In an era of sweeping change in communications, the long-standing principles of American journalism are being tested and challenged. Some journalistic principles are enduring, however, and for good reason. The enterprise depends on a commitment to establishing and reporting facts, and to communicating them with accuracy and fairness. This is a foundational component of a civil and democratic society.
This is one of the reasons for my disappointment in the tone of coverage given to The HSUS by more than a few members of the agricultural press over the last several years. Some writers with industry trade journals and other information outlets in the sector have settled into an unquestioning reliance upon false claims about The HSUS, including those being spun by the highly discredited and disreputable public-relations operative Rick Berman, who's fought the medical community on tanning beds and trans fats, Mothers Against Drunk Driving on alcohol use and automobiles, unions on minimum wage issues, and anti-smoking groups on behalf of major tobacco companies.
At one level, it's a boon for an advocacy organization to have a Darth Vader-type adversary, since it reminds supporters of our effectiveness and the stakes. In the time that Berman has been conducting his brand attack, we've driven rather extraordinary changes in society and more than doubled in size. He's an extreme example of the third-party players in American politics who will say just about anything to sow division and polarization, mainly to line their own pockets.
At The HSUS, we don't expect everyone to agree with all of our positions, and we understand we'll get push back on our attempts to stop extreme confinement of animals on industrialized farms, to stop tail-docking of cows, and to advance other limited reforms. We get it, and that's all part of the discourse and rough-and-tumble of debate about serious issues. It's also one of the reasons that we operate with such transparency, and are so active in communicating what we do and what we stand for. Here are some specific elements of our governance and our approach that I'd ask you to consider:
- In addition to having hundreds of people in leadership on our national, state and issue councils, The HSUS is governed by a 27-member unpaid board of directors, including the CEO of a Fortune 500 company; the retired managing partner of the Washington office of one of the biggest law firms in the United States; the former Secretary of the U.S. Senate; a Rhodes Scholar, Olympian, and former member of the U.S. House of Representatives; medical doctors who have spent their careers at Harvard and the Mayo Clinic; the CEOs of several major companies; and a host of other dedicated, sincere, and professionally successful people who are highly selective about their philanthropic commitments. These people not only care about animals, but they are sophisticated when it comes to matters of business and non-profit management. They take no money from The HSUS, and they are among its most generous donors. Not one of them would be party to malfeasance or misuse of funds, and certainly not all of them!
The HSUS is highly scrutinized because it tackles tough, controversial issues. We talk about all the issues we focus on, we are the number one animal-care provider in the United States, and we campaign aggressively to advance our animal welfare agenda. Our adversaries would rather that we not focus on them, and we understand that. But this is who we are, and we're going to continue that work because we think that it's right and because that's what our members support. We are not troubled by critical questions, and we are always willing to answer them. And while we'll always deal with people who will try to define us in false ways, we'll continue to hope that serious-minded journalists - whether they work for an industry trade publication or a general news-gathering organization - will work to separate fact from fiction and treat the broad topic of animal welfare with the seriousness it deserves.
My end of year blogs that catalogue our work:
- Nov. 01, 2013: State Lawmaking for Animals Surges in 2013
- Dec. 05, 2013: Our Top 13 Transformational Achievements in 2013
- Dec. 09, 2013: The Videos That Animal Abusers Don't Want You to See
- Dec. 10, 2013: Obama Administration Picks up Pace on Animal Welfare in 2013
- Dec. 13, 2013: Wild Progress for Wildlife in 2013
- Dec. 17, 2013: Blogs That Engaged and Enraged in 2013
- Dec. 18, 2013: Forging Farm Animal Progress in 2013--Top 10 HSUS Advancements
- Dec. 20, 2013: Nation Needs to Quit Horsing Around - Protect Horses
- Dec. 23, 2013: Our Top Achievements for Dogs and Cats, at Home and Abroad
- Dec. 26, 2013: Our Biggest International Gains in 2013
- Dec. 27, 2013: Top 10 News Stories for HSUS in 2013
- Dec. 30, 2013: Law & Order: Special Victims APL Unit
- Dec. 31, 2013: HSUS: Animal Care Around the Globe