Archive for Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Incidents undermine trust in headlines, government

May 17, 2006


I've got a few things on my mind today so this is going to be one of those columns that covers several topics.

First, several of my lawyer friends in Lawrence wrote me last week that they were very upset with an article that ran in this newspaper a week ago under the headline "Study: Malpractice claims often baseless." For those who don't read beyond the headlines, this seems to suggest that the findings of the Associated Press reporter who wrote the article were that a large percentage of malpractice claims brought against doctors are without any justification.

In fact, the article is based on a study published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine by a group of medical researchers. What they actually found is that most malpractice suits brought against doctors and which plaintiffs won involved doctor or hospital error.

The researchers also found that 40 percent of the 1,452 cases they studied did not, in their opinion, involve error. However, they also used a standard for defining error that clearly favored doctors. Even so, they found that most claims that, in their opinion, didn't involve doctor or hospital error didn't succeed in court.

There are a few points worth noting about this study and the article about it. The study itself confirms a truism among lawyers. Lawyers who take cases with little substance tend to go bankrupt because if the case isn't strong it's not likely to succeed. Since virtually all malpractice lawyers work on a contingency basis, if they don't win the case, they don't get paid. Second, headlines in newspapers sometimes have little to do with the articles they describe.

Few readers realize that reporters (and columnists) don't write their own headlines. Much of the time they don't even see the headline until it is published with the story or column. Editors who design the pages also write the headlines and, in my experience, their understanding of the story can differ a great deal from the author's. This story on the malpractice study, in which the headline gives almost the opposite impression from that which the story gives when actually read, is a case in point.

The other thing that has been on my mind over the past few days is the increasing number of revelations about the extent to which the federal government has been gathering telephone data from ordinary folks. I consider myself an average person. As such, my life is pretty boring. I work for Kansas University. I drive a pickup. I've been married to the same woman for almost 20 years. I believe in God and I love America. I can't imagine that there would ever be anything in my telephone conversations of interest to anyone, even over-curious bureaucrats.

I really resent the idea that the telephone company could be turning over my phone records to the government. And even though I don't have anything to hide, I don't want the government tracking my telephone calls without any reason to believe that I'm somehow a threat. To start off, it's probably illegal for them to do so. Even more troubling to me is that what various government officials have been saying they have been doing seems to change almost weekly.

I don't lie to the government. They shouldn't lie to me or to any of us. I also think that they could spend their time and taxpayer money far better by guarding our ports and borders than by checking my telephone records. To me, it's all about trust and I'm beginning to lose trust in the government. I think that many ordinary Americans feel the same. And that's not good. I think that the folks in Washington need to be reminded of Lincoln's promise that government "of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."

Mike Hoeflich, a professor in the Kansas University School of Law, writes a regular column for the Journal-World.


Godot 11 years, 8 months ago

Mike, you, too, have been mislead by the media. Seems they were confirming for you what you suspected might be true regarding phone records and the NSA, rather than actually reporting the truth. Some might call their reporting fradulent.

Godot 11 years, 8 months ago

The Journal World should have a disclaimer on its front page: We print anything salacious that comes our way. We do not vouch for, or even care about, the accuracy or truthfulness of any information printed within.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.