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Is Komen's Image Beyond Repair?


I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Coming up, there's a new television program aimed at showcasing stories of missing people of color with the hope of getting the public to offer information to help solve these cases. And you might be wondering: Why is there a need for a show like this? So we've asked the people involved with it, including the famous actress from "Law and Order," S. Epatha Merkerson, to tell us more about it in a few minutes. That's coming up.

But first, we are going to continue our conversation about politics and more in the news. Still with us, Mary Kate Cary of U.S. News and World Report, Michelle Bernard of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy, and Viviana Hurtado of The Wise Latina Club.

Mary Kate, before we took a break, you were making a point about the issue involving something that Rick Santorum had been talking a lot on the campaign trail...

MARY KATE CARY: Yeah, yeah.

MARTIN: ...and also, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich had been talking about this before it kind of burst onto the front pages again. Just sort of finish your thought about that, if you would.

CARY: Yeah. It's bigger than a fight about contraception. It's bigger than a fight about the Catholic Church, because it galvanizes leaders from all other religions who think: What if we're next? It galvanizes Catholic swing voters in some of these key states, especially as we head into Super Tuesday.

And Pew came out in the last week or two with numbers showing that, since Obama took office, people who give themselves a religious affiliation are moving to the Republican column, including Jewish people, which is huge. It used to be a core Democratic consistency. So there's a lot of shifting sands here as we head into Super Tuesday.

MARTIN: Michelle?

MICHELLE BERNARD: You know, one of the core questions that we ask ourselves going into the primary - into the general election is: Is the election going to be decided on economics or demographics? And conventional wisdom has been - it's been economics.

When you look at this issue, as well as other issues that are happening, you start to think: You know what? I don't know. It could be demographics, and the Catholic voting block is a very important voting block. They are swing voters.

You saw, for example, a lot of Catholics who were, quote, unquote, "Reagan Democrats." The Catholic vote was particularly important to President Obama in the 2008 election. And so in terms of policy and its connection to the next election, he's dancing on a very, very thin tightrope here.

MARTIN: But it's also true - and we're going to talk about this later. We're going to talk about superPACs first, but we also want to talk about this issue later around how the pro-choice public does assert itself, too.

I mean, often, so much of the energy and intensity seems to be on the pro-life side or the people who oppose abortion rights. But recently, it seems as though people who support a more expansive view of reproductive rights are asserting themselves.

So, Viviana, I'm going to give you the last word on this question. You know, and there's also been reporting that the president - you know, that there are Catholics in his administration who said this is a bad road to go down. The exemption needs to be broad, and it's been reported that there are women in the administration, including Catholic women, who - some Catholic women who said if you give a broad exemption, you're leaving too many people out of coverage that they need and should have who are of diverse religious backgrounds.

So, Viviana, I'm going to give you the last word. And how do you think this cuts?

VIVIANA HURTADO: I think what's going to be really interesting is exactly - is it going to end up - how heavy is this demographic weight going to - is going to have going forward. And I think that, as I think about the Latino vote, which historically has trended Democratic, I think this is the kind of issue that could really put the Latino vote into play because the Latino profile also tends to be a little more socially conservative.

At the same time, pregnancy rates, for example, among Latinas is incredibly high, and there's a very serious social problem going forward with - that has serious economic and societal implications.

I also just wanted to say, too, that the Catholic vote is not monolithic. There is a lot of diversity and variety within American Catholicism.

MARTIN: That's a good point, an important point. And now we're going to talk about politics and money, and specifically how to pay for all this campaigning that we have been talking about, a lot of talk about superPACs. And to this point, we've been talking about how they have kind of fueled House Speaker Newt Gingrich - former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's presence in the race and his ability to stay in the race.

We've also talked about Mitt Romney's primary win and how it's allowed him to kind of level some serious charges against Newt Gingrich and kind of really, you know, drop some big, you know, rhetorical bombs on him.

Now the news is that President Obama, who had been a big critic of superPACs and the unlimited amounts of cash that people can give to them, his team is now endorsing a superPAC to support the president's reelection campaign.

Jim Messina is the president's campaign manager, and he said in an interview, we're not going to fight this one with one hand tied behind our back. So is this hypocrisy or just common sense?

To have this part of the conversation, we're going to welcome another voice to the table. That's Ana Marie Cox. She is the founder of the politics blog Wonkette, but now she's writing about U.S. politics for the British newspaper The Guardian.

Ana Marie, thank you for joining us.

ANA MARIA COX: It's good to be here. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So, hypocrisy or just common sense?

COX: It can kind of be both, I think. I think in some cases, hypocrisy is common sense. I mean, hypocrisy is what happens when you have a belief system that tells you one thing, but the practical realities on the ground tell you another thing.

And I think the president had a lot in common with a lot of Democrats on this issue, and maybe even some Republicans, in the sense that people can see how damaging this superPAC money is to the national conversation that we're having. But, you know, if you don't do it, it will be difficult to compete.

And it would be nice to be able to take the moral high ground here, but I think that it's true that the president would probably lose.

