Vitae Foundation v. KUOW – Video of the hearing

On Saturday March 31st, 2012, The Washington News Council had a hearing on the Vitae Foundation v. KUOW case involving a story on Vitae’s youroptions.com website. You can read about the results of the case and watch the hearing in its entirety below. Also feel free to check out some of the “press” surrounding the case.

Part 1 – Opening Statements

Part 2 – Questioning

Part 3 – Questioning (continued)

Part 4 – Discussion

Part 5 – Discussion (continued)

National coverage from CPB Ombudsman Joel Kaplan
National coverage by Mike Janssen of Current.org
National coverage by Valerie Richardson of The Washington Times
Local coverage from Mark Griswold of Sound Politics
Local coverage from NW Daily Marker’s Bryan Myrick
Local coverage from PubliCola’s Erica Barnett

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Complaint against KUOW largely upheld at WNC hearing

Watch the hearing video in its entirety
National coverage from CPB Ombudsman Joel Kaplan
National coverage by Mike Janssen of Current.org
National coverage by Valerie Richardson of The Washington Times
Local coverage from Mark Griswold of Sound Politics
Local coverage from NW Daily Marker’s Bryan Myrick
Local coverage from PubliCola’s Erica Barnett

The Washington News Council (WNC) held a three-hour public hearing Saturday, March 31, at the University of Washington’s Communications Building on a complaint by the Vitae Caring Foundation against KUOW 94.9 FM Public Radio in Seattle.

Pia de Solenni represented the Vitae Foundation and Guy Nelson, News Director of KUOW spoke for the radio station. The hearing was filmed by UWTV and the WNC. A link to the full video will be posted soon on this website.

WNC Hearings Board members voted on six questions relating to the complaint. The full questions, and the Council’s votes, follow.

  1. Did KUOW have a journalistic responsibility to contact Vitae Foundation, YourOptions, and/or CareNet for comment before airing the April 13, 2011, news story?
    YES – 11 votes; NO – 0 votes
  2. Did KUOW have a responsibility to give equal airtime to both sides, Vitae Foundation as well as Planned Parenthood, in a news story about Vitae’s advertising campaign?
    YES – 5 votes; NO – 3 votes; ABSTAIN – 3 votes
  3. Did KUOW’s story accurately characterize the abortion information that was accessible on the YourOptions.com website?
    YES – 1 vote; NO – 8 votes; ABSTAIN – 2 votes
  4. Did the original KUOW news story contain substantive errors worthy of public, on-air corrections and/or clarifications?
    YES – 10 votes; NO – 0 votes; ABSTAIN – 1 vote
  5. Did the follow-up interview by Guy Nelson with Debbie Stokes, posted on KUOW’s website on Sept. 30, 2011, sufficiently acknowledge and/or clarify errors in the original story?
    YES – 4 votes; NO – 6 votes; ABSTAIN – 1 vote
  6. Did KUOW have any responsibility to provide Vitae Foundation additional on-air coverage after the original news story aired?
    YES – 1 vote; NO – 10 votes
Bill Gates Sr and Pia de Solenni

Bill Gates Sr. has a chat with Vitae Caring Foundation's Pia de Solenni after the hearing

Former Washington State Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerry Alexander presided, sitting in for WNC Hearings Board Chair Judge Karen Seinfeld. The WNC Hearings Board included current WNC Board Members Scott Forslund, John Hamer, Martin Neeb and Shannon Myers, plus Emeritus Members Steve Boyer, Bill Gates Sr., Walt Howe, John Knowlton, Charles Rehberg, David Schaefer and Chris Villiers.

“It was an extremely thoughtful and frank discussion about media accuracy, fairness and ethics,” said John Hamer, President and Executive Director of the WNC. “We were very pleased that KUOW fully participated in our process, and appreciative that the Vitae Foundation came to the News Council for recourse. This is what the WNC is all about.”

Pia de Solenni of Vitae issued the following statement after the hearing: “The Washington News Council provided a wonderful opportunity for Vitae to make its case and to demonstrate that KUOW had in fact run a news piece about Vitae that violated KUOW’s own code of ethics. Vitae contacted KUOW within 24 hours of the original story last April; but attempts to rectify the errors in the story were delayed by KUOW, both then and after the informal mediation meeting in July. While an outlet such as KUOW, an NPR affiliate, should have a level of professionalism that would have precluded the original piece from even airing, much less allowing the inaccuracies to stand uncorrected, the WNC offered a public forum in which a consensus was arrived at that KUOW had acted in a less than responsible manner. 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.”

Guy Nelson of KUOW issued this statement: “KUOW was glad to participate in the WNC Hearing process on March 31, 2012. We were given the opportunity to clearly state our position and answer any questions from the WNC Board members. At the end of the hearing, I stated that KUOW has indeed met the stipulations of the WNC proposed resolution put forth in August 2011, and I asked the board members for comment. None of the board members spoke in disagreement. [Editor's Note: Some disagreed.] KUOW will consider further coverage of the issue of pregnancy care centers as it becomes important to our listeners.”

The 11-member Hearings Board agreed with Vitae on some of the six questions under consideration, and sided with KUOW on others. Board members had the option to abstain from voting for any reason.

The Board voted 11-0 that KUOW did have a “journalistic responsibility” to contact Vitae and/or two related organizations before airing its story on April 13, 2011. Nelson said the station’s reporter tried to contact CareNet, a related organization, but calls were not returned.

The Board also agreed with Vitae, 10-0, with 1 abstention, that the story contained “substantive errors” worthy of on-air corrections or clarifications. The station made some corrections and clarifications, but only on its website and not on the air.

The Board voted 8-1, with 2 abstentions, that KUOW’s story did not “accurately characterize” abortion information that was accessible on a Vitae-sponsored website.

However, the Board voted 10-1 that KUOW did not have “any responsibility to provide Vitae additional on-air coverage” after the original story aired. Panel members were divided 5-3, with 3 abstentions, on whether KUOW had a responsibility to give “equal airtime” to both sides. They voted 6-4, with 1 abstention, that a follow-up interview with Vitae posted on KUOW’s website did not “sufficiently acknowledge and/or clarify errors in the original story.”

The questions were worded by members of the WNC’s Executive and Complaints Committees over the past several weeks, in an effort to focus on the key issues in the complaint.

The hearing began with presentations by De Solenni and Nelson, followed by rebuttal statements from each. The WNC Board members then asked questions of each side. After a break, the hearing reconvened for open discussion among Board members, with follow-up question for clarifications by the two parties as needed. Vitae and KUOW each made brief closing statements.

The Hearings Board members voted on written ballots and then confirmed their votes on each question by a show of hands.

Members of the audience, including students, were also given written ballots and asked to vote on the six questions. Those results were tabulated after the hearing. They were:

  1. Did KUOW have a journalistic responsibility to contact Vitae Foundation, YourOptions, and/or CareNet for comment before airing the April 13, 2011, news story?
    • Students: YES – 6 votes; NO – 0 votes
    • Other Attendees: YES – 4 votes; NO – 0 votes
  2. Did KUOW have a responsibility to give equal airtime to both sides, Vitae Foundation as well as Planned Parenthood, in a news story about Vitae’s advertising campaign?
    • Students: YES – 4 votes; NO – 2 votes
    • Other Attendees: YES – 2 votes; NO – 2 votes
  3. Did KUOW’s story accurately characterize the abortion information that was accessible on the YourOptions.com website?
    • Students: YES – 1 votes; NO – 4 votes; ABSTAIN 1 vote
    • Other Attendees: YES – 0 votes; NO – 3 votes; ABSTAIN 1 vote
  4. Did the original KUOW news story contain substantive errors worthy of public, on-air corrections and/or clarifications?
    • Students: YES – 3 votes; NO – 1 votes; ABSTAIN 2 vote
    • Other Attendees: YES – 2 votes; NO – 0 votes; ABSTAIN 1 vote
  5. Did the follow-up interview by Guy Nelson with Debbie Stokes, posted on KUOW’s website on Sept. 30, 2011, sufficiently acknowledge and/or clarify errors in the original story?
    • Students: YES – 4 votes; NO – 0 votes; ABSTAIN 2 vote
    • Other Attendees: YES – 1 votes; NO – 3 votes
  6. Did KUOW have any responsibility to provide Vitae Foundation additional on-air coverage after the original news story aired?
    • Students: YES – 1 votes; NO – 4 votes; ABSTAIN 1 vote
    • Other Attendees: YES – 2 votes; NO – 2 votes

