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My Not-So-Excellent Adventure In Journalistic Integrity

Written by Stephen Hyde

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A couple of weeks ago I sent a letter with supporting documentation to the publisher of a local (and mercifully low-circulation) tabloid, the Colorado Springs Business Journal, pointing out material errors in its reporting on my views and activities when I served on a local citizens commission charged with determining the fate of city-owned Memorial Hospital. I never heard back from him, but did exchange subsequent emails and phone calls with his editor, Allen Greenberg, resulting in his agreement to make limited corrections of some of the more blatant misstatements in reporter Amy Gillentine's article.

Nonetheless, the original, uncorrected article remains on the paper's website, and my Google search of the promised language fails to find it anywhere. Unsurprisingly, I don't read the paper itself, so missed any printed notice that may have appeared.

In my letter to the publisher, I stated my desire not to run afoul of the old adage that one should never pick a fight with anyone who buys ink by the barrel (and I'm quite proud of myself for not having added, "...or by the pint"). I obviously failed. I had become too accustomed to receiving fair and accurate treatment by media professionals both nationally (The Wall Street Journal and numerous broadcast outlets) and locally.

The paper's attempt at payback came last Friday in an editorial in which Mr. Greenberg cast a most unflattering light on my views about the future risks and prospects for single-market, community hospitals such as Memorial. He found nothing to worry about because of the hospital's successful past and its bright future under health reform. For those not wishing to subtract from their total store of personal knowledge by reading Mr. Greenberg's superficial attempt at health policy analysis, his primary theme is a rhetorical challenge, "what Hyde thinks he knows that we don't." (His later acknowledgment that "Hyde knows quite a lot about health care issues..." reminds me of an old joke, the punch line of which is "I'm not schizophrenic; and neither am I.")

Mr. Greenberg's piece, while long on snarky misstatement, is more than a tad short on research, suggesting an unhealthy dependence on Obama administration press releases for his rosy view. Even a brief Google search could have told him that his question about what I know that he doesn't may not be so rhetorical after all. He might even have considered making a few inquiries and doing some, well, journalism. Either way, he could have easily discovered some of the following items that might have prevented him from so badly misinforming his readers about some of the major risks imbedded in the new health reform law for Memorial:

1.    Public comments in March by Memorial's own CEO that "Memorial's current course is unsustainable."

2.    Part 1 in my series of articles, "What Will Health Reform Do For (Or To) America's Hospitals?" (Part 2 to be posted shortly).

3.    Regarding Mr. Greenberg's heavy reliance on city-owned Memorial's successful financial history and lack of past taxpayer support as evidence that we have nothing to fear but Hyde himself, one would think that the editor of a business journal might be more cognizant of the common prospectus warning: PAST PERFORMANCE IS NOT INDICATIVE OF FUTURE RESULTS (4,440,000 results on Google.)

4.    My authorship of the book, Cured! The Insider's Handbook for Health Reform, authoritatively described as "...a tour de force that exposes the root causes of the health care crisis ... Hyde writes with the authority of the 40-year veteran health care advisor, regulator, actuary, entrepreneur, CEO, and policy analyst that he is." I know it is immodest of me to cite this, but Mr. Greenberg did ask the question.

5.    At a minimal expenditure of shoe leather, Mr. Greenberg's staff might have discovered the sort of items reported in today's Colorado Springs Gazette, including the Memorial CEO's continued concerns about "the uncertainty surrounding health care," and Colorado Managed Care publisher Jim Hertel's observation that "Any existing owner of a health care system has to be nervous about the future viability of that organization, given the changes that appear to be ahead of us."

On the other hand, had Mr. Greenberg done his journalistic homework, he might have also had to acknowledge my views  as the product of informed, thoughtful judgment, rather than the simple bias he and his paper have so enthusiastically alleged.

Perhaps most tellingly, Mr. Greenberg dismissed my attempts to obtain journalistic justice as having "tried to deflect criticism by assailing this paper's reporting."  So it turns out that I did-however inadvertently and perhaps naively-step into a fight. I suggest, however, that Mr. Greenberg should consider a 21st century update of that old adage: It's ok to pick a fight with someone who buys more ink than you do as long as your roster of email contacts, newsletter recipients, and blog readers outnumbers his subscriber list. In that vein, I invite you to forward this to anyone who might care.

On the brighter side, in writing his piece with its veritable checklist of thought-challenged health reform myths, Mr. Greenberg has done me the service of providing a handy straw man to eviscerate in a future article here on my website. Do stay tuned.

Normally, I wouldn't bother you with what might at first appear to be a purely local issue. However, I suspect this sort of thing may be increasingly common elsewhere as newspapers and magazines increasingly cut back on their news gathering expenses in a struggle for survival. I also wonder how often others have experienced as I have some of the less salutary aspects of the perennial conflict between journalistic freedom and the responsibility that should accompany it. It's really a shame when "All the news that's fit to print," becomes "All the news that fits, we print." No wonder newspapers are dying.

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