Monday, November 19, 2001

The Red Cross has surrendered. In a press conference last week, it stated: “We deeply regret that our actions over the last eight weeks have not been as sharply focused as the American public wants or the victims of the tragedy deserve.”

So now, after six weeks of controversy, the Red Cross will donate all of the $543 million generous Americans gave it for “The Liberty Fund” to the September 11 families. Previously, the Red Cross was only going to give approximately 25 percent of the donations to the families and keep the rest for general Red Cross programs.

It was pressure by my TV program “The O’Reilly Factor” that put the Red Cross on the hot seat. Night after night, I pounded away at the injustice of asking Americans for specific donations and then not living up to the pitch. Finally, the New York Times stepped up as well, challenging the Red Cross in an editorial.

But the rest of the elite media was missing-in-action on this story, as they have been on so many other major developments concerning working Americans. And I simply can’t figure it out. Local newspapers across the country were extremely supportive to the “Factor” and focused on the situation immediately. But the national press especially the TV networks could not be bothered.

That is very strange indeed. As part of my continuing investigation into the charity chaos, I have zeroed in on “The September 11th Fund” run by the United Way and a New York bank. That’s the fund that received all the money from the TV telethon and the big New York concert. We’re talking $337 million here. And there is no question that the United Way is having trouble getting those funds directly to the grieving families. The reason is the United Way contracts out to local charities to actually hand the money to the families. And some of those charities are inefficient, to say the least. The entire situation is one big mess.

Yet Matt Lauer of “The Today Show” and the “Entertainment Tonight” TV program to name just two challenged my integrity in pushing this investigation. They certainly have a right to do that, although “ET” didn’t even bother contacting me, but I was amazed at their point of view. There are not two sides to this story. As the Red Cross has now admitted, some of the charities have been callous and inefficient in dealing with the September 11 families. That is, simply, a fact so what is the journalistic point in attacking the messenger, me, in establishing that fact?

I believe it once again comes down to the powerful protecting each other. Hollywood stars helped raise the millions given to the United Way, but few of them want to push the charities to get the money to the people for whom it is intended. That’s because that kind of advocacy may alienate some powerful people. And programs like “Entertainment Tonight” exist to promote celebrities. So their agenda is obvious.

But why didn’t the news departments of ABC, CBS and NBC report on the situation? If those entities had, the Red Cross and others would have changed their policies weeks ago, and the money logjam would have broken up. My program is powerful, but the combined weight of the networks is fearsome.

Once again, Americans are seeing firsthand that many in the elite media are simply not interested in righting wrongs. The national TV media are timid. Years of chasing profits have dulled their journalistic edge. Reporters are supposed to challenge the powerful and expose wrongdoing. Is that what the network nightly news programs are doing? You decide.

As for the Red Cross, I applaud their turnaround, and hope Americans accept their policy change and don’t hold the past six weeks against the organization. The Red Cross has a new president, and its mandate has always been to help others. Yes, the bureaucracy is too big, and the Red Cross must work to regain credibility. But the bottom line is that all the $543 million that generous Americans donated to help the September 11 families will finally be available to those families. A good thing has happened.

Bill O’Reilly is host of the Fox News show “The O’Reilly Factor” and is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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