The Washington News Council would like to thank Pia de Solenni and Guy Nelson for participating in our complaint and hearing process. Media participation in WNC proceedings is entirely voluntary.

We’d also like to thank all those who attended. We invite follow-up comments and suggestions on our complaint and hearing process, which we will be thoroughly reviewing in the months ahead, as we have done regularly in years past.

The Washington News Council’s decisions carry no legal weight, but we believe our process of discussing media accuracy, balance and ethics in an open forum is valuable for the public, the press and democracy. If you agree, disagree, or just want to talk, we’d love to hear from you.

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WNC To Hold Hearing on Vitae Foundation vs. KUOW Complaint

***UPDATE*** we now have the hearing video and full set of documents involved with the complaint as a downloadable PDF. We also have national coverage by The Washington Times and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s Ombudsman. Plus local coverage in Sound Politics and the Northwest Daily Marker.

The Washington News Council’s Board of Directors has set a date for a hearing on a formal written complaint from the Vitae Foundation against KUOW 94.9 FM concerning a story that aired April 13, 2011.

The hearing will be Saturday, March 31, 2012, from 9 am-noon, at the University of Washington’s Communication Department, Room 120. It is open to the public.

You can download a PDF collection here to read the basic complaint and initial correspondence between Vitae and KUOW.

WNC Hearings Board Chair Karen Seinfeld presiding over the Sue Rahr v. Seattle Post-Intelligencer case

Karen Seinfeld, Chair of the WNC Hearings Board and former Chief Judge of the Washington State Court of Appeals, will preside at the hearing. (UPDATE 3/16/12: Former Washington State Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerry Alexander will be presiding in Judge Seinfeld’s place at the hearing.)

The WNC Hearings Board will be comprised of current and former WNC Board Members, including Martin Neeb, Scott Forslund, Shannon Myers, Bill Gates Sr., Steve Boyer, John Knowlton, Erik Lacitis, Charles Rehberg, David Schaefer, Paula Selis, Chris Villiers and Walt Howe.

The WNC recently received two grants from the Gates Foundation and Microsoft for 2012 operating expenses.

To see how a WNC hearing works, here is a link to a video and background information of a 2006 hearing in the Sheriff Sue Rahr vs. Seattle Post-Intelligencer complaint, held at Town Hall Seattle.

(The P-I chose not to participate in the hearing, which is their right as media participation is voluntary. They posted a 17-page written response on their website, much of which was read into the record by Judge Seinfeld at the hearing. Had they attended, they would have had full opportunity to “stand by their stories” in public, respond to questions from the Council, and make their case in an open forum.)

The WNC received the Vitae Foundation’s formal written complaint on June 9, 2011, and the Council’s Board of Directors accepted it for our process after careful review. The WNC’s Board unanimously agreed that the complaint raised “serious questions of journalistic performance or ethics,” which is our main criterion for acceptance. The Board takes no position on the merits of a complaint at that stage, however.

We notified both sides that the complaint had been accepted and began a 30-day resolution period, encouraging both Vitae and KUOW to seek a compromise resolution. WNC convened a meeting on July 14, 2011, at the WNC office with Guy Nelson, News Director of KUOW and Pia de Solenni, representing the Vitae Foundation. The resolution period was extended for another 30 days, and extended again through the end of the calendar year. Both sides were urged to continue seeking a compromise.

