Interview as Train Wreck: Susan G. Komen Foundation meets Andrea Mitchell

Professionals in crisis communication will be talking about this interview for years. Watch the clip. (It's excruciating.) Read my analysis, which won't capture everything. Then add your observations in the comments.

3 Feb 2012 6:22 pm 87 Comments

Andrea Mitchell of NBC News interviews Nancy Brinker, CEO and founder of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, about the foundation’s decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood’s breast cancer screening programs:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Brinker was completely unprepared for this interview. She was placed in a situation that she seemed not to understand. Her estimation of her ability to re-describe an event that began two days earlier was wildly off base. To the degree that she had one, her message might be summarized as: “Forget what we said earlier, ignore what’s happening out there, for this is what I am saying now.” From her first words (“It’s a mischaracterization of our goals, our mission…”) Brinker communicated that she did not understand the forces that had brought her to MSNBC’s studios and put her in that chair opposite Andrea Mitchell.

I mean this literally: Brinker did not know what she was doing there. She thought she was going on air to correct some misbegotten story line that an excitable press, the wounded executives at Planned Parenthood and ideologues in the pro-choice movement had cooked up. In her delusional state, the decision had nothing to do with the politics of abortion. Nothing! The reality was that a board member from her own organization had told the press that it did:

John D. Raffaelli, a Komen board member and Washington lobbyist, said Wednesday that the decision to cut off money to 17 of the 19 Planned Parenthood affiliates it had supported was made because of the fear that an investigation of Planned Parenthood by Representative Cliff Stearns, Republican of Florida, would damage Komen’s credibility with donors.

The organization’s longtime support of Planned Parenthood had already cost it some support from anti-abortion forces, Mr. Raffaelli said. But the board feared that charges that Komen supported organizations under federal investigation for financial improprieties could take a further and unacceptable toll on donations, he said. “People don’t understand that a Congressional investigation doesn’t necessarily mean a problem of substance,” Mr. Raffaelli said. “When people read about it in places like Texarkana, Tex., where I’m from, it sounds really bad.”

When Andrea Mitchell asked about these facts, Brinker declined to discuss them and tried to shift the terrain to other problems that (she said) the foundation had with Planned Parenthood’s programs. It was extremely difficult to parse what these other problems were, but they appeared to be: it was hard to measure the effectiveness of Planned Parenthood’s work, the foundation wants to fund direct delivery of services but Planned Parenthood doesn’t do that, and something about “translate,” a word that she kept coming back to–often in proximity to another term, “mission”–without managing to complete a thought: translate something into something, and Planned Parenthood… well, no. For example:

This is about the restructure of our grant program. Now as an NGO and as a leader in the breast cancer space, we have an obligation to the community we serve, to donors and to this country to translate cancer care in the way we know how.

The recurrence of certain “life raft” words, often used ungrammatically or in extremely awkward ways–translate, mission, excellence, measure, outcome–suggests that Brinker was provided with talking points that were supposed to function as a magic switch. But she couldn’t actually make the switch happen in English, so she fell back on the words, as if brute repetition of the words could summon the magic, which of course wasn’t magical at all but simply the substitution of cheery or harmless talking points for what was actually happening outside the studio.

Meanwhile, she seemed captive to another delusion… about Andrea Mitchell. In Brinker’s mind, Mitchell was someone she knew and could trust, a survivor of breast cancer herself, a supporter of the Foundation, a prominent person who had participated in its events. The two of them knew each other from Brinker’s earlier career as an ambassador. (Mitchell covered the State Department for NBC.) Andrea would understand that Nancy would never do anything to undermine the cause they both believed in so deeply. I don’t know for sure, of course, but it’s likely that logic like this was behind the “get,” the broadcast journalist’s term for landing the big interview that everyone wants.

Brinker seemed to approach Mitchell as “one of us,” a sympathetic ear who of course had a job to do but someone who also held the mission–fighting breast cancer–sacred. Herself a survivor! But Brinker never considered that this could cut two ways. Mitchell’s enormous stake in the work of the Foundation could incline her to sympathy for Brinker’s position. It’s plausible. But it could just as easily place her among the millions of women enraged that the Foundation had somehow stumbled into the politics of abortion without a clue as to what might happen if it cut off funding for Planned Parenthood. Equally plausible. A shrewd executive, well briefed, would understand that.

Shortly after the interview began, Mitchell threw her cards on the table. She identified herself as a survivor, as a supporter of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, as a friend to Brinker’s cause. In an extraordinary breach of norms that require a dispassionate pose from network television reporters, Mitchell also said she was “channelling” the anger of women who simply could not believe the mess that Brinker and her board had made.

In an instant the interview was transformed into a conversation among intimates, which happened to be on television.

Mitchell was saying, in so many words, how could you do this? That’s what people want to know! What were you thinking? She was also trying to communicate across the set on a more human level–self-aware woman to self-aware woman, if I may say so–and without the pretense of professional detachment. (Which says: You stay in your role and I’ll stay in mine.) Brinker was unable to process this shift in emotional temperature. She reacted as if it never happened, even though viewers could see it happen, which gave her replies a zombie-like quality.

When Mitchell asked about the uproar that was then unfolding online, which threatened to do mortal damage to Susan G. Komen’s “brand” (a fact confirmed by the Foundation’s quasi-apology the next day) Brinker zoned out:

All I can tell you is that the responses we are getting are very very favorable. People who have bothered to read the material, who have bothered to understand the issues. Again we work from mission.

For me, the most bizarre moment in the interview. Was Brinker trying to suggest that an explosion of support for “metrics” and “outcomes” and “direct delivery of services” (according to her, the real reasons for the decision…) had come pouring into her offices? Was she trying to deny that her pro-choice supporters were deeply angry and gathering their forces? Was she unaware that whatever praise Susan G. Komen was getting was itself highly politicized, an artifact of pro-life politics? Did she not know about the resignations? Was she some kind of current events idiot?

