Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Bias Watch

I went and bought the Times-Picayune today because I wanted to see how they covered yesterday's illegal banishment of the public and the media at Charity Hospital.

It was one of the top stories of the day and was featured during in last night's WWL broadcast and displayed prominently on its website and that of WDSU.

I was wondering where the T-P might put its article and how it would be spun. I haven't been particularly impressed with recent pieces on the hospital that have read more like press releases than actual journalism, so I was very curious.

So how about page one?


Okay how about page one of metro?

Oh, here's an article about a hospit -- oh it's about the one in St. Bernard. Anything about Charity?

Ah okay, on page A-2, an article written by the great "staff and wire reports"

The staffer was Jan Moller, whose major contribution appears to have been a reconfiguration of original AP publications in a manner that better reflects the LSU/VA perspective.

Observe the first paragraphs of the AP report as published on the WDSU website:

Opponents of LSU's plans to build a new public hospital in New Orleans, rather than renovate the hospital wrecked by Hurricane Katrina, were blocked from a legislative tour of the damaged facilities.

The move appears to violate Louisiana's public meetings law. Tuesday's tour had been advertised as a public meeting of a legislative health care subcommittee.

The executive vice chairwoman of the Foundation for Historical Louisiana and an architect who reviewed the condition of the hospital, known as Big Charity, for the foundation were barred from the building. Later, a local New Orleans television station also wasn't allowed on the tour.

Here is the first few lines of another AP report as published on the City Business website:

A legislative walking tour of Charity Hospital on Tuesday appeared to violate Louisiana's open meetings law when several people were barred from the tour.

Fourteen lawmakers joined LSU officials and others to walk through the storm-damaged and shuttered public hospital that the university has decided against renovating in favor of constructing a new teaching facility nearby.

But several people who favor renovation over new hospital construction said they weren't allowed on the tour even though it was advertised as a public meeting of a legislative health care subcommittee.

State law requires meetings of public bodies to be open to the general public, with limited exceptions.

And now the T-P's version of the article plus Moller's contribution:

A legislative tour of the storm-damaged Charity Hospital on Tuesday may have violated Louisiana's open meetings law after a group that favors renovating the building instead of constructing a new teaching hospital was blocked from participating.

The tour had been advertised as a public meeting of the Subcommittee on Health and Human Services of the House Appropriations Committee. State law requires that such meetings be open to the general public if a majority of committee members are present, as they were.

But the law also makes exception for "chance meetings, social gatherings, or other gatherings at which only presentations are made to members of the legislature . . . if no vote or other action, including formal or informal polling of members, is taken."

I find it very very interesting that Moller would find it relevant to spell out the public meetings exception for "chance meetings and social gatherings" as if this was the intention of organizers when they very clearly advertised and announced the event as a public meeting. The additional line is both unnecessary and misleading. It does not provide any useful context whatsoever and merely delays getting to the meat of the matter, which was that LSU stooge Charles Zewe had architects wishing to present redevelopment plans for Charity barred from the meeting.

Zewe helped to organize the tour and then ensured that his client's perspective would be the only one legislators would be privileged enough to hear, in what may have been a violation of public records law.

That's the story.

Another interesting question is why the Jan Moller wasn't present at the tour or why the Times-Picayune had to rely on wire reports for their piece in the first place.

Today Moller is back in action, letting us know that Louisiana has just been ranked DEAD LAST in a state by state evaluation of overall public health. While he lists high rates of poverty, obesity, and infant mortality as contributing to the ranking, another factor which he fails to mention, is that we have not had a public hospital in the city of New Orleans for over three years. Maybe that'll make it into tomorrow's edition.


Puddinhead said...

We were either dead last or near it most of the past few decades that "Big Charity" was open, too. Conclusion? "Big Charity" wasn't doing a whole helluva lot, at least in my adult lifetime, to better the overall delivery of health care, and an alternative was long overdue. As unpopular as that opinion might make me. I do, however, contend that the alternative should be an actual brick and mortar replacement for Charity, rather than some hare-brained scheme to funnel more public money into the health-care-corporation-du-jour's coffers through some privatization plan.

Schroeder said...

Puddinhead, "Big Charity" never had a say in whether or not people's health and well-being could be treated pre-emptively. They were merely the last line of defense when emergency room care was the only thing left. What I hear you saying, is that we need to acknowledge that health care should be treated as a right, and something to which even the indigent should have access before they end up in the emergency room. Good for you. I support your progressive vision.

Anonymous said...

Just an FYI: Jan Moller is a "he." And it's pronounced "yon" like in "yonder."

E said...

Hmm. I did not know that.
Okeydoke. Will fix.

jeffrey said...

I've been wondering about that myself. Was trying not to err either way.

Anonymous said...

thanks for the excellent post. toilet-paper's bias is obvious.

E said...

It's definitely something to monitor closely. There is plenty of precedent.

Puddinhead said...

Schroeder, I don't know if I go quite as far as many here in considering health care (or housing, for that matter) to be a "right", if that's taken to mean an "inalienable" (or natural) and Constitutionally-protected right along with the Declaration-enumerated "life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness"...although the Declaration does state that these three rights are "among" the natural rights of Man, not the only natural rights.

I probably see the "right" to health care as more one of the "benefits" accrued on the citizens' side of the ledger of the social contract. Although it certainly could and should be spelled out in clear language by statute for all to see, I look at the "rights" to housing and health care to be more of a "contractual obligation" of the government, just like equal protection of the citizenry's person and property from within by law enforcement and from without by military is a contractual obligation of the government.

The citizenry has obligations under this social contract too, of course...that's why they call it a contract. We agree to do things like live according to the agreed-upon set of rules, or to work within the system to change those rules when we don't agree with them. Of course, under the contract theory of things when a citizen repeatedly breaks his end of the deal (perhaps continued anti-social behavior in the form of serious crime such as murder, drug dealing, etc.) it seems to me only fair that he forfeit the same level of housing and health care guarantee that those of us who hew to the contract enjoy. IMHO the "right" that we all enjoy under the social contract would in these cases devolve, to be replace by a level based less on that individual's "right" and more on our (the collective society) "responsibility" toward even the most transgressive of citizens. In other words, the citizen who breaks his end of the contract no longer has a "right" to some things beyond those that are "natural" rights, but we have a "responsibility" to see that at least his minimum needs are met.

But that's probably just my Catholic high school religion class "social justice" training kicking in there. You know, despite this explanation, I really do think of myself as a progressive...I used to play "Kum-ba-ya" on the guitar for folk Mass and everything. LOL

Puddinhead said...

I should have pointed out in my long-winded post that of course the government can break the social contract just as individual citizens can break it. When that happens...well, see "Revolution, American" and "French".