Objectivity FAIL

June 16, 2010 at 12:29 pm 14 comments

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…

Entry filed under: animal rights, dogs, rescue. Tags: , , .

It’s a Sh*tty Job Go with the flow

14 Comments Add your own

  • 1. PoochProfessor  |  June 16, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    Though I don’t believe everything HumaneWatch says, I am glad they have raised such a stink about this through blogging and advertising that HSUS and its compatriots are starting to stand up and notice. It’s nice when the underdog gets a good shot in now and again.

    What HumaneWatch is doing needs to be done. Charities should be transparent, and HSUS will say it has never lied to the public, but it has never really told the truth, either. Maybe now it will have to start.

    I don’t know why HSUS is so worried–they’ll still make assloads of money, and they’ll still use it any way they want.

    There is no doubt that HSUS has done some important work on behalf of animals. I am not a financial supporter and never have been (I give time and $$ to my local shelter), but some in our profession, as you well know, have become extremist in their outright dismissal of anything HSUS does or says. This isn’t helpful.

    But Pacelle needs to face the music sooner or later. HumaneWatch will not destroy HSUS, but I’m hoping the glare of the light they are shining on it will help create more truthfulness. There needs to be a balance between what animals need and what rights humans have to own, work, and eat them.

    As for bias and objectivity, it’s pretty much all about opinions these days. The media is a machine that feeds the public what they want to hear, and makes money doing it. The few objective reporters that still exist get crushed beneath the gears.

    I used to trust what the major news outlets reported, but I no longer do. It’s not about “liberal bias” or “conservative bias” anymore. It’s about entertainment, and they don’t even try to hide it anymore.

  • 2. Treats on the Internets « YesBiscuit!  |  June 16, 2010 at 3:04 pm

    […] checks up on a Humane Watch vs. HSUS story that ran in her local […]

  • 3. PBurns  |  June 16, 2010 at 3:22 pm

    Nice work on this!

    HSUS does some good things, but the “bang for the buck” is pathetic due to the way they raise money and spend money.

    I have challenged HSUS to meet me and bring their books. I work right around the corner from their national office, and I have a black belt in direct mail.


    Of course, they will not open their REAL direct mail books to anyone, because who would ever donate if they knew?


  • 4. Curtis Johnson  |  June 16, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    Great post. I was really troubled by the comments by Ms. Dixion, the CEO of the Golden Valley Humane Society, and it was not until I dug into the NFHS that I was able to connect the dots. In the past I have been a big supporter of the GVHS but I am really questioning my past support with radical like Ms. Dixion at the helm.
    I did send a note to the reporter with my links and questioned her sources. I have not heard back and doubt that there will be any response.
    This was a really slanted, poorly researched article.

  • 5. Anne  |  June 17, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    @Curtis Johnson- i don’t think i’d use the word ‘radical’ to describe Janelle Dixon- it seems like that’s a word more used for crazy animal rights activists. But maybe you know something i don’t.

    otherwise i agree 100% with Pooch Proffessor’s comments

  • 6. Sara  |  June 17, 2010 at 3:14 pm

    FACT CHECK: The Shelter Pet Project was launched – and is paid for – by Maddie’s Fund and the Ad Council. HSUS was actually PAID to participate, in hopes that they would stop sabotaging No-Kill. Pacelle promptly responded by taking full credit for the million dollar ad campaign (implication: we are spending millions on it so donate now.). Pacelle, Goodwin and company responded to Maddie’s Fund misguided gift and arrangement with the Wilkes County massacre, the Vick promotion, the Fay fundraising scandal and by going on a fundraising binge at a time where the legitimate animal welfare community is cutting programs and is too cash-strapped to do much fundraising. The Shelter Pet Project has largely fizzled because the Ad Council was educated about the HSUS. They have minimized their association with the organization.

    HSUS lies about the size of its membership, (1 million, not 11 million), the amount it spends on fundraising vs. programs, and the amount spent on lobbying .

    HSUS’s response to HumaneWatch, Winograd and countless critics reveals the true character of this disgusting organization. It is not too big to fail and I hope they are severely damaged by the increased awareness of their fraudulent – and criminal practices.

  • 7. Curtis Johnson  |  June 17, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    @anne. I wish that I could agree. However if you dig into the NFHS, an organization which, in the article, Ms. Dixion is referred to as the President, you will find an interesting slate of Board Members:http://www.humanefederation.org/2009BoardOfficers.cfm
    If you dig further you will find that the address listed on their tax filings happens to be shared by HSUS (check here:http://www.humanefederation.org/2008%20990.pdf, and here:http://www.humanesociety.org/donate/help/) If you check further, you will find that NFHS was founded by Mr. Pacelle (the President and CEO of HSUS).
    Please don’t get me wrong, I am a huge proponent of animal welfare, however I cannot and will not support the extremest Animal Rights agenda forwarded by HSUS (and all of their branches).

  • 8. Chris  |  June 17, 2010 at 9:56 pm

    @Sara “The Shelter Pet Project has largely fizzled because the Ad Council was educated about the HSUS. They have minimized their association with the organization.”