Now, would it be an honorable loss? Perhaps so, but there are things that I think a lot of people believe in even more than campaign finance reform - like, for instance, access to birth control. And so if you want an administration that stands up for those beliefs, you might have to compromise on campaign finance reform.

I do hope, somehow, that this hypocrisy does draw attention to the issue. We, as a nation, do not pay attention to campaign finance reform very much until it becomes a - until the elections happen. But it's obviously something that's important year round. And other countries - other civilized countries have federally funded elections, and it seems to work out pretty well. So maybe someday we'll think about those.

MARTIN: I'm stuck on that phrase honorable loss that you just used. Who believes in that? Who believes in honorable loss? When I first started covering politics as, like, a little baby reporter, and I remember one of the state delegates who tasked himself with schooling me about these matters. And he says, you know what? Better be a live dog than a dead lion. You know.


COX: Sure. Very nice.

MARTIN: Vivi, I want to ask my bloggers, here. Do voters care about this? I mean, Ana Marie made the point that people tend to pick their heads up in an election year and be interested, but by then it's too late, because the rules are in place. So, Viviana, do people care about this stuff?

HURTADO: The blogosphere, my Facebook page, my Twitter page is all about connectivity and about so-called being authentic. And I think what I feel is a real big bummer, even more than the hypocrisy. It's a bummer because I remember watching the State of the Union when President Obama looked at the Supreme Court justices and said, you know, there is no place in American politics for loads of money - something to that effect.

And, you know, he was clearly, you know, swiping them for the Citizens decision. But the reality, as Ana Marie said, is that there is so much - the footprint of money in politics is such that to think that we can turn back the clock is just completely unrealistic. We saw the results of that in Florida. Romney and his - affiliated superPACs outspent Gingrich by so much, and the results were he won by a, you know, huge margin.

MARTIN: Mary Kate, I'm going to give you the last word on this question, but I'm also going to quote Chuck D. here, which is, "don't hate the player. Hate the game."


CARY: I'm with you.

MARTIN: Mary Kate, issue or not? Do your folks care about this? Do folks - do people - do voters really care about it? And I'm saying just to the degree you can't take partisanship out of it, because, obviously, if you're a Republican, anything that makes the president look bad, you're happy.

CARY: Of course.

MARTIN: If you're, you know, so...

CARY: Well, I do think that he says one thing and does another.

MARTIN: And vice versa. I mean, come on.

CARY: And Ana Marie was pointing to maybe someday we'll have federal financing of elections. Well, we did have federal spending limits and Barack Obama, in 2008, was the first candidate ever to reject federal spending limits by rejecting government election - what do you call that? Public financing.

COX: Matching funds.

CARY: Yeah, public financing. And so that was the most expensive presidential race ever. He spent $740 million alone. McCain, who agreed to the limits, only spent $227 million. So McCain was outspent four-to-one by Obama with all private funds.

So, for Obama now, presumably, he's going to do the same thing, reject the limits again this year, plus he'll have the superPAC money on top of that. To think that he's not going to win because of money is completely absurd. He's got plenty of money, and he doesn't think that the rules should have to apply to him.

MARTIN: But in high-profile races, money is not where it makes a difference. The issue is lower-visibility races. Right? I mean, this whole thing where...

CARY: Right. I think that's right.

MARTIN: ...you know...

HURTADO: I mean, look at Santorum. He's getting a ton of...

MARTIN: It's not like we don't know who's running.

HURTADO: ...press, and he's got no money. Yeah.

MARTIN: Exactly. So there you go. All right. Let's switch gears now before we go and talk about this issue that's been very much in the headlines, and I think there's a debate about whether this is really about politics or not.

So I just want to say I'm not taking a position here. I know that we call this a political chat, but it may or - this is the question before you: Is this about politics or not? And that is this whole question around the famous breast cancer charity, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, took a lot of heat, saying that they would cut grants to Planned Parenthood and - because - well, it's a question of why.

They said different things about whether - why they would cut these grants. They said, well, in part, they said it because they were under investigation. Others say that it was because they were not a direct provider of mammograms, that they were a referring agency, and that if a woman came in who needed this service, they would refer you to a place, but they didn't provide that service itself.

So, after a lot of public pressure, they reversed themselves, and the executive director then, Karen Handel, resigned as vice president of that organization.

So before we let you go, I'd like to ask each of you what you think this was about. And I apologize for my poor encapsulation of the facts, but they're all on your blog, anyway.

So tell me - So, Ana Marie, I'll ask you: What do you think this whole controversy was about?

COX: Well, it's inherently political, let's say. I mean, I think there's a lot to this slogan for the '70s, that the personal is political. And when it comes to women's bodies, I mean, they've been politicized, basically, since, you know, people figured out that women were the ones that had children.

I think that, you know, that Planned Parenthood created this rule about not giving money to groups that are under investigation. Specifically, the only group that they funded that was under any kind of investigation was Planned Parenthood. So this rule was invented in order to give them cover to defund Planned Parenthood. So I find that political. I think that their, you know, decision to go back from that was political.

