I seem to be writing an awful lot about the Burlington Free Press lately, but they’ve deserved it. They keep doin’ stupid shit, I’ma keep writin’ about ’em.
The Freeploid’s Mike Donoghue has a reputation as a transparency crusader, a hard-chargin’ newsman who refuses to take “No” for an answer when confronting official recalcitrance.
There’s some truth to that. But he’s also an absolutist, willing to publish anything regardless of whether it furthers the public interest or brings unnecessary harm to anyone. The most recent example, which he disgracefully revisits today, is his spotlight expose of a very troubled woman’s life. But first, let’s go back to November, when our alleged First Amendment bulldog wrote a nothingburger of a story on timesheet fraud by state workers. The article was larded with details from a single case: a state worker who was suspected of one instance of timesheet fraud. The worker’s identity was revealed in the story, even though he hadn’t been formally charged.
And, as it turned out, authorities decided not to bring any charges. Too late; Donoghue had already plastered his name and the (apparently unfounded) allegations against him all over the newspaper. Classy.
Having brought pointless harm to one life, Donoghue is now doing his best to sabotage Christina Schumacher’s.
His first story, published January 12, chronicled Schumacher’s accusation that she has been hospitalized against her will at Fletcher Allen Health Care. Hospital staff could not respond, because they are legally bound to protect her privacy. As they should be. The result is a completely unbalanced story which accepts Schumacher’s version at face value and employs it as a cudgel against FAHC and other institutions involved in her case.
The second story, published in today’s Freeploid, is worse than the first — starting with its placement on the front page, along with a huge picture of Ms. Schumacher. Just in case anyone in the greater Burlington area didn’t already know what the psychiatrically troubled woman who just lost her son to a grisly murder-suicide looks like. Y’know, so when you see her at the grocery store you can say hi. Or just point and stare, whatever works for you.
Donoghue’s sadly thin pretext for returning to the story is stated in the inflammatory headline:
Slain teen’s mother held against her will, then billed for treatment
A couple of problems with that. First, it accepts Schumacher’s version of events. FAHC cannot even confirm that she is a patient, let alone whether or not she’s being billed.
Second, how big is the bill? Donoghue never says. The hospital cannot say. But according to the article, the vast majority of psychiatric inpatients’s care is covered by private insurance, the state Department of Mental Health, Medicaid, and/or Medicare. And according to an FAHC official, “For those without insurance, Fletcher Allen absorbs the cost.”
My conclusion? She’s probably being billed for some relatively small co-pays. No way she’ll pay full freight for several weeks of hospitalization. Which is what the headline would lead you to believe.
The article perpetuates the “against her will” allegation that is hers alone. Again, the hospital cannot give its side of the story. Now, as Donoghue might know if he, say, spent any time reading newspapers over the last two and a half years, Vermont has a critical shortage of inpatient psychiatric beds. Patients are spending days in emergency rooms waiting for beds. Many are not getting the treatment they need.
So at a time like this, why in the blue Hell would FAHC hospitalize someone who didn’t need it? Even if they were evil bastards intent on goosing their occupancy rate, they don’t need to do so in the psych ward. Indeed, psychiatric staff are under constant pressure to limit admissions and expedite discharges because there are always more people waiting for available beds.
I don’t know anything about Schumacher’s case. But all the evidence points to one conclusion: if she’s been in the hospital for five weeks, it’s because she has needed intensive care and no doctor will countenance releasing her into the community.
Mike Donoghue gets a lot of credit for practicing his First Amendment rights But the First Amendment does not establish an obligation to publish whatever comes across a reporter’s desk; it simply protects the right to publish.
With rights come responsibilities. Mike Donoghue has lost sight of that fact.