    Sara, thanks for sharing this. Can I ask how you know this? I was wondering just the other day why I hadn’t seen anything on their (HSUS) wonderful ad campaign, as it did seem really odd to me that there doesn’t seem to be anything anywhere about it. This would definitely explain it and I can’t say I am surprised. I am forever amazed at the utter arrogance of and way in which HSUS exploits anyone (or other entity) that it comes in contact with. But then I just learned today that they have an ENVOY to the Obama administration, so that would explain a big part of the arrogance. They really disgust me. CHRIS

  • 9. sara  |  June 19, 2010 at 1:53 pm


    The Shelter Pet Project was announced in November2008. According to Nathan Winograd’s “The Death of Hope at HSUS”
    blog post, Maddie’s Fund (foolishly) handed over a big check to HSUS, had wormy wayne sign a statement supporting No-Kill and shortly thereafter announced the multi-million dollar pet adoption ad campaign. Three months LATER, Goodwin and Pacelle lobbied for and arranged the Wilkes County Massacre. Pacelle’s claim (mentioned in this blog) that HSUS launched the Shelter Pet Project in response to criticism about the Februrary 2009 North Carolina slaughter is another whopping lie).

    Knowing that HSUS would not only betray the trust of Maddie’s Fund and embarass the Ad Council but also use the Shelter Pet Project to reinforce the misperception that they run animal shelters, I and a small group of friends kept the Ad Council informed about every HSUS scandal – from Katrina to the Fay scam to J.P Goodwin’s criminal background and sick writings to HSUS’s predatory direct mail targeting the elderly to the Vick dog fundraising scandal to their political-lobbying related violations of their IRS 501c3 charity status and more. We suggested that the Ad Council choose a legitimate animal charity to work with, one that wasn’t run by white collar criminals; one that wouldn’t use the project as a fundraising vehicle and image-polisher.

    I cannot say for sure but I believe the Ad Council did some checking, discovered it was all true (this was before Humane Watch) and wisely chose to distance themselves as much as legally possible from scandal by association.

  • 10. Christa  |  June 25, 2010 at 10:16 pm

    I’m not sure what y’all are complaining about. The HSUS is the largest and most effective animal welfare organization in the United States. They do not advocate a vegan lifestyle. They simply work to ensure humane treatment of animals.
    The Shelter Pet Project is campaign started by Maddie’s Fund and the HSUS to help shelter animals get adopted. This project has been advertised via public ad campaigns. That’s clear, but I’m not sure the prior posters know what that means. Every TV station gets hundreds of these ads every month, they don’t get money to run them, they are precisely what they say, PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENTS. Maddie’s and the HSUS both invested time, energy and money to put these ads together with the help of the Ad Council. The ads are great, and should stop those of you who are so hate filled and open your eyes and hearts to the needs of shelter animals. I donate money to the HSUS and volunteer time and money locally. Helping animals is my life. . .why not join me?

  • 11. Daniel Romeo  |  June 26, 2010 at 8:03 am

    If a person donates to HSUS they get a ton of feedback as to where the money is going via email, snail mail, etc. There’s no excuse for “I gave them money and didn’t know it wasn’t going directly to shelters”. HSUS shows EXACTLY where it’s going. Puppy mill campaigns and factory farm abuses and a million other things that help shelters at a national level.

  • 12. Barb Douche  |  June 26, 2010 at 9:11 am

    I donate my hard-earned money and support the HSUS. Puppy mill owners, irresponsible breeders and industrial agriculture have joined forces to attack HSUS. Why? Because HSUS is effective in getting legislation to combat animal cruelty issues and in bringing attention to these issues.
    HSUS Forever!

  • 13. Derrell Whitee  |  June 26, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    Puppy mill owners don’t want people to adopt because they lose money.Plain and simple. The HSUS is the most effective organisation combatting Puppy mills and Dog fighting. the irresponsible inbreeding of puppies has caused an epidemic of dogs ending up at shelters.supporting local shelters does not address the root problem of where the dogs come from. puppy mills are a multi billion dollar business. it’s about time we put a stop to it. the suffering created by these animal exploiters is incalcuable. We can expect more disinformation like this article as the puppy mills realize they are under attack.

  • 14. charlotte  |  July 9, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    The last four commenters are HSUS damage control employees/sock puppets; posting from HSUS headquarters, pretending to be merely HSUS members and defending their organization in typically misleading ways. Dr. Patty Khuly at her Fully Vetted blog recently lambasted these clowns, especially “Barb Douche”, stating that she could easily trace their comments to the HSUS server. HSUS is by far the wealthiest animal rights group and has the biggest staff but its no longer the most popular or most effective. In terms of true membership numbers, the ASPCA and Best Friends have moved ahead. As a charity, HSUS jumped the shark a long time ago and due to all the fraud, scandals and investigations, it has lost credibility among reputable and progressive animal charities. HSUS’s “effectiveness” lies mainly in raising money through deception, claiming credit for/fundraising off the work of others, exaggerating its work and accomplishments and
    exploiting its tax-exempt status. HSUS loves to use the (scaled down) Shelter Pet Project to fuel the fallacy that it supports shelters. In reality, it does far more harm than good for them. Maddies Fund and the Ad Council both know this, the HSUS knows they know it but a deal’s a deal. (The Philadelphia Eagles made a deal with Pacelle’s moral equal, HSUS spokesman Michael Vick and they’re stuck with him even after the recent shooting of his dogfighting buddy.)

    Wayne’s Sock Puppets have also been posting on Guidestar’s
    HSUS comments page, boosting its grade from 1 and a half to 2 out of five stars. It’s pathetic, they all post on the same day, with the similar scripted accolades for their employer. Read their lame comments and the 100+ public comments on Charity Navigator to see what the public really thinks about the HSUS.

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