Lisa Zenzen Baker, 1961-2003


Friday, November 11, 2005

An editor's conflict

Delusions of honesty

By David Baker
Posted June 29, 2005

Has the editor of the Capital Region’s largest newspaper become completely disconnected from reality?

That’s a reasonable question given the things he says in a column published on June 25.

In that edition of his regular Saturday slice of pious self-aggrandizement, Times Union Editor Rex Smith writes about a story that appeared in his paper two days earlier, about a $50,000 loan made by state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno to his son, former Rensselaer County DA and now lobbyist Kenneth Bruno.

The suggestion in the huge story is that there was something unethical, if not outright illegal about the transaction. However, as the TU itself later reported, the most common reaction to the piece was a yawn – and puzzlement as to why the paper was making such a big deal over so very little.

In his column, Smith tells how, on hearing rumors that a story that would not be favorable to the senator was in the works, a group of business leaders meet with him and TU publisher David P. White and all but asked that the story be killed.

But, Smith writes, he and White were not swayed; The story ran, and the integrity of the Times Union remains intact.

Wow! What heroes. Here are a couple of guys who just can’t be bought.

Except, as visitors to this Web page know, the facts suggest it isn’t true.

You haven’t heard? Take a look at the posting further down this page headlined “Albany newspaper ignores lawsuits filed against healthcare company.”

In that item, it is revealed that over a period of at least four years, between 1999 and 2003, the fearless management of the TU reported not one of dozens of lawsuits alleging medical malpractice or negligence filed against a medical company in the Capital Region.

The same medical company that operates the hospital where Lisa received fatal injuries in November 2003.

What the paper did run during that time was hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of advertising from that same organization, while keeping every one of the many lawsuits filed against it from public view.

A coincidence? Neither Smith nor White have responded to a detailed letter sent to them last September laying out this very serious allegation and asking for comment.

And now further research has shown that the it’s not just this one Troy-based healthcare company that is apparently receiving a special extra benefit for its advertising dollar.

An examination of court records and of the TU’s own archives suggests that the Times Union’s management has also routinely turned a blind eye to dozens of lawsuits filed against the operators of several other medical facilities that advertise heavily in the paper.

Finally, after a lawsuit was filed over Lisa’s death back in March, the Times Union did report it. It was the first such story in the paper in years. Unfortunately, despite having detailed written information about the suit, the reporter misstated the facts at the very heart of the case in a way that accused an unconnected group of people of negligence, and a correction had to be run.

The story is also, at the date of this writing, the last to be reported by the TU on a medical malpractice case, even though several such new claims have been filed since.

In his back-patting column, Smith says a newspaper’s survival depends upon its honest reporting.

“How much would you trust what you read here if you knew that a group of community leaders could persuade us to go easy on Joe Bruno?” he asks. “What story might we bypass next in order to support someone's version of what’s best for the community?”

How about not community leaders, but instead a group of big advertisers who have evidently had the paper “go easy’ on them? And not just on one story, but on dozens of actions that in many cases allegedly led to a crippling injury or an unnecessary death. Isn’t that hiding something the readers of the Times Union should be told?

In Mr. Smith’s view, apparently not. And as for a reason for continuing to “bypass” all this news, you have only to look in the paper almost any day to see one or more of those endless ads from one or other of the medical facilities whose money the Times Union would be unlikely to receive if it was not suppressing stories the advertisers don’t want you to see.

It’s called a conflict of interest. And it’s far more damaging to the public than a simple loan from a elected official to his private-sector son could ever be.
In other words, the management of the Times Union, in the broader sense, is also corrupt. It, too, is for sale.

That is reality. Take a hard look at it, Mr. Smith. Maybe, if you stare long enough, it will begin to seem vaguely familiar.

Smith's 2005 column, "Telling the Truth our priority"