After nearly two weeks of media carping about a slow federal response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster, tonight ABC will air a story critical of the federal government for listing a charity which is providing hurricane relief -- one founded by Pat Robertson. Viewers of Thursday's World News Tonight were treated to this promo: “Tomorrow: He wanted the U.S. to assassinate a world leader. Now the U.S. is recommending his charity as second only to the Red Cross for Hurricane Katrina donations. The politics of Katrina relief and Pat Robertson, tomorrow, only on World News Tonight.” (As the announcer said that, ABC displayed video clips of Robertson, Hugo Chavez, hurricane destruction, the name “Operation Blessing” and Robertson with a frowning face as he prayed.)
I don't know how the feds made Operation Blessing “second only to the Red Cross,” but below are links to Operation Blessing and a FEMA press release which lists Operation Blessing fourth, after the Humane Society. And why should victims suffer just because the founder of one relief group, who has nothing to do with day-to-day operations, said something dumb?
UPDATED 9:10pm EDT with what aired.
“Cash Sought To Help Hurricane Victims, Volunteers Should Not Self-Dispatch,” read the August 29 FEMA press release. The “list of phone numbers set up solely for cash donations and/or volunteers,” each with the group names linked to that group's Web site, began: Donate cash to:
American Red Cross
1-800-HELP NOW (435-7669) English,
America's Second Harvest
Humane Society of the United States
If time permits tonight, I will provide an update on what airs on World News Tonight.
UPDATE 9:10pm EDT: ABCNews.com tonight posted this version of the story.
The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against what aired to produce this transcript of the September 9 World News Tonight story, starting with the opening teaser from co-anchor Elizabeth Vargas: "The charity recommended by the government to help hurricane victims: The documents that raise serious questions about where its money has gone. Brian Ross investigates."
Later, co-anchor Bob Woodruff in New Orleans plugged the story: "Do you know where your relief money is going? Why did the government recommend that Americans give to charities run by Pat Robertson?"
Vargas set up the eventual story: "Hurricane donations are pouring in at a record rate -- $670 million from individuals and corporations so far. The government, through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, encouraged the latest outpouring. It recommended charities to which people can send money. But there is controversy. Number two on FEMA's list, right after the Red Cross, was Operation Blessing. It is a charity headed by a controversial televangelist who is close to the White House. While it was high on FEMA's list, other prominent relief groups were omitted. Here's our chief investigative correspondent, Brian Ross."
Ross: "Operation Blessing is the charity founded and chaired by Pat Robertson, the controversial and politically well-connected television evangelist."
Pat Robertson, in the hurricane area: "I want you to go to your telephones and call in and say we're going to help Operation Blessing do what we can."
Ross: "Charity leaders say the FEMA recommendation is a huge boost to Robertson's charity."
Richard Walden, Operation USA: "It meant millions of dollars in the bank for them."
Ross: "But as Robertson did his daily TV show in Mississippi this week, leaders of other charities were questioning why FEMA so prominently recommended his operation, leaving others off the list -- including Richard Walden's Operation USA."
Walden: "I was shocked. It stuck out for a reason because of Pat Robertson's activities over the years."
Ross: "Seven years ago, Virginia investigators said there was evidence Robertson used misleading statements to solicit contributions for relief operations in Africa. Robertson denied the allegations, and no action was taken after he personally reimbursed the charity for the half million dollar cost of an aircraft he had used for his personal diamond mining business."
Reverend Charles Henderson, Association for Religion and Intellectual Life: "Based on their track record, I would say that as an individual, I would not give to Operation Blessing."
Ross: "In fact, according to its most recent filing with the IRS, Operation Blessing gave more than half of its yearly allocation of cash donations, $885,000, to the Christian Broadcasting Network, CBN, where Robertson is also chairman."
Henderson: "One never knows when you're contributing to Operation Blessing whether the money is really going to the hurricane victims or whether it's going to pay for some more television time for Pat Robertson's television show."
Ross: "Operation Blessing has been given high marks by some charity watchdog groups. And its president, Bill Horan, at first denied his charity gave any money to Robertson's television operation."
Bill Horan, Operation Blessing: "That's an absolute, total and complete distortion of the truth, Brian. Operation Blessing does not give one red cent to CBN."
Ross: "Told of the Operation Blessing documents obtained by ABC News-"
Horan: "I'm not going to talk about any more issues that involve accounting."
Ross: "A spokesman for Operation Blessing later told us the charity uses Robertson's TV network as a conduit for distributing money overseas, and that none of the money was used for network activities. The spokesman, Elizabeth, also insisted any money earmarked for hurricane relief will be used for hurricane relief."