I said earlier that Brinker did not seem to grasp what she was doing there. She thought she was there to de-excite everyone and persuade us that what was happening online and outside MSNBC studios was a sort of fictive event, a reaction to decisions untaken. But this made her a universe of one, and thus impossible to identify with. In reality, she was there to answer Mitchell’s initial question: “How could this have taken place?” …where “this” means:

The disease doesn’t know from politics. It strikes down women no matter how they vote. The Foundation used to be about that. Now it no longer is. Susan G. Komen For The Cure has somehow thrust itself into the politics of abortion. How could this happen? Who is responsible? What in the world were you thinking?

The fractured syntax, the thoughts that do not connect, the zombie-like performance, the whole train wreck that this interview became: I think it all originates in a lie the house bought about itself. We don’t do politics. Miraculously, such a statement might have been true at one time. But when the board took the decision to cut off Planned Parenthood it ceased to be true. What if Susan G. Komen lied to itself about that fateful moment? What if the Foundation sent Nancy Brinker out there, not to explain its decision but to project that lie, no matter what?

NBC’s Andrea Mitchell was the receiver. If it had been a State Department decision, she might have reacted more cooly and allowed the deception to air with merely a raised eyebrow or a skeptical question. But this was personal. Far more real to her. Intimate and painful. The anger she said she was channelling had to be some of her own. In effect, then, Nancy Brinker’s deluded responses tried to erase Andrea Mitchell and what she knew in her bones. Mitchell would not allow that. As crisis communication, it only deepened the crisis.

That’s what I saw when I watched the interview. Now what did you see?


pris robichaud says:

I saw a woman, Brinker, who had no concept of what Komen had done. I had breast cancer and my family has walked for 8 years in the Komen walk- we feel betrayed by Komen, and until the top tier of Komen resigns and comes up with the truth, we will not walk nor support Komen again. They have lost all credibility. Komen was helpful to me during and after therapy. Brinker as spokesperson comes off as a space zombie, with no idea what Komen is about nor what they have done to millions of women. Get rid of her, she has damaged the brand.

You’re aware that the $680,000 that Komen was giving to PP was just a drop in the bucket of their $1 million budget, right? And that they were planning to re-direct their donations to other providers in the area that did breast exams? And that they were planning to continue grants to the three PP facilities where there were no other area providers doing breast exams?


You’re aware that as the facts have unfolded and even in Handel’s resignation letter there is an acknowledgement of the pro-life influence on Komen’s decision to defund PP?

The Board, Handel, and Brinker were hoping this would all slide by. Handel was hoping to ramp up conservatives’ contibutions to Komen to replace the funding she knew would be lost once the public got wind of this. Paula, you of course know that a senior staffer resigned over this late last year, don’t you?

The subterfuge blew up in their faces. Handel will move on with her pro-life credentials burnished having played the Komen idiots like a violin. Komen will be forever damaged. If Komen wants to do the right thing, senior management , including Brinker, and the Board members involved in this decision should resign immediately.

I saw a person lying. Over and over. And gone rigid in her denials. (And I saw Andrea Mitchell interrupt and roll right over Brinker. I wasn’t actually sure that was OK, you know?)

I’m pretty sure that the person doing the interview was Andrea, not Andrew, Mitchell. (2nd graf).

Definitely the trainwreck interview of the year so far. Don’t know if it trumps Costas-Sandusky, though.

Kimberley says:

I liked your observation about “life raft” words, a term I’ve never seen before. And I wonder how offensive they were to Andrea Mitchell, who fully understands the mechanics of them? Only she knows for sure.

In spite of the fact that Andrea Mitchell’s concern was real and evident, she maintained her professionalism. It was a fascinating and important interview.

Daniel Doyle says:

I saw the non-profit/industrial complex lose a round of hegemonic negotiations (Andrea’s use of the word “channel” really drove that home) and I remembered some of the essays in this book:

I’m a breast cancer survivor. I was lucky. I have health insurance and ten years ago was diagnosed at an early stage of the disease through a routine screening. I’ve never been found of the “pinking” of breast cancer, but put up with it, hoping that money raised went to the right places.

Komen may have reversed itself, but as an organization, I believe they are mortally wounded. Women won’t soon forget this debacle and the organization will be subject to increasing scrutiny as to its expenditures, its political ties etc.

Hiring a VP who has repeated and publicly expressed an extreme right-wing political agenda (anti-choice, anti-gay, etc) does not bode well for the long term direction of Komen.

There are many reputable non-profits out there that do extraordinary work in the fight against breast cancer. Going forward, I will make sure Komen never sees a dime of my money ever again.

This reminds a little bit of the black eye given to the American Red Cross for the mishandling of funds collected for 9/11 victims.

To this day many of us are still skeptical donors in fear that the Red Cross might act deceptively during future crises.

The Red Cross had a PR problem. Not a misuse of funds problem. None of the funds were allocated to non-charitable uses. The leadership at the time made a mistake to say they would also reserve some of the more than billion dollars raised for a relatively small set of people for other disasters. People felt that we were at war, that donating was patriotic, and that assessing what money could buy then and what was an appropriate amount of money for the needs of that mass murder didn’t enter.

Molly, NYC says:

Handel’s title is “Vice President of Public Policy” at SGK. Brinker presumably signed off on her appointment (last April).


This post is taking longer to write than I expected because I looked up Handel’s title just before I started to type (to support some other point about why wasn’t Handel giving the interviews instead of Brinker?)and now I’m trying to wrap my head around the fact that when the biggest breast cancer organization in the country wanted to affect public policy, they picked someone who’s made her contempt for most women all too clear.

However, if Brinker didn’t understand why that would be a problem back in April, I can see why she’s so bewildered now.

Yes, the interview was horrible. However, you wrote:

“We don’t do politics. Miraculously, such a statement might have been true at one time. But when the board took the decision to cut off Planned Parenthood it ceased to be true.”

So donating to an organization that performs abortions is apolitical, but choosing to direct funds elsewhere isn’t?

