- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 5, 2012

Pro-life groups often insist that they don’t get a fair shake in the media, and now the Vitae Foundation has confirmation.

Both the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Washington News Council have sided with the foundation in its fairness complaint against Seattle’s National Public Radio station, KUOW-FM, which ran a story about the organization without trying to contact it.

The 11-member Washington News Council ruled Saturday that KUOW-FM should have contacted Vitae before airing the one-sided story on the foundation’s placement of billboards advertising pro-life pregnancy options in the Seattle area.

The council, whose rulings have no legal force, also held that the original April 2011 story contained errors substantial enough that they should have been corrected on the air.

On Wednesday, Corporation for Public Broadcasting ombudsman Joel Kaplan agreed, releasing a statement detailing his accord with the Washington council, which ruled in Vitae’s favor on five of six issues related to the complaint.

“Clearly, KUOW should have attempted to contact the Vitae Foundation before running the story, an act that its reporter readily acknowledges,” Mr. Kaplan said in a statement. “And once it was pointed out that abortion services is listed on its website, that part of the story should have been corrected.”

The station did correct the mistakes online, but Mr. Kaplan called that “not sufficient.”

“I also strongly believe that the mistakes made in the story should have been promptly corrected on-air. The mistakes in this story were significant enough that the listening public had a right to know the facts,” Mr. Kaplan said.

The story, “Controversy Surrounding Limited Service Pregnancy Centers” by then-intern Meghan Walker, airs comments by a Planned Parenthood representative who chides Vitae for being insufficiently transparent about its agenda in its advertising and on its website. At the time, Planned Parenthood was pushing for a state bill that would require limited-service pregnancy centers to be more explicit about their pro-life tilt.

The only issue on which the council ruled against Vitae was its contention that the station had a responsibility to provide additional on-air coverage.

“A credible and responsible news organization promptly corrects its mistakes,” Mr. Kaplan said. “It does not trade its most valuable commodity — its airtime — as a way to apologize by promoting a story on an organization that does not pass the newsworthy test.”

Officials for the Vitae Foundation, which offers media services for pro-life organizations, were elated by the outcome.

“This is huge!” Vitae President Carl Landwehr said in a statement. “We live in a time of 24-hour news cycles, and when the media gets it wrong, there has to be some sort of accountability.”

He noted that Vitae did contact the station, which is licensed by the University of Washington, within 24 hours of the story’s airing. The station acknowledged that it could have taken “an extra step” in contacting Vitae, and later ran an online interview with a Vitae representative.

KUOW news director Guy Nelson argued at the hearing that the story centered on state legislation pushed by Planned Parenthood that would have required certain pregnancy centers to be more explicit about their pro-life tilt.

When the bill died, he said, so did the story. Vitae consultant Pia de Solenni countered that the legislation wasn’t mentioned until halfway through the story and consequently amounted to an editorial for Planned Parenthood.

“At the end of the day, this is not about which side of the abortion debate one happens to stand on, but about the accountability of news outlets that is absolutely essential in a free and democratic society,” Ms. de Solenni said.

The Vitae Foundation, based in Jefferson City, Mo., offers media services for pro-life groups. In Seattle, Vitae had put up billboards on behalf of Care Net, a pro-life pregnancy center, and launched a website, www.YourOptions.com.

The Washington News Council, which promotes responsible journalism and mediates conflicts, is the last independent state news council in the nation.