ProPublica reporters Jesse Eisinger and Justin Elliott spoke out in a Reddit AMA this week about their investigation into the Red Cross’ alleged failures during disaster relief after Hurricanes Isaac and Sandy.
“What the charity’s CEO said in public — calling the response ‘near flawless’ — and what we found in internal documents couldn’t be more opposite,” the reporters wrote.
Eisinger, Elliott, and Laura O’Sullivan released a report for ProPublica last week claiming the Red Cross had poor post-hurricane relief efforts.
The report alleges that many emergency response vehicles were rerouted after Sandy for PR purposes, a decision Eisinger says was made by the Red Cross’ national headquarters.
Handicapped victims “slept in their wheelchairs for days” because the charity had not secured proper cots, and i
n one shelter, sex offenders were “all over including playing in children’s area” because Red Cross staff “didn’t know/follow procedures,” according to the report.
This is according to the Red Cross’ internal assessments and documents obtained by ProPublica. The Red Cross, however, has defended its work during the 2012 hurricanes.
“While it’s impossible to meet every need in the first chaotic hours and days of a disaster, we are proud that we were able to provide millions of people with hot meals, shelter, relief supplies and financial support during the 2012 hurricanes,” the charity wrote in a statement to ProPublica and NPR.
The reporters received significant backlash from Reddit users defending the Red Cross and its disaster relief response.
Some of the things you have accused the Red Cross of doing were being done to a much greater extent by other agencies.” said user stoicsmil, who claims to have been on the ground managing shelters after Sandy. “You’d be hard-pressed to find an agency that does so much good for so many people,” he continued.
Eisinger argues that the Red Cross’ relative competence does not mean it should be immune to criticism.
“We hold the powerful accountable — and the Red Cross is a worthy subject for scrutiny, given Americans trust it with their money almost more than any other non-profit,” he wrote.
Another user, JLDdc, complained that the report was “very thin” and didn’t rely on sufficient documentation from the Red Cross.
But the reporters defended the integrity of their report: “We gave the Red Cross a chance to provide other documentation about its Sandy and Isaac responses and the charity declined to do so,” wrote Elliott.
He further emphasised that ProPublica is still reporting on the Red Cross and is particularly interested in learning what the organisation does with the hundreds of millions of dollars it receives in donations.
Earlier this year, the Red Cross fought ProPublica’s public records request for information on its Hurricane Sandy spending. The organisation deemed it a “trade secret” that could not be released to the public, according to ProPublica.
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