Wounded Warrior Project Responds: CBS Investigation 'Patently False'
Earlier this week, CBS News released a two-part investigation blasting Wounded Warrior Project for excessive spending on staff events and for not spending enough on veterans issues. The story, which we covered here, had its share of flaws—primarily in its use of tax forms and program expense numbers obtained from Charity Navigator—but exploded in the national media, putting Wounded Warrior Project at the center of a firestorm.
Now, the charity has responded.
In a letter addressed to CBS executive director Al Ortiz and posted to Wounded Warrior Project's website, Wounded Warrior Project called the news network's reporting "patently false" and demanded that CBS retract "false statements" and apologize to the public and "tens of thousands of wounded veterans."
CBS claimed in its investigation that Wounded Warrior Project denied repeated requests for comment from CEO Steven Nardizzi. In the letter, Wounded Warrior Project countered that it attempted to contact CBS to "set the record straight" before the original report ran, but CBS aired it anyway. The charity alleged that CBS "willfully set aside" information provided by Wounded Warrior Project and failed to contact the charity through readily available channels.
"At a minimum, prior to running the story, CBS could have contacted one of its own senior executives, Richard M. Jones, CBS executive vice president, general tax counsel and chief veteran officer, by calling him at extension 2978," the letter reads. "You are fully aware that Mr. Jones is a Wounded Warrior Project board member and Wounded Warrior Project's audit committee chair, and has the ability and insight to provide you with accurate and truthful information regarding Wounded Warrior Project's financial documents."
Wounded Warrior Project also disputed four of the claims made in the CBS investigation, including the $26 million figure—pulled from Wounded Warrior Project's form 990—listed as evidence of the charity's "lavish" spending on conferences, meetings and other events. As we wrote yesterday:
That figure is almost indefensible if all of it went toward staff-only team-building events and office parties, but the charity lists $24.4 million of it as a program expense, $491,000 as a management expense and $1.2 million as a fundraising expense.
That could be a crafty way for Wounded Warrior Project to skirt the system in an attempt to inflate its program numbers, or it could be that some number of these events involved veterans. (Or, it could be both.) CBS News didn’t specify, but one of its anonymous sources indicated that at least some of the events were for veterans, not just staff.
According to Wounded Warrior Project, this was indeed the case. The charity said that 94 percent of the $26 million it spent on conferences and meetings went toward mental health programming and other services for veterans and their families. That's in line with the $24.4 million Wounded Warrior Project listed as a program expense for events on its form 990.
The charity also took to social media, where it actively engaged commenters and posted a video to Facebook. It appears to be footage cut from CBS News' investigation, seemingly indicating that correspondent Chip Reid was reticent about reporting the story:
Read the full letter here.