There is an incredible lack of self-recognition with much of the commentary on the Left. It has become an echo chamber of “we’re apolitical” and those who want to donate to stop breast cancer, without funding abortions, are political.

Who said Planned Parenthood and its donor’s dynamic is apolitical? I didn’t. You just made that up. Show me the quote. There is none.

Maybe you can explain what you meant by these sentences, then? “Miraculously, such a statement might have been true at one time. But when the board took the decision to cut off Planned Parenthood it ceased to be true.”

“The statement might have been true at one time” implies that before this incident they didn’t get involved in politics, or you would agree in part with the statement.

However, now that they cut funds, it “ceased to be true.”

I didn’t make anything up. I read what you wrote. If you didn’t mean to imply that…I’d be happy to see where I’m wrong.

Early termination of a pregnancy (or abortion as it is called) is a MEDICAL procedure.. nothing political about it, UNTIL, the far right made abortion a political football.. If one donates to an organization that performs medical procedures, and one of those procedures happens to be abortion, it is still a medical procedure. In my mind it is a medical procedure and onlt those opposed to the procedure have elevated it to a political statement.

Molly, NYC says:

When you appoint a rapid anti-choicer as “Vice President of Public Policy,” you’ve pretty much pissed away the pretense that your organization is apolitical.

Erik Sherman says:

I agree with the people criticizing you. If it might have been true that Komen didn’t “do politics” at one time, then the organization was apolitical: “having no interest or involvement in political affairs,” according to Merriam-Webster. That also means it would have been apolitical when it chose to donate to Planned Parenthood.

If the apolitical stance ended by choosing to cease donations to Planned Parenthood, then you’re effectively saying that donating to PP can be apolitical but choosing to stop donating to PP cannot.

Furthermore, you wrote to Lee, “Who said Planned Parenthood and its donor’s dynamic is apolitical? I didn’t. You just made that up. Show me the quote. There is none.”

*You’re* the one who needs to show the quote, because Lee never said that PP and its donor’s dynamic was apolitical. You just set up a rhetorical straw man based on a statement that wasn’t made.

That said, the entire decision to stop funding does seem incredibly political in nature. And yet, if that is true, why wasn’t choosing to fund in the first place political? It wouldn’t be surprising to see that many on the Right considered it to be so.

The validity of that point adds another important layer to the discussion.

there is a willful refusal to accept the fact that PP performs breast cancer screenings. These services coincides with the stated mission of SGK, and when the original grants were issued, it was not political. To pull back the grants for no other substantive reason except political pressure IS a political decision. Why is that such a difficult concept to grasp?

Sure, if you wipe out the distinction between donating to Planned Parenthood to use as it sees fit and giving a grant to Planned Parenthood for its breast cancer screening services, and you act like like this slight of hand is nothing at all and therefore don’t even mention it… then, yeah, there was nothing “less” political or apolitical about Susan G. Komen before its decision to cut off funding over the abortion issue.

Okay, so now that we’re on the same page. This is my point entirely:

That many on the Left live in a echo chamber where donating to Planned Parenthood, an organization that performs abortions, is apolitical because they also perform cancer screenings. Yet, removing funding is a political act where activists “intervene” in an apolitical act.

Just accept that both acts (funding and removing funding) are political, and then we can have an honest debate about the merits of the decision to fund or not to fund.

3% of what PP spends is directly abortion-related. If I direct my contributions to only be used for non-abortion initiatives, I’m not being political, am I?

I understand the counter that money is fungible, but I think that is intellectually dishonest in the context of directing one’s contributions. It’s like buying breakfast for a street person rather than giving him/her money. You have arguably cleared up cash for her/him to now use for drugs or drinking (or shelter), but the alternative is to do nothing.

Just accept that the funding you are calling “political” is for cancer screenings and not intended to support abortions and then we can have a real conversation. Until that moment, this is just culture war by comment thread, and frankly tedious. Cheers.

What exactly is tedious? I’m not trolling, and I seriously just wanted to point out a problem I’ve had with this whole debate, which is that one side gets to claim they are apolitical while the other side gets branded as political.

Analogous example: If you donated to the Mormon church for the express purpose of feeding the homeless, would I be wrong to claim you made a religious donation? Under your logic, you would claim it is simply a humanitarian gift.

SKG choosing to donate funds to PP for breast cancer screenings for poor women was an apolotical decision.

SKG choosing to withdraw those funds for reasons that have nothing whatever to do with breast cancer, and everything to do with abortion? Completely political.

SKG then lying in public about the reason for its policy change? Completely stupid.

I didn’t call one “side” political and claim that the other is not. The pro-choice movement is a political movement. What it fights for is a political end. The means it employs are political. The language it speaks is by necessity a political language. It is political, political, political. Am I making myself clear?

What is tedious is having to repeatedly point out to you, because your comments do not show any awareness of it, the difference between funding breast cancer screenings and supporting the (political!) pro-choice movement. That is tedious. Very.

Am I being clear about what is tedious yet? I certainly hope so.

cate corcoran says:

If you donate to Komen to stop breast cancer, and Komen in turn channels the money to Planned Parenthood, you’re not funding abortion. The money goes only to breast cancer services.

“Translation” is a term used to describe making basic science useful in a clinical setting. “Translation” is turning discovery into therapy. I’m guessing Brinker has heard the word many times but has no idea what it means. She is in way over her head and it shows.

This is definitely “a deer in the headlights” moment. I am amazed how clear Mr. Rosen’s take is on this – like a surgeon. I do not think Brinker will survive this.

btw…. I believe the term is translational medicine which has to do with the use of evidence media from health informatics for solutions in healthcare and treatment.

“We don’t do politics” ceased to be true the first time Komen gave money to Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood doesn’t do cancer research, so in what way can giving them money help the race to the cure?

If you take off your willful blinders you would connect, as they say, the dots. Screening, identifying potential masses,and referring for more definitive mammograms increases the number of women who get early treatment.

With an earlier entrance for treatment, clinicians can try different drug/surgery/radiation combinations to see what works from what doesn’t.

