Grading Jim Witt’s Response To Critic Of Star-Telegram

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Posted January 7, 2014 by Jeff Prince in Blotch
oops

The national healthcare writer, journalist, and blogger who sliced, diced, and dissected a Fort Worth Star-Telegram story on Obamacare finally got a response from Executive Editor Jim Witt.

We’ll grade his effort in a moment.

Maggie Mahar read a Nov. 24 article by Yamil Berard and saw what she considered to be false and skewed information. She tried calling the reporter, which led to a weeks-long game of telephone chase with editors and Berard. Frustrated by the runaround, she posted “Anatomy Of An Obamacare ‘Horror Story’ ” on her Health Beat blog site six weeks later.

In it she pointed out a glaring error in the story and described how editors pooh-poohed her concerns, with one characterizing her as an advocate for Obamacare.

Witt begins his lengthy response by saying he likes writing about the “great things” the paper does, but “this isn’t going to be one of those times.” Not a bad start. Nobody expects perfection from a paper, but they do expect a paper to acknowledge mistakes.

So, one gold star for Witt.

But then he rambles for several paragraphs about placement of corrections in the newspaper before finally getting to the Mahar report. He introduces her as a “national healthcare blogger,” which is true. He neglects to mention she is also an author, a former financial journalist and magazine editor, and a former Yale professor.

Witt introduces Berard as an “award-winning veteran reporter.” So Witt carefully plants a seed of doubt about Mahar (who has also won awards and is even more veteran than Berard), while building up the credibility of his staffer.

Minus one gold star for Witt.

Next, Witt accuses Mahar of suggesting that the paper purposely slanted the story to put down Obamacare.  However, when I read Mahar’s column, I didn’t see her accusing them of purposely having a Tea Party slant.  She called the paper numerous times to try to talk to somebody, without success, and then she began looking into the story herself. She discovered the Tea Party affiliations afterward. And, from the tone of her column, she seemed willing to let someone at the paper explain what happened. She wrote her story with the best information she had.

Minus one gold star for Witt.

Witt denies slanting the story: “We stand behind the details we presented in the story.” He follows that by saying the story didn’t meet the paper’s standards.

Huh? Which is it?

Mahar’s main complaint was that the newspaper presented erroneous facts and didn’t flesh out its sources, and then didn’t follow up the story a short time later after Whitney Johnson, one of people featured in the story, was approved for healthcare.

Witt addresses that situation in his column, but in a snippy manner that once again attempts to discredit Mahar:  “Johnson later found affordable insurance at the healthcare website with the help of a Fort Worth broker. Tea Party members, of course, need insurance just like members of other political parties.”

Subtract another gold star.

He acknowledges that the paper should have better investigated its sources; give him a gold star.

But then he focuses on Mahar again, saying she “styles herself as an unbiased reporter” but that her writings show an obvious “pro-Obamacare point-of-view.”

I called Mahar and asked her if she is an advocate for Obamacare.

“I’m an advocate for the truth,” she said.

I repeated the question.

“I’m an advocate for universal healthcare,” she said. “Healthcare is something a civilized society has a responsibility to make available to citizens.”

She is not a Democrat — “I’ve been disappointed with the Democratic Party for the past 20 years” — but rather considers herself a “progressive,” she said.

Witt never spoke with her before penning his column, Mahar said.

She wasn’t impressed. Witt didn’t address her main concerns. She didn’t like that an editor assigned a negative story by telling the reporter to find and write about people having difficulties with Obamacare. The misinformation might discourage others from trying to access healthcare, she said.

And she didn’t like that the paper didn’t update its story after Johnson qualified for healthcare a short time later.

“That gets back to scaring readers and discouraging them,” she said. “It’s a halfway apology. It’s condescending to me. He spends a lot of time on how they always issue corrections and put them on the front page, and patting himself on the back.”

Witt says a follow-up story is in the works, so he gets another gold star.

Mahan has a follow-up story of her own in the works. She is “deconstructing” similar newspaper stories across the country.

“Journalism isn’t what it was,” she said.

Witt ends his column by saying the Star-Telegram has done well at “educating readers about the good and the bad of Obamacare — but not in this instance. “I apologize for that and promise we’ll do better going forward,” he wrote.

