Eric Rosenthal Reports

Thoughts and observations about issues, trends, and controversies in the cancer community.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Who Speaks for Livestrong?



While watching last week’s CBS Sunday Morning, I was surprised to see that the featured segment, “Livestrong after Lance” -- about donors upset with how the Livestrong Foundation spent the money it raised -- did not include an interview with the foundation’s CEO and President, Doug Ulman.


The report, by investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson, focused on a former Livestrong donor and volunteer, Michael Birdsong, who questioned why the organization didn’t invest in research and so was now seeking to get his donations back. He was also critical of what the CBS story referred to as certain “frivolous expenses that did more to promote Armstrong -- at events like the Tour de France -- than fight cancer,” including sending five staff members for more than three weeks to follow Armstrong around and “tweet about it.”


I found it interesting that such a high-profile story did not even mention the organization’s top staff officer. Instead, questions were answered by Vice President of Communications and External Affairs Katherine McLane, and there was also a clip with Livestrong’s then-EVP, Andy Miller, speaking at the foundation’s first annual meeting without founder Lance Armstrong, who left the Board of Directors last November amid allegations about doping. So I wrote to Ulman and asked why he hadn’t been available for the show, as well as for a little bit more information about the lawsuits being filed against Livestrong asking for refunds.


In response, I received the following email from McLane: “Our CEO Doug Ulman shared your inquiry below and I’m happy to respond on his behalf. As you can imagine, the foundation receives a number of media inquiries. It is sometimes necessary for those to be fielded by a spokesperson such as myself, if our CEO is traveling or has a prior commitment.


“The foundation has received no notice of any pending legal action although Mr. Birdsong has been airing his complaints for many months. We are not aware of any other potential suits so the singular rather than the plural would apply. The foundation takes issue with Mr. Birdsong’s assertion that he was unfamiliar with the organization’s work. As a mentor and volunteer, he went through training that ensured he could represent our mission and services accurately. His many laudatory blog posts on the foundation’s website over the years certainly confirm his familiarity with and support for our programs and services. 


“I’m happy to answer any further questions you may have.”


I appreciate her willingness to answer questions, but still wonder why Ulman didn’t respond on the show himself.