Following WNC’s three-part recommendation of a proposed compromise resolution, Guy Nelson did conduct a brief telephone interview with Debbie Stokes (CORRECTION: An earlier version identified her as “Debbie Nelson.” We regret the error.) of the Vitae Foundation on Sept. 30, 2011, and posted the transcript on the station’s website. However, the station did not acknowledge that the original story was incomplete and misleading, as they had conceded privately. Nor did they do an on-air story, which was part of the proposed compromise. Nelson said they would “seriously consider” doing a follow-up on-air story, which was part of our proposed compromise, but set no timetable.

The WNC tried through 2011 to mediate Vitae’s complaint, hoping that a satisfactory compromise resolution could be reached. WNC Board Members believed that a resolution was possible. However, in January 2012 it became clear that resolution was unlikely. More than six months had passed — far exceeding the WNC’s normal 30-day resolution period — and there had been little progress.

Under the WNC’s Complaint and Hearing Procedures guidelines, if the complainant is not “satisfied with the news outlet’s proposed resolution to the complaint,” a hearing date to air the issues is scheduled. Vitae was not satisfied with KUOW’s response and therefore requested a hearing. The WNC’s Board, after careful deliberation, agreed to set a hearing date.

A hearing is not a trial, but an open discussion of journalistic standards, which is healthy and helpful for both sides — and for the general public. WNC has asked both parties to submit final written statements by March 10 that include “any new information obtained or agreements reached during the process of trying to resolve the complaint.”

WNC’s Complaints Committee will phrase questions for the Council to consider at the hearing, identifying “which actions by the news outlet allegedly violated standards of accuracy, fairness and/or journalistic ethics.” Final wording of the questions will be shared with both parties and made public at least 10 days prior to the hearing.

One resource the WNC may use at the hearing is National Public Radio’s newly revised Ethics Handbook, which was just released last week.

WNC’s guidelines also state: “Parties may continue to try to resolve the complaint prior to a hearing, but if they do not reach a resolution before the day of the hearing, the hearing will proceed.” If the complaint is resolved to both KUOW and Vitae’s satisfaction by March 30, the hearing will be cancelled.

For further information about the complaint or questions about WNC’s process, contact:

John Hamer (206.262.9793)
President and Executive Director
Washington News Council
1201 1st Ave. South, #331
Seattle, WA 98134

8:30 a.m. – Doors open to Room 120, U.W. Communications Building, to public and news media. (Open at 8 a.m. to WNC Hearings Board)

9:00 a.m. – WNC President John Hamer welcomes attendees,
makes brief remarks about WNC complaint & hearing process.

9:05 a.m. – Hearings Board Chair Gerry Alexander calls hearing to order, asks all Board members to introduce themselves

9:10 a.m. – Opening Statement (15 minutes) by Vitae Foundation

9:25 a.m. – Opening Statement (15 minutes) by KUOW

9:40 a.m. – Rebuttal Statement (5 minutes) by Vitae Foundation

9:45 a.m. – Rebuttal Statement (5 minutes) by KUOW

9:50-10:30 a.m. – Questions (40 minutes) by WNC Hearings Board

10:30-10:45 a.m. – Break

10:45-11:30 a.m. – Discussion (45 minutes) by WNC Hearings Board members (questions of Vitae and KUOW only to clarify issues)

11:30 a.m. – Chair Alexander asks if either party wants a brief recess to reconsider positions or eliminate questions. If so, action is taken.

11:35 a.m. – Closing Statement (2 minutes) by Vitae Foundation

11:37 a.m. – Closing Statement (2 minutes) by KUOW

11:40 a.m. – WNC Hearings Board votes on written ballots, which are counted by WNC staff. Vote results announced by Chair Alexander.
Hearings Board members confirm their votes by show of hands.

12:00 p.m. – Hearing is adjourned by Chair Alexander.

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