Another gold star for finally apologizing. But I’m subtracting a gold star for the overall mealy-mouthed, waffling nature of the column.

Alright then…let’s issue Witt a grade.  He got four gold stars, but lost four gold stars.

So his final grade is a blech.

 


24 Comments


  1.  
    weekly reader

    Mahar is a health insurance industry advocate whose supportive inputs regarding profitable health care industry trending (often at the expense of the patient and provider) can be regularly followed on the very pro ObamaCare “Managed Care Matters” site. (But then, I guess you know that already)…




    •  
      Jeff Prince

      The post describes Mahar as a progressive and an advocate of universal healthcare..




      •  
        weekly reader

        I knew that (seemingly paradoxical/contradictory) chestnut would turn up. As an avid reader of many healthcare blogs, I have also read Dr. Richard N. Fogoros MD (Dr. Rich) “Covert (healthcare) Rationing Blog” and “Fixing American Healthcare”. He makes a fairly compelling argument explaining the support of the insurance industry for Obamacare as a means to maximize profits and universalize enrollment as an industrially profitable means to a form fruste of “universal healthcare”. Individual “choice” and “quality”-as we know it- of course is to sacrificed for the benefit of the ” collective”.




  2.  

    Weekly Reader, is that a proper name?




    •  
      weekly reader

      Excuse me, but wasn’t the Fort Worth Weekly recently critical of the Fort Worth Star Telegram for excluding appropriate anonymous commentary? (I think that the FWST readership declined as a result-because the comments were very interesting –often more so than the articles)

      You folks should not be offended when a weekly reader does your research for you. If you are going to have a one sided template-you should be prepared to defend it, rather than being upset at alternative facts and opinions.

      BTW Mr. Taylor, the name is “Spartacus” for your purposes.




      •  
        Jeff Prince

        James Michael Taylor doesn’t work for the Weekly, he’s a reader. And, yes, the Weekly blog site criticized the Star-Telegram for excluding anonymous comments. “Weekly Reader” and anyone else is welcome to comment anonymously all they want.




  3.  
    weekly reader

    I have one more comment. Why is Ms. Mahar surprised and disdainful about TexasTea Party conservatives expressing their personal concerns and personal experiences regarding the Gov Healthcare Website? Texas Tea Partiers are fairly common, especially in Tarrant County. Its kind of like going to Utah and complaining about Mormons having opinions on issues of personal concern to them. Do you have to be apolitical for your opinions to count? To most people, party identity is irrelevant to personal health care matters. Censorship based on party affiliation is not “progressive” or enlightened..




    •  
      Nick K

      I think her concern was more about the fact that three out of the four people featured in the Star-Telegram story were connected to the Tea Party, a party that is predisposed to hate Obamacare.




  4.  
    Dan Brandon

    Can we make it a minus blech?




  5.  
    yah-tah-hey

    The so-called retraction (basically a Nixonesque “mistakes were made” type thing) was worse than the original article. The “award-winning” journalist can at least plead negligence and stupidity.

    How about an old-fashioned 1920′s style New York Times type retraction, like this? ” On November 24, in an article entitled “Obamacare stirs anxieties for thousands with canceled policies” the Fort-Worth Star-Telegram reported on Whitney Johnson who had her $325 individual health care policy cancelled. In fact, an Obamacare Gold policy would cost Ms. Johnson a little less than $332. Obamacare policies available to Ms. Johnson range from $200 to $388, depending on coverage. Policies may be purchased on the exchange, or, if the insured does not qualify for a subsidy, directly from the insurer. The Star-Telegram regrets the error.”

    or this:

    “The same article reported on Mr. and Mrs. Robert Kecseg of Lewisville. The article reported that the Obamacare policies purchased by the Kecsegs had $20,000 deductibles. In fact, Obamacare family policies are limited by law to a maximum $12,000 out of pocket maximum for health services. The Fort-Worth Star-Telegram also regrets this error. ”

    Or, better, how about the “award winning” columnist taking a minute and a half to fact-check? At what point does carelessness become a reckless disregard for the truth?
    http://www.thehealthsherpa.com/insurance_plans?zip_code=76010#c48439/mgold/pg2/ppl27