Poor women often delay screening (and heaven help them if they need treatment) since they cannot afford to be seen by medical practices that want your insurance card first or large upfront cash payments.

Planned Parenthood sees those women and gets them in the system where the potential of contributing and being a part of finding the cure(s) is increased.

Get it now. Early low cost or free access to screening is a significant part of finding a cure.

Too bad Komen’s board and high priced executives and consultants did not think through (gaming the plan)the downside of their initial decision.

Keith Eric Grant says:

It’s inaccurate to think that Komen mainly uses its funds for research. As shown in this breakdown of use of funds, about 21% of funds go for overhead, about 21% of funds go for research, and about 19% go for screening and treatment.

A similar breakdown of use of funds by Planned Parenthood shows 16% of funds used for cancer screening and prevention, the category for which the Komen funding was designated.

With $400 million in income, the $700,000 given to Planned Parenthood for screenings was a small part of the Komen budget for screenings and treatment.

As mentioned by others, in many areas PP has been the only available provider for poor women. If provision of such basic health care is political, then we as a nation are in a sorry state.

R. Verheul says:

I don’t agree with the criticism of many people that all of the funds should go to research. As ms Casey Quinlan explains here ( finding a cure for cancer is an illusion. If you want people to not die from cancer, the most result you will get, will be from early detection. So that a big chunk of the Komen-money goes to screening or treatment assistance, doesn’t bother me. Lots about Komen bothers me (like sueing over the ‘for the cure’ phrase, or the endles commercial shit, or the huge overhead, or the fact that Komen has become almost like a Too Big To Fail-moloch, or this giving in to the whims of a looney representative.) but this doesn’t.

Breast cancer space? Oh my God, did Karen Brinker really say that?

I transcribed it myself. Yes, she did.

I want to point something out to Lee and others: Planned Parenthood does more to prevent abortions than the many “right to life” groups. They are the most effective anti-abortion group in the US. It’s been shown over and over: as rates of access to contraceptives and family planning information increase, the rate of abortions goes down. So if someone really wants to reduce the number of abortions in the US, they should be supporting Planned Parenthood. They are getting the job done.

Hear hear and Amen..

I dare say that this comment should be the definitive example for the dictionary definition of, “duh.”

Prantha T. says:

Of course, you are correct. But the fundies have an answer for that as well. They are AGAINST birth control as well.

Molly, NYC says:

Obvious point: In the US, infant mortality–that’s among wanted babies–is a national disgrace.

Now, there’s an issue that seems to be absolutely tailor-made for these great champions of the unborn.

So why are they not it like white on rice?

Oh right–because they’re lying through their lying teeth about their motives, like the lying liars that they are. “Pro-life” sounds so much nicer than “We want to micromanage everyone’s sex life–on the public dime.”

Re Molly NYC’s point re infant mortality, I have often had similar thoughts. It seems many anti-choice activists stop caring about the ‘babies’ they fight so hard to protect about a minute after they’re born. After that….they’re on their own!

This -was- impressive. But I still feel Andrea Mitchell could have pressed harder. Pressed directly at Amb. Brinker for trying out a brand new explanation of the decision on the fly.

Andrea Mitchell -was- doing the personal and powerful thing you described. But perhaps, did that make her step back from a more brutal direct attack on the duplicity, calling out the duplicity herself to the person being duplicitous, rather than forcing Sen. Boxer (the invited partisan “anti” representative) to make the point?

Wow! Talk about a major case of denial! Nancy Brinker was in so far over her head. She is clueless as to what is happening. Time to release the reins and let someone who understands that women’s health issues are not and should not be political. Kudos to Andrea Mitchell for maintaining her cool in the face of idiocy!

This is classic neoconservative behavior: leverage plausible deniability, rhetoric over content and force-of-will to turn lies into media truth.

I think the real interesting angle is one that people aren’t thinking about — execs at non-profits make so much money that they’re becoming uber-wealthy and detaching from the public they claim to serve.

Yes! I’ve been a Komen supporter for years, but now that I know how much the CEO made in 2010 ($456,437.00) I will never donate to them again. There are plenty of other charities who need $ to help with screening & treatment of low income patients.

It was as if someone gave her some keywords and said “just keep pounding them home.” It was like she was in the Twilight Zone. What amazed me was a mention on their Facebook page that she was going to be on TV With Mitchell, like it was some kind of little PR gab fest for the foundation. A normal person would never have gone on TV until they had all their ducks in a row and knew the extent of the damage. Wow, not a bright bulb.

The talking points were bullshit, but that is a standard operating procedure for authoritarians, an outgrowth of the “big lie” philosophy which has come to infect politics and governance. Brinker came to the interview expecting to spread the talking points like magic pixie dust, and have Andrea Mitchell lob her softball questions and let her repeat the talking points by nodding sagely and looking impressed.

Mitchell had not read the script, but this is a highly instructive encounter. The lesson (apart from the utter vapidity of Nancy Brinker’s responses, which will surely be played in the years to come in business schools all over the planet) is that media interviewers can get past the flim-flam that interviewees deploy in answer to awkward questions, if they are prepared to be persistent and inquiring enough. We need to see more public figures being forced out of their talking points zones.

For another view: (

Let’s look at what happened when Susan G. Komen decided to stop giving the country’s largest provider of abortions, the $1 billion Planned Parenthood, less than $700,000 in grants. You can watch, for instance, this “interview” of the Komen founder Amb. Nancy Brinker by MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell where Andrea Mitchell just monologues about how devastated she is by the decision and barely lets the woman speak. (It’s embedded below, too) Every time Brinker tries to speak, she is interrupted by Mitchell. She tries to explain that the Planned Parenthood grants weren’t meeting criteria for effectiveness but Mitchell interrupts her. She explains that Planned Parenthood only offers pass-throughs — sending women to other places that can test them — and that they’d prefer to fund groups that directly provide services. She gets interrupted by a deeply hurt and personally offended Mitchell. At one point, Mitchell asks how, if the group is supposed to be bi-partisan, could they hire a pro-life individual who doesn’t love Planned Parenthood. (I’m not joking. Apparently bi-partisan means Democrats and Republicans who love Planned Parenthood.) If you doubt me about how biased this piece is, you can see how the blog Jezebel cheers Mitchell on as “completely schooling Brinker on where she and her foundation went wrong. Boom.”

