Friday, November 04, 2011

Where To Find the Real Corruption

Well, well, well… decided (late last night, at 10:30 pm) to publish an article following up on the Times-Picayune’s indictment last year about Dr. Jullette Saussy’s supposed wrongdoing and corruption by holding a second job with the Vidacare Corporation while working full-time as the director of EMS for the city of New Orleans. The follow-up article covers the state ethics board’s decision that Dr. Saussy was cleared of any wrongdoing by holding the second job.

In the article, Vidacare’s relationship with the city is described. It details that their products are purchased “through a third-party company that distributes them” and that the city has “no direct business relationship with Vidacare.” Therefore, the ethics board cleared Dr. Saussy of wrongdoing on her part. This decision comes thirteen months after Dr. Saussy was asked to resign by the Landrieu administration.

All this talk about ethics gets one to wondering about some things. Obviously, Mayor Landrieu did not wait for a decision by the ethics board before requiring her resignation. WWL television in New Orleans covered Dr. Saussy’s clearance five days prior to the Times-Picayune’s article and put it on prime-time news instead of burying it deep in the archives of their website. So, speaking of ethics, I’d like to submit the question of the ethics of both Mayor Landrieu and the Times-Picayune.

Mayor Landrieu had at his perusal the documents and testimony by Dr. Saussy and City Hall’s legal department of her official permission to work for Vidacare. Granted, all this documentation occurred before his shift at the helm, during the Nagin administration. But so did Dr. Saussy’s employment with Vidacare. By the time Landrieu took office in 2010, Dr. Saussy had been gone from Vidacare for nearly two years. The whole thing should have been a non-issue - a thing of the past. Dr. Saussy was serving the city admirably, and in fact had been doing so even while she worked for Vidacare and fought cancer at the same time. Mayor Landrieu even thought her service was excellent enough to retain Dr. Saussy as head of EMS when he took office.

So what happened? Did some terrible secret come to light? Was there some awful scandal involving Dr. Saussy that screamed for her banishment from public service? Well, no. There wasn’t. There was a story in the newspaper that said Dr. Saussy worked for Vidacare in addition to her primary employment with the city. But wait, didn’t we all know that already? We sure did. Was it a violation of ethics? Basically Landrieu said, “I don’t know; maybe we should ask the state ethics board.” Which Dr. Saussy did. But instead of waiting for their opinion, Mayor Landrieu took as gospel truth the hearsay and imprecise accusations that the Times-Picayune and its commenters had to opine about. Apparently taking into consideration only the dubious journalism of the Times-Picayune and commenters, and not the opinion of any professionals actually versed in medical ethics, he asked for her resignation long before the state ethics board had anything to say on the matter. How much expertise does Mayor Landrieu have on the subject of medical ethics? Well, none, clearly, since those who do said there was no wrongdoing. But that didn’t stop him from firing one of the most valuable assets the city had.

So why is no one calling into question the ethics of Mitch Landrieu? As it turns out, Dr. Saussy was fired for… nothing, really. As someone who assumed a position in which moral integrity is so badly needed, it is deplorable that no one has called into question Mayor Landrieu’s ethics for kowtowing to what could at best be described as yellow journalism instead of getting the facts straight before making such a crucial decision on city leadership. Of note also is the quote in the article by Landrieu’s spokesperson, Ryan Berni, in which he says “we are extraordinarily pleased by Dr. Jeff Elder’s leadership of the department since he became EMS director.” Wow! Way to avoid the question, Berni (and Landrieu)! Spoken like a true politician. And I don’t mean that in a good way.

