Where Was The Media?

Probably at the Phillies game.

By Brendan Skwire
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 14 | Posted Oct. 11, 2009

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The protests at Cigna's headquarters generated print coverage -- mainly on the flyers handed out by the protesters.

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.

Over at his blog, Marc Stier provides a list of reasons why he and his fellow activists were arrested, and it reads like something out of Kafka:

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.

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Comments 1 - 14 of 14
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1. Anonymous said... on Oct 11, 2009 at 11:37PM

“Just because someone has more money than you, doesn't mean they owe you anything, let alone a place to stay at. The sad truth is that some people just can't afford what it takes to live their lives.”

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2. mparker said... on Oct 12, 2009 at 11:10AM

“And I guess just because someone pays their insurance premiums and then gets cancer, it doesn't mean that the insurance company should actually pay. How else can they make a profit and have more money then you, let alone afford a mansion. The sad truth is that some people just can't afford human decency getting in the way of them living their wonderful lives.”

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3. Anonymous said... on Oct 12, 2009 at 04:43PM

“newspapers have become fluff now that they are sitting back and leaving it all for the bloggers to sort out. how embarrassing!

also, i am now delaying a medical procedure because i need to find a dr. that takes my insurance--arg!”

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4. daniel rubin said... on Oct 12, 2009 at 07:22PM

“yes, it is a critical issue, and yes we media types have to bring light and not just reflect the heat of stage-managed events - regardless of which side is working off a script.”

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5. Amy said... on Oct 12, 2009 at 08:50PM

“hey anonymous, it's cool if you have more money than dying teenagers. Ummm, except when you got rich by denying said teenagers health coverage. See you in hell, CIGNA executives.”

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6. Anonymous said... on Oct 13, 2009 at 10:13AM

“Shreiking teabaggers intent on bringing down the man so globally popular for not being George Bush is sooooooo much more sexy than death and people getting screwed over by greedy insurance companies.

Silly rabbit.”

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7. Here to Stay said... on Oct 14, 2009 at 12:14AM

“It didn't get covered because it might make someone with a few connections unhappy. It's also not as profitable. The press has a job to do- sell advertising. Advertisers like advertising next to positive, simple stories that interest the people, like 'dem Phils.

Cigna 'death paneling' some kid with cancer, that isn't an advertiser's dream. Nobody wants to put their ad next to Cancer Boy.”

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8. wendymae said... on Oct 14, 2009 at 08:30AM

“reading medical insurance horror stories could be a full time job now. there are so many thousands of them, yet so many just don't care. just yesterday i a friend of ours was denied treatment because her cobra is going to run out soon. my junk insurance premium has almost doubled in 4 years. i wonder if it will actually cover me if i get a serious disease or injury that takes me over my 5k deductible. our whole system is crazy and i wonder how long this country has before there are enough people in poverty that we are truly a banana republic.”

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9. NPRhead said... on Oct 14, 2009 at 08:32AM

“Where was local NPR/PBS station WHYY in all of this? There's too much corporate money out there in the form of grants and sponsorships. How do we get news the deep pocketed don't want us to get? Or want us to get a very one-sided version of it? Should it all fall to the likes of Michael Moore?”

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10. brendancalling said... on Oct 14, 2009 at 10:52AM

“where was WHYY? i don't know, but let me share an anecdote.

Last week in a story on health care reform WHYY decided to give a platform to the local teabagger chapter, who claimed (without contest from the reporter) that reform will change us into Cuba. And this guy was presented as "just another opinion" to "balance" the accurate statement of a reform advocate.

because, you see, there are two sides to every story. I say the sky is blue, you say it's plaid. there's "controversy": which side is right??? we must give equal time to the opposing point of view, even if that point of view is completely detached from reality.

so that might explain you didn't hear squat on WHYY or NPR, whose reporting and reputation have suffered deeply since the Bush years. as you may recall, he filled the board of the CPB with people like Ken Tomlinson, who was quite the ideologue.
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/16/business/media/16radio.html for more...

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11. RSR said... on Oct 14, 2009 at 02:06PM

“sad, but not surprising

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12. brendancalling said... on Oct 14, 2009 at 02:36PM

“By the way, our local media have an opportunity to redeem themselves tomorrow, when dawn Smith, who CIGNA denied medical coverage and pain medication for not one, but two brain tumors tried to confront Ed Hanway.

We'll see what happens...”

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13. Bethsoda said... on Oct 15, 2009 at 03:14PM

“I love the fact that the Health Industry is now spending CRAP loads of the money we've paid them to do this bullshi*t contrived report...

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14. Keep It Up, Brendan! said... on Oct 15, 2009 at 10:06PM

“Today we got our answer on what pro-health-care-reform people have to do to get covered... float a balloon, tell the tv airheads there's a kid in there, and either put a slogan on the side or have a victim of the for-profit health "insurers" emerge from the balloon when it lands!”


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