Now the Mitchell piece is really bad journalism — it’s not journalism at all, actually — but it’s MSNBC and I’m not sure how much people expect from that outlet…

Prantha T. says:

Well, at least, the writer ADMITS that it was a political move . . .

Where Hemingway goes wrong in her analysis is accepting Brinker’s new argument about why they quit funding PP, something Mitchell wasn’t tolerating because she recognized that Brinker was changing reasons mid-crisis. This is what journalists should do, not allowing guests to just spin new stories. Hemingway apparently doesn’t think that’s a journalists job. From her perspective as a conservative pundit, I understand why she’s more interested in spin. But for someone who says she’s a media critic, it’s an odd position.

Daniel Doyle says:

I also see a *great* case for single-payer healthcare. Wow: I can really only “vote against” Brinker by pulling my financial support or sharing this video, and with me there’s no financial support to pull.

Keith Eric Grant says:

This entire Komen episode has been an almost classic example of lack of systems thinking. In his book, “Business Dynamics – systems Thinking & Modeling for a Complex World”, John Sterman comments:

Many of the problems we now face arise as unanticipated side effects of our own past actions. All too often the policies we implement to solve important problems fail, make the problem worse, or create new problems.

Reversing an action like this doesn’t bring one back to the starting point. Once a bell is rung, it’s hard to unring it. Once trust is lost, it’s not easily regained. It was clear from the interview that there was no advance comprehension of the social system within which Komen operates nor of the potential feedbacks.

“American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America”

Chris Hedges’s book examines how Christian dominionists are seeking absolute power and a Christian state. This movement bears a strong resemblance to the young fascist movements in Italy and Germany in the 1920s and ’30s.


toffer99 says:

Ita another argument for a national health service. Cut interfering, politicised charities out of the loop.

This is an instructive episode in the Culture War Chronicles, another occasion on which a self-styled non-political organization finds its position untenable when landing in completely politicized terrain. Normally, conservatives draw the clear cultural dividing line that removes the viability of neutral, middle ground. This marks a rare occasion when the boot happened to be on the progressive foot.

No matter that Planned Parenthood did not pick this particular fight…or that Komen turned out to have made a politicized decision when it first made the breast screening grants to Planned Parenthood and was only now trying to depoliticize itself. The point is that in this instance, Planned Parenthood knew that it had no choice to act as a political player and Komen was engaging in the fantasy that there was still a non-political terrain it could occupy. Far from depoliticizing itself, Komen found itself yet more deeply embroiled.

Komen sought neutrality where none exists, dreaming that women’s healthcare could be just about the disease, not about the politics of its delivery. Planned Parenthood discovered decades ago that, of course, the delivery of women’s healthcare is highly politicized. As a consequence it has schooled its leaders, its supporters and its patients in these harsh truths in disciplined fashion. Thus, when the fight came — as they knew it would — everyone knew their talking points.

As for Komen, the foundation can commiserate with National Public Radio. Komen brought a Pink Ribbon to a Knife Fight, about as useful as a Tote Bag.

gnarlytrombone says:

Komen was engaging in the fantasy that there was still a non-political terrain it could occupy

I don’t think this fits with what we know of how this came about.

– Last spring Komen puts Karen Handel in the control room, who’s only expertise as far as anyone can tell is culture war.

– Last fall Komen hires Ari Freaking Fleischer, another Planned Parenthood disdainer whose only expertise is how to turn a Manichean, headlong rush into disaster into an epic headlong rush into disaster.

– On Dec. 2, someone at Komen clues in the culture war vanguard on the PP decision, apparently asking them to refrain from blowing their shofars loud enough for the donor base to hear.

It’s apparent that Komen was under no illusions that it was picking a side in the culture war. The fantasy was that they could keep it on the QT.

Nice class war in the States, Canada is not far behind. Why do women have to rely on donations from the 1% for medical help? It’s begging. If they had national health care, women wouldn’t have to be begging for medical care.


“American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America”

Chris Hedges’s book examines how Christian dominionists are seeking absolute power and a Christian state. This movement bears a strong resemblance to the young fascist movements in Italy and Germany in the 1920s and ’30s.


Kathleen Pavelko says:

The political war on Planned Parenthood is based on disingenuous theory of “fungibility” of funding…that there is no such thing as a purpose-restricted grant when an organization that does something opposed by the grantor.

In Planned Parenthood’s case, it isn’t enough for opponents of abortion that federal funding for abortion has been prohibited since Henry Hyde decided he knew best about women’s bodies. In Komen’s case, it wasn’t enough for some of their donors and senior staffers that Komen funds were used ONLY for breast cancer screening–somehow, that money could end up supporting abortion.

It’s time to fight the false “fungibility” claim. Philanthropy–and government funding–depends upon the principle that funds can be disbursed for a particular purpose and that financial reporting can be relied upon to verify the donor’s intent.

The claim of fungibility is used to villify organizations and, in the long term, damages the faith of donors in how their funds will be used.

Nonprofits everywhere have a stake in this aspect of the Komen-Planned Parenthood debacle.

The issue isn’t whether an organization might misspend purpose-restricted money. If an organization has a purpose-restricted grant for a non-controversial activity, its unrestricted funds are freed up to support its controversial activities. The grant money also helps cover the organization’s overhead, which indirectly assists the controversial side of the organization.

Exactly. And therefore Planned Parenthood’s defense against political attack is not to rely on the technicality of bookkeeping — that earmarked funds were used only for earmarked purposes — even though it strenuously denies any violation of those rules of accountancy.