It's political, and it's too bad, because, I mean, it would be nice if we could say that women's bodies weren't politicized. But that's a future thing, not something that's happening right now.

MARTIN: Just to clarify for folks, the investigation that we're referring to is an investigation by the Congress, by...

COX: Yes, by Republicans.

MARTIN: By a Republican congressman, led by Cliff Stearns, who was following up on some undercover videos by this kind of sting, I don't know - you want to call her - journalist-activist who is anti-abortion, who is anti-reproductive choice, and who just - who seems to have caught Planned Parenthood staffers engaging in some - not being as aggressive as they - she should have been in addressing a young woman who seemed to be under age - and so some behavior, that that triggered the investigation.

So, Mary Kate, what do you think this is about?

CARY: Well, I thought the second explanation they put forth of many was better, which was that it didn't sound to me like Planned Parenthood is actually giving any mammograms. They just give referrals. So that would make sense to me why you would stop funding that, if they weren't actually advancing the cause of, you know, early detection.

But I think that they were naive, the Komen people were, to think that they - everybody else in town, if you gave them a grant and then said, I'm sorry. No more funding. They'd say, well, thanks for what you've done for us in the past. Instead, Planned Parenthood mobilized social media, really went on a witch hunt for this vice president that they got ousted - I mean, really reacted.

And I think that totally took the Komen people by surprise. I think it really tarnished their brand. I thought they had a gold-plated brand in town and...

MARTIN: But the question I'm asking you - is this about...

HURTADO: I disagree with that, actually.

MARTIN: OK. Viviana, go ahead.

HURTADO: I would only disagree because in - at least among the women that I know, some of them being breast cancer survivors, there has been a lot of criticism about the Komen Foundation for spending a lot of money on high administrative costs and...

BERNARD: Oh, yeah. There's a lot of that. You're right about that. Yeah.

HURTADO: And, you know, so I guess there has been some controversy, but certainly not to this level, Mary Kate, around Komen.

The only thing I wanted to say was that what's really interesting about this - and Mary Kate started touching upon this - was how all of this came to be and the reversal, the development of it, because of the pressure coming in the social space, in the blogosphere, as well as social media.

And what's really incredible about that is that in the span of about two or three weeks, we've seen an incredible rectification, so to speak, when there's been an overreach of powers. We saw that with the piracy bills that were working their way through Congress and how it is that the blogosphere erupted and said, hey, look. We need to put a stop to this right now because of A-B-C concerns around Internet privacy and piracy and so forth.

MARTIN: But does this suggest that more pro-choice people are using social media than pro-life people, and that's why? Or is it because Planned Parenthood struck first?

HURTADO: The pro...

MARTIN: Because pro-life people are on social media, too.

HURTADO: The pro-life groups organized, as well, on Twitter and Facebook.

MARTIN: Michelle, I'm going to give you the last word on this.

BERNARD: I mean, I don't know completely what this was about, but I have to say I'm not picking sides, but what the Komen Foundation has done for breast cancer awareness, particularly in communities of color and in underserved communities, has really been pretty - it's really been very amazing. You don't see a lot of people doing what Komen does. And Planned Parenthood has put - not only Komen, but I think other funders across the country - in the position where they say: Maybe we're not going to fund you in the future, because one day when we decide we're not going to grant - you know, we're going to discontinue grant-making to this organization, that you're going to hold us hostage.

You know, I think they have put prospective funders in a very difficult position.


MARTIN: So tie a bow on it, though. I know you're not taking sides on this, but do you think - what did you think this episode shows? I mean, Mary Kate talked about just kind of the naivete. She called on the part of the Komen folks about public relations 101, you might add, or crisis communications planning. But what do you think it's about?

BERNARD: Well, I think - I mean, what I will say is that image - you know, image really counts, and if you're from, you know, Jupiter and you're taking a look at this, what you might be seeing is, if you are a grant-maker and you decide that you are going to stop funding an organization that provides abortion services, that all of a sudden, you know, public opinion is going to turn against you - the tide will turn against you and, all of a sudden, you have a black mark on a very good brand and an important brand for people who have done very, very important work in a different area. And I think that is a problem.

MARTIN: Well, it's a complex issue, and hopefully we'll - something tells me we'll be talking about this again.


MARTIN: So Michelle Bernard is president and CEO of the independent conservative think tank the Bernard Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy. That's who you heard just now.

Viviana Hurtado was also with us. She's blogger-in-chief of the website The Wise Latina Club. And Mary Kate Cary is also here with us. She's a columnist and blogger for U.S. News and World Report. She's also a former presidential speech writer for President George H.W. Bush.

They were all here in Washington, D.C. with us. And with us from Tampa, Florida member station WUSF, Ana Marie Cox. She's the founder and blogger at Wonkette, the blog site. She is now a columnist for the British newspaper The Guardian.

Ladies, thank you all so much.

BERNARD: Thank you.

CARY: Thanks, Michel.

COX: Thank you.

HURTADO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.