The PJ Tatler

Lessons from the Komen Foundation Fiasco

The Komen for the Cure Foundation has apparently surrendered after suffering a withering media assault on its choice to change grant criteria and effectively remove funding for Planned Parenthood. While the dust settles, and that may take a while, a few thoughts on how this happened, and what may happen next.

Komen was unprepared for Planned Parenthood’s reaction. Go back and review Jill Stanek’s post on Komen’s initial decision. According to her, Komen wanted to make its grant criteria decision quietly and move on. Komen did not anticipate that Planned Parenthood would make sure the decision was not only not quiet, but that it would become a firestorm for an organization that, up to now, has enjoyed decade after decade of positive press. Komen might have been complacent, but more importantly, it was naive. Today’s statement, in which Komen reiterates its desire to move on, suggests that that naivete has not been punctured. Given Planned Parenthood’s history and leadership, there was no way it would take any adverse decision lying down. No one should have expected it to do anything but fight, so Komen should have gamed out Planned Parenthood’s likely reactions, and planned its own counter actions.

Komen was overmatched. Since its founding in 1982, the Komen Foundation has been led by Nancy Brinker, the sister of breast cancer victim Susan G. Komen. The foundation is largely a labor of love taken on in the late Komen’s memory. The foundation has enjoyed friendly relations with everyone for decades, both because it is a labor of love and because it is apolitical. It has no obvious enemies, and raises money for an unquestionably good cause. By contrast, Planned Parenthood has been around for more than 70 years, and was founded by progressive eugenicist Margaret Sanger. Planned Parenthood was political from its inception, and devious about pursuing its goals, and has spent its entire lifetime battling political enemies and establishing, and in some cases buying, its friends in politics and the media. It doesn’t donate to Democrats such as Sen. Patty Murray out of the kindness of its heart; it donates to Democrats so they will advance its interests and, when fights arise, defend it from external threats. Planned Parenthood’s current leader, Cecile Richards, is the daughter of late Texas Gov. Ann Richards, and is probably as media savvy as her mother was. The mainstream media is, by and large, sympathetic to Planned Parenthood and circles around it whenever it runs into problems. The media says very little about the various scandals surrounding Planned Parenthood all over the country. So in making a decision that Planned Parenthood would not like, Komen found itself at war with one of the most media savvy and politically sophisticated organizations in the country.

Komen’s crisis is not over. Nancy Brinker is evidently hoping that today’s move puts the crisis behind her foundation. She is wrong. The Komen for the Cure Foundation has now raised the wariness of Planned Parenthood and its allies, while losing the respect of Planned Parenthood’s enemies. It has put itself in a no-win situation by reversing course. Planned Parenthood will stand down its public attacks, but behind the scenes it will demand more from a weakened Komen foundation. Its threats to take future disputes with Komen to the media are beyond credible. Komen now risks becoming a partisan political organization despite its wish to focus only on funding a cure for breast cancer. It may take major moves including a leadership change to begin putting this fiasco behind the foundation. Komen risks being conquered outright by Planned Parenthood, and possibly destroyed by this war.

To preserve your peace, be prepared for war. We all like to believe that being right will be enough to win, but the Komen fiasco provides powerful evidence that that is not always the case. Being right helps, but knowing your adversary and anticipating what they will do helps too. Komen did nothing wrong, and exercised its prerogative in determining the criteria it uses for administering grants. It is perfectly free to do that, and has good reason to disassociate itself from controversial political organizations like Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood is ruthless, intelligent and driven. The half million dollars it would have lost from the Komen grants weren’t really the point of its blistering assault on the foundation. Preserving its power and its ability to intimidate was Planned Parenthood’s higher goal. If Komen had been allowed to pull funding quietly, others might have followed suit, and some of its political allies might have drawn the conclusion that Planned Parenthood is weak. This victory over Komen will help Planned Parenthood keep its allies and funding sources in line.

The bottom line here is that, in its ruthless selfishness, Planned Parenthood may yet destroy the Komen for the Cure Foundation and ultimately set back the cause of curing breast cancer. But Democrats will continue to get their checks from Planned Parenthood. That organization possesses the survival instincts of the cockroach.