Earlier this week I ran into a couple of enterprising reporters responsible for a recent stream of articles about workers’ compensation; actually I sat next to them in an Atlanta airport bar. Evidently they’d been stuck there for some time as they were pretty… chatty…
PhoPublica’s reporters were having a grand old time, reading passages of their work out loud to each other, toasting their skill at turning a phrase, saluting their editors’ genius in assigning them to this story, and planning where they’d display the Pulitzer Prizes certain to come. While there were a couple concerns voiced by industry pundits about a lack of balance or perspective, this didn’t dampen their spirits for long, as one reminded the other they needn’t bother with facts or perspectives contrary to their central theme: Workers are getting screwed by Insurers and Employers. In fact, they had a term for those contradictory views – “whatevers”, as in, this is about as important to us as parental views on fashion are to teenagers.
They were thumbing through a stack of emails, reports, documents, and studies sent in by work comp researchers; a couple elicited hoots of derision but a few caused some consternation. One in particular from a highly-regarded California research organization had them flummoxed. Evidently their latest article completely misquoted the research organization’s findings; the real data totally refuted PP’s assertion that lots of treatment requests are rejected.
After ordering another round of White Zinfandel, the reporters went back and forth for some time on the right response. I couldn’t make out some of what they were saying, but there appeared to be a debate about the right “strategy” – ignore the real data entirely, bury a correction in a footnote, pretend they never got the message, or send an automated email response along the lines of “We are on vacation in the jungles of Myanmar and will respond when we return.”
This was a tough one, requiring additional sustenance. Appetizers were ordered (escargot and nachos with brie cheese) and the chatter went on for some time.
In the end, a lightbulb went off; one had the brilliant idea to “correct” the data point but do so AND preserve their central theme – Work comp reform screws employees.
Pen was put to cocktail napkin and after much effort, the intrepid journalists came up with wording implying the treatment requests were only approved because the employers and insurers had bought-and-paid-for the entire review process and all the reviewers.
Journalistic integrity preserved, but not at the cost of a) admitting a mistake was made, or b) diminishing their case that Workers are getting screwed by the all-powerful Insurers and Employers.
Their timing was impeccable as well; just as their flight was called, they drained the last few drops of White Zin, scarfed down the few remaining brie-on-toasts, and emailed the revisions to their waiting editor.
Me, I sat stunned, rendered speechless (a rare accomplishment indeed) by the ability of these professionals to get the facts to say what they want them to say, regardless of what the facts actually are.
What does this mean for you?
I thought Fox News was skilled at distortion…they could learn some lessons from PhoPublica!
and btw, check your calendar…