Instead, its defense has been a political one: namely, that the struggle to provide women’s healthcare is seamless, of one piece — interested in preventing cancer, preventing unintended pregnancy, and if such a pregnancy should occur, enabling that woman to terminate it, if she chooses.

In other words, no double standards for women’s health above and below the waist; on her chest and inside her uterus.

In this instance, a defense that relied on the argument that funds are really not fungible after all would have left Planned Parenthood open to an admission that such a double standard is acceptable.

I think she wore the right outfight. Her hair is too high and it looks awful in the back. Not a fan of the scrunchy. Her posture is combative, not empathetic. She doesn’t seem like she’s listening to the questions, just waiting to state her response. For example, she doesn’t pause after a question is asked to even pretend like she’s thinking about it. Her little “mm-hm” “yeah” “uh-huh” statements when Nancy Brinker is talking come across as brusque, like how you might react to a long-winded waiter who is telling you about all of today’s specials when you’ve already decided on the veal.

Typical conservative mindset on this issue,  who are seemingly quite willing to let women die on principle, in order to make their point about the abortion of unwanted children, unwanted children a large percentage of which we now know will grow up to commit a large percentage of the violent crimes in society,  violent crimes which will eventually place them in the prison system, the prison system that conservatives have an ever-increasing financial and political interest in perpetuating.

 No small irony or hypocrisy in the fact that should abortion become illegal again in the US,  these children which would have been aborted, will grow up to commit a preponderance of the capital crimes, capital crimes that the Conservatives will no doubt insist they be put to death for. So in point of fact, for some conservatives these babies are only being saved so that a rather bloodthirsty element can enjoy the satisfaction of putting them to death under countenance of law and the courts later on down the road. I know this element exist among conservatives because I heard them cheering for Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s implementation of the death penalty during the recent Tea Party Republican debate.

So the whole antiabortion movement, for many on the right like Ari Fleischer and former Bush administration officials, is really just a kind of money making generational bloodsport that ultimately ends in the same place, with the death of the unwanted and unloved. Only under the so-called social conservative approach, who profess their great love for the unborn, these unwanted children will grow up to create a whole lot of death, misery and expense for society, death, misery and expense that social conservatives and antichoice advocates would justify by holding up their superior morality, personal interpretation of the Bible and will of Jesus.

While at the same time other, less morally driven conservatives shall we say, will end up deriving enormous financial benefits from these unwanted children down the road, through their privately owned prisons and private police forces, which they are currently putting forward as cost-effective replacements for state & federal run prisons and local publicly funded police forces. A change they and others see coming to pass in the very near future. After all, if you have enormous prisons that by necessity must show profit to generate funding, then you must have a population of people to stock them with.

I submit that the more genuinely socially conservative folks in this debate are in fact being used as little more than dupes and political pawns in the political conservatives long game, which has a far more cynical valuation of lives of the unborn.  

To the true social conservative I ask this question, when one of these un-aborted children grows up into some awful hopeless life without love or anyone who cares for them, a life where they place no value on their own life or anyone else’s, and this person end up on death row convicted of a capital crime, will you agree with their abortion at that point? At that point will you be willing reconsider the ramifications of the actions you take now?

I was thinking about this last night, the response to Komen’s actions was simply too large and swift to claim that this was a liberal/conservative debate. Many conservatives were angered with Komen’s decision, and I’m willing to bet quite a few of these people are pro-life and knew about PP performing abortions. What about this issue got both sides together?

I think this quote speaks to that…

“Is it possible for a woman’s health organization to stay out of the abortion issue and help all women?” asked Mr. Raffaelli, the Komen board member. “I don’t know the answer to that yet. What we were doing before was angering the right-to-life crowd. Then, with our decision in December, we upset the pro-choice crowd. And now we’re going to make the right-to-life crowd mad all over again. How do we stop doing that?”

That, I think, pretty much sums up the enormous disconnect between perception and reality, and how politically unprepared the Komen foundation was, and still is, to address these matters. They think that this is a culture war debate, red vs. blue, liberal vs. conservative, pro-life vs. pro-choice, and for some it clearly is. Sorry Mr. Raffaelli, but most people tend to be a bit more complicated than that.

Komen spent years building a very real sense of inclusion and community, it’s the reason for their enormous popularity. In most people’s minds, Komen became more than a charity, it became an idea. The idea is that we can put aside our differences, and make a positive change. This idea was shared by everyone involved, and in turn there is a sense of ownership in that idea. Komen’s actions betrayed this idea of inclusion and community, by caving into the political pressures of people not part of that community. Komen didn’t just “upset the pro-choice crowd” as Mr. Raffaelli states, it upset, and betrayed, the community. It made a cardinal sin, “don’t talk about politics or religion with friends or family”. Members of the community thought that Komen understood the rules that existed within the collective consciousness of the community, and they were wrong. I think there is also an added sense of betrayal that an organization that is seemingly so good at understanding the importance and power of community doesn’t understand that community at all.

Here is a quote from one of my favorite authors that I would hope Mr. Raffaelli would recognize as satire, but I have my doubts.

“Thanks to TV and for the convenience of TV, you can only be one of two kinds of human beings, either a liberal or a conservative”. Kurt Vonnegut

I agree.

Why did an avowedly non-political organization like Komen give grants to a controversial grantee like Planned Parenthood in the first place? Because the money went to further the mission, and that’s what counted. They forgot that reasoning when they started down the road of… “we’re angering the right-to-life crowd.”

Some additional details here:

Wish I better understood the impetus behind the 2010 grant/metric restructuring mentioned. I guess I don’t understand why an organization that’s been providing grants to various organizations for 20-30 years decided to change the grant process two years ago. If the process is constantly evolving & under review, then why not just say that? And if not, then why not share the reasoning for the restructure?

I recognized the shameless duplicity of everyone associated with breast cancer during my own research and experience of the disease three years ago. I wrote all of it into a story posted at (mammograms and dcis).

Reading my story could save your or a loved one’s life. There are many more things that we are not told. Please read it. It won’t be a waste of your time.