…Which brings me to the Times-Picayune itself. Last year, the newspaper bent over backwards to accuse Dr. Saussy of wrongdoing when there was none. All the supposed infractions they "uncovered" were already a matter of public record. Dr. Saussy’s employment was approved by City Hall. Donations of sick time to her by fellow employees while she fought cancer was according to established city policies. At no time was she unavailable for her duties as EMS director, despite what the Metropolitan Crime Commission alleges. As I said last year when I wrote about Dr. Saussy’s resignation, the Times-Picayune created a scandal where none existed. This is borne out even further by the decision by the state ethics board that there was no wrongdoing by Dr. Saussy. Yet during that time last year, the newspaper was all atwitter over their latest attempt to bring someone down. It published articles such as “New Orleans’ EMS Director’s Second Job Raises Questions at City Hall” and “New Orleans’ EMS Director Was Given $53,000 In Sick Leave By Paramedics” and “The Moonlighting by New Orleans EMS Director Doesn’t Feel Right: An Editorial.”

I beg your pardon? It doesn’t feel right? Instead of reporting some vague, unquantifiable feeling as the way everyone else should also feel, perhaps as journalists you might stick to objective facts rather than whatever emotional upheaval crosses your fancy at the time.

Here’s a title the Times-Picayune should write an article for: “Times-Picayune Makes False Accusations Of Wrongdoing By EMS Director.” Or perhaps this one: “Times-Picayune Remains Unapologetic For Intentional Libel.” Yes, you bastion of journalistic integrity, I said it: Libel. As alleged journalists, I would expect you know the meaning of the word, but judging by your past attempts at reporting perhaps you should allow me to refresh your memory. Libel: noun. a: Defamation by written or printed words, pictures, or in any form other than by spoken words or gestures. b: The act or crime of publishing it. c: A formal written declaration or statement, as one containing the allegations of a plaintiff or the grounds of a charge. The stories by the Times-Picayune certainly all fit the bill for libel. They falsely defamed Jullette Saussy in print, published it, and insinuated corruption on her part, as did the commenters on who called for her head on a platter.

So tell us, Times-Picayune, what were your motives in reporting this non-story about Dr. Saussy? It doesn’t seem to be uncovering corruption, since those with far greater knowledge of ethics than you about such issues have cleared Dr. Saussy of wrongdoing. Was it about a problem with the city's policy of sick time donation? It doesn’t seem so, since the policy is still in place and you haven’t said a word about it since. Perhaps you were trying to garner sympathy for the anonymous “demoralized” EMT’s and paramedics who were so upset over Dr. Saussy’s absence while she received cancer treatments? No follow-up stories on that either, huh?

Well, then one can only observe that either someone(s) at the the Times-Picayune had a personal vendetta to execute against Dr. Saussy and abused the newspaper and web media to carry it out, or that the staff of the Times-Picayune were caught up in a frenzy of bringing down public officials and pointed their inky cannon at Dr. Saussy and fired away with no regard to facts, other than to put their own peculiar slant on them. Go on, click the links to the articles above. Other than a few repeated quotes by Dr. Saussy, the majority of the articles join together the otherwise unrelated topics of her salary, her employment with Vidacare and the donations of sick time, so that it appears that there was some malicious scheme afoot. There wasn’t. But in their most recent article, instead of apologizing outright for this defamation of character or even seeming sort of apologetic, the Times-Picayune lumps together the now-exonerated Saussy with the likes of those with legitimate, concrete evidence of corruption, such as Joia Crear-Perry (public health director with a suspended license), Kenneth Ferdinand (public credit card used for personal expenses) and Greg St. Etienne (diverting federal grant money intended for non-profits to his brother’s company).

Ethics? Really? Mitch Landrieu has revealed that ethics and facts have nothing to do with his decisions as mayor by dismissing Dr. Saussy based on nothing but false accusations by the TP (abbreviation intentional). The Times-Picayune, in their clearly desperate attempt to legitimize themselves as paragons of journalistic virtue in our corrupt world, has offered no recantation, reparations or even so much as a “woops, our bad” after they single-handedly brought down someone who actually displayed moral integrity and an exemplary ethical paradigm. Jullette Saussy, congratulations on your victory. Mayor Landrieu and the Times-Picayune, you’ve shown us where to look for the real corruption.

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