Lisa Zenzen Baker, 1961-2003


Wednesday, January 02, 2013

No news is not good news

The public pays for
the media’s silence 

By David Baker
Posted Wednesday Jan. 2, 2013

It’s been said that news is information that someone doesn’t want published.

If so, there has been a lot of news about the Capital Region medical providers over the past decade.

And the area’s media organizations have been happy to keep it out of sight.

That news is about dozens of lawsuits alleging malpractice and negligence filed against the area’s medical providers over the past 12 years.

Stating in the late 1990s, those providers somehow persuaded local media outlets to abandon their core function of informing the public about matters that affect it, and instead to ignore allegations of serious harm readily available in public documents.

At the same time, those providers began running a coordinated advertising campaign that to this day is sending a steady stream of money to the new outlets, filing the pages of newspapers and the air time of TV and radio stations with messages that present the providers as competent and caring, while they fight every claim of injury even when they know they ar eliable.

This can only be described as a conspiracy; not in the legal sense, but a conspiracy none the less.  A conspiracy that benefits the participants but is against the public good.

Now the providers will say that anyone can make allegations in a lawsuit –which is not true; filing a malpractice suit is much harder than most people realize – and that just because someone says a death or injury was preventable doesn’t mean it was.

But that ignores the fact that many of these claims eventually end with a settlement – sometimes a big one – and that even those cases have been ignored by the media.

Meanwhile, reporting at least some of these lawsuits would benefit the public, as I explained last year in a detailed letter to the publishers of the area’s largest newspaper, the Albany Times Union.

First, it would motivate the providers to reduce errors and acknowledge harm when it occurred, because that would be the only way to stop the damaging stories in the media.

As long as the lawsuits are invisible, the providers can aggressively fight every claim without any bad publicity. This imposes a hidden tax, because the lawyers’ fees and expenses and the much bigger payouts needed to settle a case that has been fought right up to a trial are ultimately all paid by the public.

Second, it would spare injured patients and  bereaved family members the anguish of a legal battle, and perhaps worse, being denied an explanation for an unexpected death or injury.

But that is not going to happen as long as the area’s media organizations and medical providers continue their conspiracy of silence, ignoring their duty to the public in favor of  providers whose focus on image rather than patient safety puts everyone at risk.

Meanwhile, people can only wonder how many other doctors have hospital privileges when, like Akiva Abraham, a required check would reveal that he or she is unfit to practice, and how many other stories of public interest are being ignored by newspaper editors who are more concerned with keeping advertising revenue flowing in than fulfilling their responsibility to inform.