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City Paper vanish from Saint Thomas racks in the wake of critical story

City Paper vanish from Saint Thomas racks in the wake of critical story

After Friday’s City Paper published a damaging story about St. Thomas Hospital’s struggle to properly document medical records, the free daily vanished from the racks at both St. Thomas and its nearby sister facility, Baptist Hospital. The brass at St. Thomas have a very interesting explanation:

“We had a management counsel meeting. The president addressed 125 people. At that meeting, the article in the City Paper was addressed,” says St. Thomas spokesman Paul Lindsley. “Also during that time our president encouraged everyone in the room to pick up a copy of the paper to see what they were talking about at the time. This morning the racks were full. Usually, by mid-day the racks are empty. We did not issue any directive to any employee to remove today’s City Paper from the racks. On the contrary, we actually encouraged people to pick it up and become familiar with the story.”

But the meeting he alludes to took place at 7:30 a.m. Employees tell the Scene that the papers disappeared before that. Well, that’s because the papers were delivered late that day, Lindsley counters. And after that, he says, inquiring hospital employees, snatched up copies of the paper to learn about what was going on. So, is it true that the hospital dropped its advertising with the City Paper shortly after the story was published?

“For competitive reasons, we don’t disclose our marketing or media plans, so I cannot go into further detail,” Lindsley says.

The City Paper story, by business editor Jeremy Heidt, included some rather eye-opening e-mail correspondence involving St. Thomas president and chief executive Dr. Deborah German. In one e-mail from a hospital administrator, German is told that there is a “lackadaisical attitude” at the hospital that “has to be fixed quickly.” In another e-mail from German to the hospital’s physicians, she cited a “serious problem” dealing with improper patient documentation before surgical procedures. Heidt gave the hospital a chance to put the e-mails in context or explain them away, but all he received was a two-paragraph release citing the institution’s proud history of service to the community. The hospital refused to answer any of Heidt’s questions related to the e-mails and the issues they covered.

Whoops

It’s hard to imagine Tennessean editor Frank Sutherland ever having to read a more dispiriting front page lead: “The Tennessean mistakenly identified a Middle Tennessee attorney last week as the trial counsel for a homeless man wrongly imprisoned for two years.”

The paper’s front page correction rambled on and on for 600 words, making it the Moby Dick of newspaper retractions, as it tried to remedy something that is probably beyond repair. Nine days earlier, Tennessean reporter Margo Rivers penned a story that wrongly portrayed Murfreesboro attorney Greg Reed as negligent, reckless and, well, stupid. Here’s what happened: On Monday, the state court of criminal appeals of Tennessee overturned the conviction of Elbert Marable for aggravated assault. The court ruled that Marable’s plea was not “voluntary or intelligently entered” and blamed it, in part, on Marable’s attorney.

According to the ruling, Marable’s trial counsel didn’t provide him a copy of his indictment or inform him of the circumstances of the charge against him. Nor did the attorney seem to do much prep for the case. In fact, the trial counsel admitted that his contact with Marable was limited to court appearances and that he made no effort to visit his client while he languished in jail for seven months. All of this was reported in The Tennessean’s story.

After Marable was sent to prison, Murfreesboro attorney Greg Reed took the case and helped overturn his conviction through the appellate process. It was a rare and impressive legal triumph. And in reporting about Marable’s major victory in court, The Tennessean got just about all the facts straight, especially how the man’s hapless trial counsel cost him two years of his life in prison. The daily only got one thing wrong: It confused his new attorney with his old one.

So while Greg Reed managed to overturn a conviction and win one for truth and justice, anybody who read The Tennessean’s story about the case came away with the impression that he was essentially guilty of malpractice. Reed has an unusual practice. In addition to criminal defense, he also does a good deal of probate work. Clearly, the daily’s sloppy reporting wasn’t exactly a boon to Reed’s legal practice.

That’s why the paper ran such a prominent correction, going so far as to practically provide readers with Reed’s life story. It reported where he went to law school, where he first practiced, when he moved to Murfreesboro, the name of his wife, what she does for a living, where the couple live and testimony from one of Reed’s clients. “I just feel very fortunate that we’re able to have an attorney that’s as competent and as willing to help us as he is,” says the mayor of Eagleville, who has retained Reed’s services for nearly 10 years.

After the mix-up, The Tennessean had to do more than set the record straight: It had to at least try to restore the man’s reputation. Don’t be surprised, however, if Reed isn’t satisfied. After all, as The Tennessean now knows, Reed’s an awfully good attorney.

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