News and analysis
February 20, 2015

NPR and ProPublica Reject Red Cross Demand for Corrections to News Reports

The feud between the American Red Cross and two news organizations moved into a new phase this week, with ProPublica and NPR rejecting the relief organization’s demand for a correction and each side accusing the other of being "misleading."

A joint statement by the news organizations defended their reporting as "scrupulously fair."

Since April 2014, ProPublica and NPR have jointly investigated the American Red Cross’s response to Hurricanes Sandy and Isaac in 2012 and claims about how donation dollars are spent. Separately the news organizations have published more than a dozen articles and aired radio broadcasts on their findings.

Sources for the reports included the nonprofit’s internal documents, like the minutes of an executive meeting about the response to the storms, as well as interviews with volunteers, hurricane victims, and government and Red Cross officials. In January, the series prompted Sen. Charles Grassley to request the nonprofit explain how it calculates and publicizes its overhead costs.

The Red Cross objected to the articles’ claims that its emergency vehicles were diverted from relief efforts for public-relations purposes, most people sent to respond to Hurricane Isaac were stationed in the wrong place, food meant for victims was wasted, and the organization refused to coordinate work with Occupy Sandy.

The organization, which first published objections to the ProPublica and NPR reporting on its blog in June 2014, says it provided ample evidence disproving these allegations, including firsthand accounts by volunteers and site managers, weather reports about Hurricane Isaac, photographs the news organizations did not publish, and figures about the number of volunteers in specific locations.

In particular, the Red Cross objected to what it calls the news organizations’ practice of "ignoring positive public comments about the Red Cross while pretending only negative comments exist" and the overrepresentation of the opinions of one former Red Cross worker.

In their lengthy, point-by-point rejection of the request for a correction, ProPublica and NPR stated that they gave the Red Cross opportunities to respond "to every fact, detail, and allegation from our reporting" before the stories were published and that stories were modified in some instances as a result of those exchanges.

They also suggested that the demand for a correction may have been motivated by a desire by the Red Cross to tamp down further investigative reporting.

"The organization’s request for corrections came shortly after we sent questions related to our ongoing reporting, specifically about the Red Cross’s response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake," the news organizations stated.

Send an e-mail to Rebecca Koenig.