August 18, 2007

Choose Life, Inc. Representative Responds

I received a comment this morning from Choose Life, Inc.'s Florida State Publicity Coordinator, Russ Amerling, to the piece I wrote yesterday (The Culture of Life & the Culture of Hate). I am reproducing it here, on the front page, in the interest of full disclosure. Mr. Amerling raises a point which he considers to be rather important, and I want to make sure to give his concern with my piece the airing it deserves. He writes:

You certainly have the right to publish half truths on this site if you want to, but Choose Life, Inc. does not receive one penny of the funds from the sale of the Florid Choose Life license plate and we are the only group to sponsor a specialty plate in Florida that holds that distinction. If you had read the Choose Life bill passed by the Florida legislature, on our web site you would have seen that all the funds go directly from the DMV to the County Commission in the county where the plate was sold and they distribute it to agencies such as Pregnancy Resource Centers, Maternity Homes and non-profit adoption agencies. Now you have the truth.
Russ Amerling
State Publicity Coordinator
Choose Life license plate
I have replied to this in the comments to my piece, but I wanted to develop that further and illustrate something I find rather disturbing about Mr. Amerling's priorities that, I think, many of my readers may also find a bit telling in relation to the main thrust of the report from the Florida Department of Health.

In all fairness, I have gone back and re-read what I wrote, and I did state that people who bought the "Choose Life" license plate were contributing to Mr. Amerling's organization. I did not mean to imply that they kept any of the money, however, and if one reads another paragraph or two in the article I do make it clear that the money raised was given to organizations which Choose Life, Inc. designated as recipients. I assume that this was part of the legislation created a decade ago when the plates were made available by the state, and Amerling is right in that I have not read the original legislation. I in no way intended to imply, by any means, that Choose Life, Inc. was doing anything fiscally dishonest with the funds generated from the sale of the license plate or in any way misrepresenting the charter of their organization. I hope this statement clarifies any misunderstanding.

Having said all this, I must say that I find Amerling's lack of any statements about the important part of the state report itself to be a bit telling. How the millions of dollars in contributions generated by the sale of the plate seems to me a very minor point in the overall picture we get from that report on infant mortality rates. I appreciate that Mr. Amerling has a lot to do and I appreciate his having taken the time to insure that the truth was told; I am more dismayed, however, that the truth he felt important to tell was all about a minor point regarding the manner in which money was being distributed. To my mind, the fact that the programs being funded by "Choose Life" don't seem to be particularly effective in reducing infant mortality rates. The name of the organization is thus just a little bit ironic, because the programs it funds, whether it does so directly or indirectly, don't appear to be giving that choice to large numbers of pregnant women, particularly in certain demographics.

I note that Amerling's statement includes nothing about his organization's position on the matter covered by the report and no hint of the organization doing anything different. After 10 years of doing the same thing, will they do something new? Is it important to them that something different be tried to reduce these abysmal mortality rates, or are they going to keep doing the same thing they've been doing for the past decade which has yielded the result we now see in the Florida Department of Health report? Clearly, my possible technical misstatement about how money was distributed by Choose Life raised Mr. Amerling's ire judging by the tone of his response. I wonder, does he get just as emotional about the effectiveness of the beneficiaries of Choose Life Inc.'s program and about the enormous discrepancies in the infant mortality rates noted in yesterday's Democrat article? Has he encouraged the other leaders of his organization to lay down "the truth" with the pregnancy resource centers and maternity homes and whomever else is the end recipient of the money generated by license plate sales with the same fervor with which he quibbled with the one, albeit minor, point mentioned yesterday in the original post?

I am glad to know that a Publicity Coordinator is so concerned with making sure that the truth is known. Nonetheless, in the bigger picture, the truth that has been addressed in Russ Amerling's response seems to me to be a very minor one. I, too, am interested in getting to the truth, so let's have some more of it in the areas that actually matter outside questions of Choose Life's practices and image. That's not the important point of the piece I wrote, certainly. If I was 100% intentionally incorrect in what I said about Choose Life's funding methods, that still wouldn't make the entire piece a "half-truth." I suppose it's all a matter of priorities.

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