  6.  
    Claude Balls

    I couldn’t quite figure out what Jim Wittless was trying to say. He sort of said they made errors, but then said they didn’t or they weren’t much of anything. How everybody and everything is great at the S-T, except for these little things he doesn’t think are all that bad. And then he went after Ms. Mahar, but she had nothing to do with the original story. What he avoided was why the FWST doesn’t have a reporter who covers the healthcare beat. It is one-sixth of the US economy, FW has some big health care orgs based in town, fairly big issues involving JPS, and this is perhaps the biggest issue in the nation right now. And they don’t have the resources to pay attn. to this? Can’t even get Tim Madigan off his ass to write a story every few months or so? (after all, Madigan’s previous beat was Van Cliburn and the pianist is now dead, so he has even more time than when Van was alive, even though Tim didn’t do much work then either).




    •  
      weekly reader

      The FWST is fading fast.




    •  
      Lafff Master

      you win the award for funniest comment, especially the part about madigan.




      •  
        Claude Balls

        Yes, I wonder what Tim Madigan is going to do now that Van Cliburn is dead. Maybe he can do a piece on how a city goes to great lengths to ignore and hide that their famed musician was gay. Ken Copeland could be their main source as to how the FW has no gays and to imply Cliburn was gay is “heresy.” But the S-T would only refer to Copeland as a “media consultant.”




        •  
          skeptic

          It’s a little difficult to understand your point, it seems a little diffuse. At the last major orchestra event which was a very well attended tribute to Van Cliburn and his legacy, Cliburn’s partner (who seems to be a quiet man- seemingly not wanting to be in the public spotlight) gave a very eloquent speech about their life together. I do not think that in 2014 any one is concerned or in denial that Cliburn was gay. He was a brilliant artist and is fondly remembered by Fort Worth. It really does not make any difference.




          •  
            Claude Balls

            Yes, it is diffuse skeptic. Do you not understand sarcasm? Let me explain. Ken Copeland. Commenting on gay issue. Identified only as media consultant. Sort of like tea party people weighing in on ACA and not identified as such. Get it? (probably not. you are mentally delicate. not being sarcastic.)3




            •  
              skeptic

              Sorry that you are so misinformed and unpleasant. I simply disagree with your statement/inference “the city (FW) went to great lengths to deny, etc ” about Cliburn. Your analogy is thin, thoughtless (since the recently departed Cliburn is well respected here) unpleasant, and obtuse. BTW. I also think that it is foolish for a self styled “unbiased” health care “expert” from a liberal academic environment to go to a conservative stronghold in the US and expect non conservatives only to comment to their local newspaper about their personal experiences with government programs.(I guess Ms Mahar doesn’t understand that Texas is fairly conservative) Furthermore, a woman with MS looking for insurance under a government program should not be censored by her home town newspaper because she has a relative who is a conservative in the Tea Party. Next you will be telling us that she got MS on purpose just to vex a liberal healthcare “expert” Your reasoning is so tenuous that it is unintelligible. Sarcasm doesn’t even apply. Get it ?




              •  
                Claude Balls

                Skeptic, you call me obtuse? You are obtuse all over the map with that latest comment. Get into nihilism and dadaism for awhile. You’ll feel much better, and feel quite a bit less. You’re brain will hurt less as well.




  7.  
    Corps

    I’m confused I thought the mainstream media was all a bumch of liberals. Why are they writing anti Obamacare story?




    •  
      Poverty Pope

      Corps, I think you are a state of confusion. You are lumping in the FW S-T with the NYT and Wash Post and MSNBC and the like. The S-T have never been liberal in any sense, more like FOX News Lite. Don’t think they ever do not think about where they are and who their audience is and what the repercussions would be in they ever pissed off the conservative base and shit in their nest. That would be worse than making lots of errors.




    •  
      weekly reader

      The FWST has no credibility with its current circulation.




  8.  
    weekly reader

    My basic complaint about govt and academic “health care experts” like Maggie is that they have never been personally involved with the delivery of health care. Are we to believe that a woman with MS should not have an opinion about insurance products because of the political affiliation of her relatives? I actually like Maggie. She is more pleasant than most, but how are we to distance ourselves , in a way that serves the general population when we attach ourselves to old world paradigms in health care delivery?





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