Mike Donoghue, First Amendment Asshat

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.  

6 thoughts on “Mike Donoghue, First Amendment Asshat

  1. a hearing with some sort of advocacy involved was not ordered prior to her commitment. She should not be forced to pay the bill either imho. Story says that Donoghue was also barred from visiting her in the hospital which is extremely troubling.

    The length of time she is being held is also of concern. I cannot believe this is happening.

    Had a friend who called his shrink because he was suicidal she said she could not treat him as he had an outstanding bill but to call the nearest hospital. I wonder how many take the plunge after receiving such compassionate care.

    I once called a crisis hotline but was never told I would be billed nor gave my last name or address. I received a bill — they must have connected my number to my phone listing & address. Not a huge deal but should be more forthcoming.

    My daughter’s ex threw her involuntarily into a psychiatric facility as a cover for his intolerable cruelty. She did attempt suicide twice but this was after those incidences & he claimed she had threatened to do it when she had not. This is NH so I am unaware of their laws or even if she knew she could fight it, but was in a weakened condition due to her being heavily medicated as well as the pain of betrayal.

    He kept her from family during this time as he knew we would have intervened if we had known. She did at one time reach out to us but he apparently put the kibosh on her relationships with us. She became afraid to reach out because she hadn’t reached the point of walking at this time.

    I’m thinking it may be happening more than we know due to the state of mind of the victim & the fact that many for the most part don’t exactly call newspapers perhaps due to the stigma or fear of reprisal.    

  2. from former VSH employee.

    Trying to use the lowest bar possible to ensure commitment:


    The article didn’t mention the part of the bill that says “Hearsay, to the extent it is deemed relevant and reliable by the Court, shall be admissible.” Then later “If probable cause to believe that the individual was a person in need of treatment at the time of his or her admission is established by substantial evidence at the preliminary hearing, the individual shall be ordered held for further proceedings in accordance with the law.”

    Everyone should read about the Schumacher case so they can see how easily someone can be deprived of their freedom. Her case is only the latest in a long list of people who have had their rights violated by the mental health system .I saw rights violations happen many times at the Vermont State Hospital. I saw a woman who argued wither her doctors at Fletcher Allen get diagnosed as having Oppositional Defiance Disorder and locked up for months. I saw people locked up for months for such minor acts as breaking a window, getting locked outside of a motel room naked, hitchhiking on the interstate and stealing a pack of cigarettes. I saw what goes on in the courts. People do not get a fair hearing. The judge only rubber stamps what a psychiatrist says. The patient hardly gets a chance to say ANYTHING.

    Many of the doctors who work in the mental health field aren’t even competent. The US Department of Justice found in 2005 that many patients at the Vermont State Hospital had been given inappropriate diagnoses.


    This had been going on for DECADES before they got caught


    I will believe him & Ms. Shumaker before I believe the perps and criminals who prey upon the victims  of these crimes.

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