Lisa Zenzen Baker, 1961-2003


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

OPINION: A newspaper indicted

A well-deserved word

By David Baker
Posted Wednesday Dec. 19, 2012

Unlike people, not all words are created equal.

Some are benign, harmless.

Others, though are strong, emotive.  Words like “liar”, to be used sparingly, only in the clearest cases of deliberate deception.

Or “corrupt.”  Certainly not a word you would expect to see applied to a media organization whose core function is the dissemination of information that is in the public interest.

But an examination of the evidence leaves little doubt that  “corrupt” is a accurate description of the management of the Capital Region’s largest newspaper.

Consider the facts:  Over the past 12 years, dozens of lawsuits alleging negligence have been filed against Capital District medical providers.  This negligence allegedly caused dozens of deaths and serious injuries.  Most of the lawsuits were aggressively defended by the providers.  Many of them eventually ended with a settlement.

But none of them have been reported by the Albany Times Union.

That doesn’t mean, though, that these providers don’t have a presence in the media.  Just the opposite, in fact; advertisements paid for by them appear every day, in print and online, presenting a rosy but false image to the public – and providing a constant stream of revenue to the paper.

And it’s not the nature of the allegations that prompts this silence; two lawsuits that alleged very similar negligence make that point.

In both cases, medical providers were accused of ignoring clear signs of a dangerous heart condition.  In both cases the patient died.  In both cases, a lawsuit was filed.

But only one of those lawsuits was reported by the Times Union, which ran three stories about it in a single week, along with an editorial.

That lawsuit was against a contractor that provided medical services to a jail.

The other one, against Albany Memorial Hospital and a doctor, was never mentioned.  Not when it was filed.  Not when it ended with a settlement.  Not when the paper reported that the doctor had lost his medical license, in part because of his negligence in the death.  Even the fact that the dead patient’s husband was a well known former elected official was not enough to overcome the TU’s practice of ignoring information of obvious public interest in order to keep the money flowing in from Northeast Health, Inc., which operates Memorial Hospital.

The only place the lawsuit was reported was in several stories on this blog.  A link to one of them, “A tale of two deaths” published in 2008, appears on the web page linked below.

Another story published here demonstrates the newspaper’s corruption even more forcefully.  It was about a lawsuit that named as defendants former gynecologist and now state prisoner Akiva Abraham, and Samaritan Hospital – which also is run by Northeast Health.

In that lawsuit, filed in 2006, Abraham was accused of removing a large amount of tissue from a woman’s breast without her knowledge or permission when he was scheduled to perform only a biopsy to determine if the tissue was cancerous.

It wasn’t.

The hospital was accused of failing to verify information submitted by Abraham, instead granting and repeatedly renewing his privileges despite considerable evidence that he was not fit to practice – evidence which included three other malpractice lawsuits in which Abraham and the hospital were named as defendants, and the service on the hospital of a state Health Department subpoena for the medical records of two patients who had been treated by Abraham.

At the time of the disputed surgery Abraham had no malpractice insurance, which made Samaritan Hospital effectively the only defendant.  The lawsuit lasted six years, settling in July on the first day of trial.

During those six years, the Times Union repeatedly reported on Abraham’s other problems – the revocation of his medial license, his unsuccessful appeal of the revocation; his trial on arson charges – which ended with a hung jury; his subsequent conviction for insurance fraud related to the arson; and his petition for bankruptcy protection.

The TU ran at least 10 stories on all of this.

But it has never once mentioned the four lawsuits naming him and Samaritan Hospital.

Not the one that ended with a $1.6 million settlement over the death of a woman during child birth.  And not the one – now settled – that accused Samaritan Hospital of being negligent in its credentialing of Akiva Abraham.

The evidence is overwhelming.  So how does Rex Smith, the editor of the Times Union, explain his selective reporting?

He doesn’t.  Repeated requests for comment, going back to 2004, have been ignored.  The most recent request, a four-page letter sent in July 2011, argued in detail that the reporting of these lawsuits is in the public interest.  It can be downloaded from the downloads page on this blog’s sister website, a link to which appears below.

Which leads to just one conclusion:  The reason that Smith and two of the paper’s publishers have not responded with an explanation for this wholesale suppression of information is simple; there is only one.

They have been bought.  For over a decade, they have allowed their news coverage to be dictated to them by advertisers with a lot to hide.

And strong and as ugly as it is, there’s a word for that.

NEXT: A CONSPIRACY OF SILENCE   If only one Capital Region media outlet reported lawsuits against medical providers, an unhealthy alliance would collapse – but they would all lose advertising revenue.  So as the avoidable deaths and injuries continue, they take the money – and look the other way