And while you’re reading, please find and read the U.S.Supreme Court’s opinion in Roe v. Wade. You will understand a great deal more about why the Court voted unanimously to keep abortion legal.

Stephanie Nichols says:

“it was hard to measure the effectiveness of Planned Parenthood’s work,”

Her statement gives me clarity on what thier ‘mission statement’ is really all about, what a bunch of con artists.

Effectiveness? We are talking about women’s lives. IF ONE WOMAN IS HELPED BY THE SERVICES, that’s effective enough for me. What are people like Handel even doing in this world ?

Maureen says:

Your comment about the life raft words made me think of one of my favorite movies: The Castle. “It’s the vibe”

Planned Parenthood’s prowess does not look so powerful tonight. All three nightly network newscasts gave short shrift tonight to the women’s-reproductive-healthcare viewpoint. Game. Set. Match — to the Roman Catholic Conference of Bishops as Culture War Warriors, displaying vastly superior clout compared with those rookies at Susan Komen: ABC here; CBS here; NBC here.

You wrote: “When the board took the decision to cut off Planned Parenthood it ceased to be true.”

I think this is skewed a bit. The board entered into abortion politics not last week but years ago when they decided to issue grants to Planned Parenthood. Pro-lifers have been up in arms and boycotting Komen for years because of its tie to Planned Parenthood. The difference is that Pro-lifers do not have allies in the national media who will aggressively advocate their cause. Planned Parenthood does have those advocates (see Andrea Mitchell and a host of others over the last week).

Think about how this has been cast in the media. Funding Planned Parenthood (the nation’s leading abortion provider) is the apolitical position, but defunding them is the political one. For most Americans, that is backwards.

The real story here is that fact that Komen let itself get involved with Planned Parenthood in the first place.

That’s the way you see it, and that has become the anti-abortion or “conservative” movement line. It’s been brought up in this thread several times already. Nothing will move it, and nothing I say will make a difference to those who repeat it. The possibilities for mutual understanding I would estimate at around… zero. So I am entirely cynical about this exchange. I don’t think it has anything to do with real dialogue. It’s simply waging culture war via comment thread.

Nonetheless, I do have a reply. It’s fine with me if you want to call Komen’s original decision to fund Planned Parenthood “political.” It was Komen’s choice to do business with an organization known to attract controversy. Just as avoiding controversy at all costs is a political decision, deciding to enter into a funding agreement with Planned Parenthood is a political decision. But that decision had nothing to do with with the politics of abortion. The reason Komen gave grants to Planned Parenthood is not that it also does abortions and who can object to that! (As if you don’t know this and you need me to point it out to you. *Rolls eyes.*) No. The reason Komen gave grants to Planned Parenthood in the first place is that Planned Parenthood helps under-served populations get the cancer-screening services they need, and this is squarely within Komen’s mission. Dead center, in fact.

You want me to say the words that this was a “political” decision? Fine. I say those words. Go tell your friends. It was a political decision (in that braving controversy is always political) but it had nothing to do with the toxic politics of abortion, even though you insist–stupidly–that it does.

However, the criticism of Komen for funding breast-cancer screening services delivered through Planned Parenthood is not only political, but politicized in a way that the grant-making at Komen never was (before this episode.) That criticism has nothing to do with the mission of the organization and everything to do with fights going on elsewhere. It’s culture war logic, and that is the only logic it commands. So it was not just politicized but hyper-politicized. Komen’s misbegotten decision to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood was not just political, but politicized, especially in its connection to a highly partisan investigation in the House of Representatives. That’s why it enraged so many people and has led to a mortal crisis for the foundation.

Through the word games that are present in your comment, you can try to equate the decision to fund Planned Parenthood and the decision to defund it as equally political. But this is a lie.

Have a nice fucking day!

Dear Mr. Rosen,

Thanks for the thoughtful post and the spirited interaction!

It doesn’t pass the sniff test to act like Planned Parenthood is just another charitable organization giving free healthcare to underserved populations. Only people with a pro-choice perspective would characterize Planned Parenthood in such neutral terms.
Planned Parenthood does over 300,000 abortions a year. That means about one out of every four abortions in this country happen at a Planned Parenthood facility. Not only that, Planned Parenthood’s annual budget is about one billion dollars per year. About 30-40% percent of their revenues come from abortion services. Thus there is a major financial incentive within Planned Parenthood to keep their abortion business going.

Planned Parenthood is the main engine of abortion in America, and there can be no moral or political neutrality towards this organization. Failure to acknowledge this is evidence that one has already taken a side on what continues to be one of the most divisive issues of our time—abortion on demand.

By the way, Planned Parenthood only received about $680k from Komen last year, a fraction of a percent of its 1 billion dollar largesse. Yet from Planned Parenthood’s aggressive response to Komen, you would think that Planned Parenthood’s existence were in jeopardy by the denial of these grants. But the actual numbers suggest a different story. Planned Parenthood’s take-down of the nation’s leading breast cancer charity was not about money or women’s health; it was about abortion politics. For many on the left, abortion rights are sacrosanct, and they will allow no one to tread on their sacred ground. Planned Parenthood and their allies in congress and the press have shown that they are willing to destroy a venerable charity just to make the point.

Denny Burk

Hi Denny,

Try to get your facts straight as opposed to straight from various pro-life organizations or simply made-up.

“30-40% of their revenues from abortion services” really? Please cite a credible verifiable source.

“does 300,000 abortions a year” really? Are you counting the ingestion of a birth control pil or use of a contraceptive as an abortion? Please cite a credible verifiable source.

BTW: Komen is well on its way to destroying itself for having pandered to and succumber to the pro-lifers. That will be them slowing sinking under the waves and from view in the years to come.

What’s interesting is that Komen could have slowly gotten out of its PP relationship by saying that it wanted to eliminate pass-through entities and fund screening facilities directly. However, that would probably have affected other pass throughs, so it initially rested on the “government investigation” defense which also hasn’t held up as it has been unequally applied.

