Critical comments made in the news media by some victims of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing have not given the public an accurate or complete picture of how the bombing relief fund has been handled, fund administrators contend.
The Oklahoma City Community Foundation, which manages the fund, has been rocked by renewed public criticism since Friday when an NBC television weekly news magazine aired the latest in a series of news reports that quoted victims critical of the fund's administration.
The foundation disputed comments by Gloria Chipman, who lost her husband in the bombing.
Chipman was cited Friday in an NBC “Rock Center with Brian Williams” report as complaining that she had to fight the foundation for tuition money for her daughter.
“You get denied so many times you finally — you give up and you do whatever you can to survive,” she stated on the television show.
The foundation actually helped provide Chipman's daughter with “assistance (tuition, fees, books, etc.) for 10 semesters,” a spokeswoman for the foundation said.
Foundation officials provided The Oklahoman with a thank-you note the daughter wrote to a fund administrator on a graduation announcement. “I wanted to thank you and the organization for all your help and contributions to my education,” it stated.
Chipman said she agreed to appear on the show as a member of the Survivors Tree Committee, a group that advocates the divvying up of remaining bombing relief funds.
Also upsetting foundation officials was a segment that featured a woman who lost an ear in the bombing accompanied by a comment that the woman just wanted contact lenses because her glasses won't stay on.
The woman's case manager is working with her doctor on getting a prescription and contact lenses ordered, said Cathy Nestlen, foundation spokeswoman.
“This is a situation where we had provided assistance to this person initially, then contact was lost,” Nestlen said.
“Contact was re-established last fall following the media coverage. Initially, there were more pressing medical needs than the contact lenses so it's been a process,” Nestlen said
Audit is ongoing
A forensic audit of the Disaster Relief Fund is currently under way. Foundation officials say they expect it to be completed and made public by mid to late March and believe it will show foundation officials have been good stewards of donated funds.
Former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating criticized the NBC weekly news magazine crew for spending a half day interviewing him and his wife about the handling of Oklahoma City bombing relief funds and then choosing not to broadcast any of their comments on Friday's show.
The way information was presented was “a terrible insult to the giving, caring, sharing community of Oklahoma City where all of this was done largely at no charge,” Keating said.
Officials with the Oklahoma City Community Foundation criticized the show for excluding footage of individuals who voiced support for the administration of the fund.
The show focused on bombing victims with complaints about how the relief fund has been administered, but the show's reporters “failed to interview even one of the hundreds of others who have received assistance, who are grateful and extremely pleased with how the situation was handled,” foundation officials said.
A spokesperson for “Rock Center with Brian Williams” defended the broadcast.
“We believe that the piece on-air and online was fair and accurate,” the spokesperson said. “Although Nancy Anthony, president of the Oklahoma City Disaster Relief Fund, declined to comment on specific cases, we took into account Ms. Anthony and the foundation's responses to the victims' specific allegations, and those responses were reflected in the story.”
The NBC show focused on how donated money was managed following the April 19, 1995, terrorists' attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Building which left 168 dead and hundreds injured.
$40M was donated
Following the attack, about $40 million in donations poured into various local charities and government officials for the benefit of bombing survivors, officials say.
Much of the money was quickly spent on emergency needs, but about $14.6 million eventually was consolidated into one of about 1,300 funds managed by the Oklahoma City Community Foundation.
The fund has since spent more than $11 million for the continuing medical, educational and living needs of about 1,000 bombing survivors, but still has about $10 million left in the fund because of money earned off investments.
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I take a special offense that Ken Feinberg would criticize the process that thoughtful and decent and family-focused people in Oklahoma City made. We didn't have billions of dollars from the U.S. government.”
Former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating,