Probably at the Phillies game.
Some of the most recent and important actions to draw attention to insurance company abuses have been practically ignored by local media, including our two big dailies. And that's just wrong, because one of the worst villains in the
health care death-by-spreadsheet industry is headquartered right here in Philadelphia: Cigna.
Let's back up a moment: I wrote a few weeks back about news coverage of Barack Obama's visit to Philadelphia, and the circus in the streets. Reporters were going back and forth doing the he-said-she-said bit (giving a platform to people who were spouting lies they didn't even understand about the Communo-islamo-fascist threat posed by Barack Obama). But a few weeks later, when Health Care for America Now (HCAN) rallied in front of City Hall, there were no shrieking teabaggers, and skant coverage by the media. A short article in the Daily News. A brief blurb in the Inky's business section. What's the deal?
A few weeks later, five HCAN activists, including the organization's Pennsylvania State Director Marc Stier, were arrested for blocking the doors to Cigna and I haven't seen squat from the newspapers. Why not?
It's not like Cigna's the pride of Philadelphia. This is the company notorious for letting Nataline Sarkysian, a 17 year old girl, die by delaying and denying her a liver transplant until public outcry forced the company's hand: by that time it was too late. And when Sarkysian's family traveled to Philadelphia to confront Cigna, they were met with jeers and even the middle finger by CIGNA's employees. Stay classy, guys: nothing says "we care" like taunting a grieving mother whose kid died on YOUR watch.
We were arrested today because Dawn Smith is today fighting CIGNA for the treatment she needs. Dawns has have a brain tumor. Doctors are ready to help her. But CIGNA has been blocking her from treatment for two years, while almost doubling her premiums... Because CIGNA refused to consider insuring Billy Koehler, who died of a heart attack shortly after CIGNA said it was unwilling to insure him because he had a pre-existing medical condition... We were arrested today because Stacie Ritter’s children were denied the medical care they need by CIGNA. Stacie’s twin girls were afflicted with cancer at the age of 4, and Cigna refuses to cover the human growth hormone treatments they need to grow properly.
This is the kind of activist journalism that should have reporters drooling, a really clear-cut case of David versus Goliath. Instead of screaming headlines, though, what little news gets out is buried. You'd figure in a city as poor and blue-collar as Philly, our reporters and op-ed writers would be coming out swinging. Instead, it's near silence.
It's not like this isn't a compelling story: the horrors that Stacie Ritter has faced since her daughters were treated for leukemia are enough to make you tear your hair out, and Cigna's treatment of this family is beyond cruel. But beyond Daily News blogger Will Bunch, you will be hard-pressed to find any local coverage of Ritter's visit to Cigna CEO Ed Hanway's mansion in Media (one of many he owns) where she asked to stay in his carriage house until one of those "market based solutions" the industry's always talking about could be found:
Now, I happen to know a few people deeply involved with the campaign to reform health care, and asked why the Philly media was absent. This is what my friend told me: "No reporters showed up because they were pulled of the story to cover Phillies fans at local bars. Seriously, more than one person told Marc Stier that. Feel free to bash the corporate media that cares more about baseball than the thousands of people who die everyday due to lack of access to adequate care."
That doesn't exactly square with Bunch's rationale that "The Daily News hasn't had the staffing power to have a fulltime healthcare writer for a while now, even though the sector is the region's biggest source of private jobs," when reporters are pulled off a story to cover a stupid baseball game. And as the Inky's Jane Von Bergen makes clear, the fact that people's kids and grandparents die every day because insurance companies deny them care isn't very important to her
“I did not think the protest at [Cigna CEO] Hanway’s house was news,” Philadelphia Inquirer business reporter Jane Von Bergen told us. “It was a staged event. It wasn’t real news. I avoid them. I can’t stand them. They don’t add anything. They don’t teach anything. If they go to his house, we don’t learn anything more about the health care debate.” The protest was “too manufactured,” said Von Bergen. “Just a bunch of people going blah-blah-blah.”
In the same article, Von Bergen betrays her preference for a different kind of staged event, and thoroughly demolishes her own argument:
By contrast, said Von Bergen, who covered the rowdy town meeting in August where right-wing activists confronted Sen. Arlen Specter, the news value of that event was “readily apparent.” “It involved public figures”—members of Congress. So political reporters picked up the story.
So a woman confronting the wealthy and powerful CEO, from the left, is a staged event unworthy of coverage, but a bunch of confused and misinformed people riled up by a Fox News bloviator to stage an event in which they confront a politician, from the right, makes the front page? isn't that also "just a bunch of people going blah-blah-blah"?
I'm not seeing the logic there. Maybe that's because there isn't any. And anyway, Von Bergen's excuses about public figures make no sense in light of the fact that, according to people at HCAN, the papers pulled reporters off the health care story to cover a bunch of private individuals celebrating a freakin' baseball game. That's not news: that's just pathetic.
But it sure does fit a pattern, as I reflect back on the failure to cover of HCAN's teabagger-free rally at City Hall. No screamers, no coverage.
We have a lot to be proud of in Philadelphia: neither Cigna nor our rapidly faltering newspapers fall into that category.
First Person Arts Podcast: Proud Mom