The 300,000 number is well-known. Just do a Google news search on “300,000 abortions” and you’ll see a wealth of sources. George Will recently cited it here:

Princeton University Professor recently wrote a column for WSJ that gives up to date figures. He has the 300,000 number and estimates that Planned Parenthood gets about $164 million dollars a year from performing abortion services.

These numbers aren’t hard to find.


The pro-lifers have moved slowly away from assassinating doctors who provide abortions to focusing on trying to dry up the funding for any organization which provides such procedures.

The fact that abortions are legal seems to be irrelevant to them. They want only to prevent abortions and care little to nothing about unwanted children being born. At that point it’s the mother’s problem and their work is done.

You illustrated very well this portion of my comment.

“So I am entirely cynical about this exchange. I don’t think it has anything to do with real dialogue. It’s simply waging culture war via comment thread.”

Planned Parenthood: very very bad. We get it. Bye.


I don’t understand why you are giving up on dialogue. I’m not. It seems that we ought to be able to engage one another charitably even if we don’t see eye to eye and even if we end up disagreeing with one another. I don’t feel like we are talking past each other. I just think we disagree.


I would say that the apolitical decision would be to fund whatever organizations are delivering health care to the populations Komen is trying to reach, and the political decision would be to let some unrelated factor influence the funding decision.

I agree that Ms. Brinker was totally unprepared for and unaware of the situation she was in. I like the concept of “life raft” words and will now watch for them.

One reason she did so poorly is that she does, indeed, look like a zombie. Her face doesn’t move when she talks. It’s scary.

The other reason is actually related to the first. Just as, with excessive cosmetic alteration of her face, she’s trying to look younger but only succeeding in looking weird, her attempt to hide behind a false front of calm, objective, placating jargon is utterly ineffective to conceal the fact that she is lying about “metrics” and “translation” and “Handel had nothing to do with it” and “we didn’t actually de-fund Planned Parenthood.” A woman who keeps thinking one more round of Botox or collagen or whatever it is she does will successfully create the (false) image she wants to project apparently thinks a little verbal Botox will do the same thing. Wrong on both counts.


It doesn’t pass the sniff test to act like Planned Parenthood is just another charitable organization giving free healthcare to underserved populations. Only people with a pro-choice perspective would characterize Planned Parenthood in such neutral terms.

Why should a characterization by those with a pro-choice perspective be automatically inaccurate? One can be pro-choice and pass a sniff test at the same time.

Planned Parenthood does over 300,000 abortions a year. That means about one out of every four abortions in this country happen at a Planned Parenthood facility.

The ghettoization of abortion services, concentrated in a few facilities, rather than being generally available as part of ob/gyn in the healthcare system as a whole, is a consequence of the success of pro-life activism and the cowardice of many hospitals. Planned Parenthood cannot be held accountable for the failure of others to stand up to pressure.

Not only that, Planned Parenthood’s annual budget is about one billion dollars per year. About 30-40% percent of their revenues come from abortion services. Thus there is a major financial incentive within Planned Parenthood to keep their abortion business going. Planned Parenthood is the main engine of abortion in America, and there can be no moral or political neutrality towards this organization.

Indeed. The futility of the quest for neutral ground around the Culture War politics of abortion is the point of this entire thread. Komen’s untenable pretense that its decisions were made in a politically neutral fashion was the origin of its disaster.

Failure to acknowledge this is evidence that one has already taken a side on what continues to be one of the most divisive issues of our time—abortion on demand.

Precisely. Komen’s failure to acknowledge that it was taking sides when it pulled its funding for Planned Parenthood led almost everyone to assume that it was taking sides, the pro-life side.

By the way, Planned Parenthood only received about $680k from Komen last year, a fraction of a percent of its 1 billion dollar largesse. Yet from Planned Parenthood’s aggressive response to Komen, you would think that Planned Parenthood’s existence were in jeopardy by the denial of these grants.

No, what was in jeopardy was Komen’s standing as a good-faith partner, involved in all aspects of women’s healthcare, including reproductive healthcare.

But the actual numbers suggest a different story. Planned Parenthood’s take-down of the nation’s leading breast cancer charity was not about money or women’s health; it was about abortion politics.

Komen’s self-inflicted wound was not about money or women’s health. It was about abortion politics.

For many on the left, abortion rights are sacrosanct, and they will allow no one to tread on their sacred ground.

It is surely more apt to use the words sacrosanct and sacred to describe the worldview of the pro-life movement.

Planned Parenthood and their allies in congress and the press have shown that they are willing to destroy a venerable charity just to make the point.

As for venerability, Komen, founded in 1982, cannot hold a candle to Planned Parenthood. Margaret Sanger’s first clinic was started in 1921. Komen has not been destroyed, merely discredited.

Cheers — Tyndall

Oppositional viewpoints that completely ignore the complexity of human thought and emotion, check. Stats and figures that have nothing to do with the subject matter at hand, check. Assumption that there are only two sides to this debate, check. Reptilian like knee-jerk reactions, check.

And just for the sake of making this comment thread complete:

Hitler, Hitler, Nazi, Nazi, Nazi….

Tedious indeed.

Since Brinker was the founder of Komen she is very unusual as in this day and age most leaders of institutions are hired professionals who have internalized the rules of politics and the nature of the current zeitgeist. That is in this case knowing full well the decision was political. Brinker I think believed it wasn’t and that is her sin.

If a professional organizational man or women were in charge then they would understand the entire dynamic and thus lie and deflect in a professional manner. Poor Brinker was left to tell what she thought was the truth about an alternate reality which she believed in and the result was sad.

Any crisis communication person knows you don’t put an amateur in front of a camera or anywhere in sight under such circumstances. That is the only lesson here. Since the amateur organizational leader is dying out this isn’t really much of a problem. The individual speaking their own mind is the antithesis of institutional savvy. If you want to be somebody today then you have to be an organization man, a company man. Where lying is expected. Where when you lie everyone knows you are lying and doesn’t hold it against you because that’s your job.

Very interesting perspective. Thanks.