere. The same can not (or at least should not) be said of the non-opinion pages published in a newspaper. When a journalist lifts information from a letter that is nothing more than a strongly worded opinion/PR piece and publishes it as ‘news’ without looking for, examining and discussing an opposing viewpoint – she spits on the idea of objectivity.

But, as I’m sure most of you know – that isn’t news. Spittoons appear to be common fixtures in newsrooms these days…

June 16, 2010 at 12:29 pm 14 comments


Because A Dog’s Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste

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