Three ways to cover a whistleblower story

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Dr. Ming Lin’s whistleblower letter on poor practices by St Joseph Hospital has been published by NWCitizen, covered by the Seattle Times, and covered-up by the Bellingham Herald. I have seen this pattern dozens of times over the past 40 years of active involvement in local politics. Here is a step-by-step of how it unfolds.

On Tuesday, March 17, Dr. Lin, an MD who works in the Emergency Department at St. Joseph Hospital, posted a letter on his facebook (fb) page. On Wednesday, the text of his letter was emailed to me, along with a link to his fb page. I spent a couple hours calling people I know with connections to St. Joseph Hospital here in Bellingham. I learned there was a Dr. Lin on staff and that other personnel at the hospital felt his concerns were spot on. Lin’s complaint was that hospital administrators, starting with Chief Managing Officer Charles Prosper, were dragging their feet about instituting protocols to protect employees from the corona virus. They were not initiating the same safe practices that other hospitals in Puget Sound were using, and not preparing for more cases of the disease. Finally, I spoke with Dr. Lin by phone and confirmed that he had written the letter. It was not a fake.

I judged this was an important issue and decided to publish his letter for several reasons, particularly that everyone who lives in Whatcom County should know of Dr. Lin’s concerns. He was clearly qualified to comment on these issues, and was courageously risking his career to alert us to the dangers at our only local hospital. He was blowing the whistle. Posting his letter would shine a light on a hazardous situation - and that would benefit our community. Also, the hospital had directed him to remove his letter from fb or resign, a direct threat to fire him. By posting on NWCitizen, the letter could not disappear from public view, and would also make it more awkward for the hospital to fire him.

On Wednesday afternoon, I posted his letter in its entirety, along with brief introductory text. His letter spoke for itself. I learned that the Seattle Times and the Bellingham Herald had been aware of the letter since Tuesday but neither had done anything with it. One of the goals of NWCitizen has always been to take matters that the Herald ignores and make them public, thus hopefully, prodding the Herald into covering local issues. Of course, they deny any such connections. Yet, over 25 years of posting NWCitizen, the pattern of them following our articles continues.

On Thursday, the Seattle Times posted online a comprehensive article, with solid reporting. They sought documents from the hospital, interviewed administrators and Dr. Lin, quoted from his letter, and fully explained the issue for the public. The Times did what local news media should do: it recognized the importance of Dr. Lin speaking out and made it news.

Bellingham Herald, Thursday, Mar 19 article - no mention of Dr Lin
Bellingham Herald, Thursday, Mar 19 article - no mention of Dr Lin

Also on Thursday, the Bellingham Herald posted online a short article - but Dr. Lin and his letter were not mentioned. The Herald merely reported reassuring statements from Charles Prosper, chief managing officer for PeaceHealth the owners of St Joseph Hospital: all is well and we are managing. It was a vast contrast to the Seattle Times article. This is the pattern. The Herald consistently ignores embarrassing issues that might impact their advertisers.

This story was not in Thursday’s printed Herald, nor in Friday’s printed edition. The next paper is Sunday. So far, subscribers to the paper have not even seen the coverup story.

I started this website in 1995, after my involvement with the Port of Bellingham KAP scandal in 1991, when I learned how much the Herald protected local government entities. At that time, it took the Seattle P.I. exposing the scandal to prod the Herald into finally reporting on the issue. The scandal cost Whatcom County taxpayers over $6 million dollars. Gone. Out the window.

Over 2,000 readers checked NWCitizen yesterday after we sent an email blast to our 500 members. Over the years we have learned that virtually every elected official in or from Whatcom County knows of our articles within an hour. Aides to local elected officials have told me that staff is assigned to check this site once or twice a day. One former political reporter at the Herald used to say he never looked at NWCitizen. A coworker, whose desk was behind his, told me that the reporter checked us four or five times every day; he could see the reporter’s monitor.

NWCitizen is not intended to compete with, nor replace, the Herald or any commercial news media. No one associated with NWCitizen has ever made a dime - not the owners, editors, or writers. Our donations often do not cover our operating expenses and it is not unusual for writers and owners to help cover costs. This is an effort of citizens to inform fellow citizens.

Publishing Dr. Lin’s letter, and his follow-up, will both encourage other news media to cover this issue and also, hopefully, provide some protection for the doctor’s employment. We need to keep our emergency room doctors. With only one hospital serving our entire county, we need to know what they are doing and where they are coming up short. The press is essential for nudging institutions back into appropriate operation. Whether it is a city, port, state, large corporation, or vital private organization, such as our only hospital, if it impacts our environment or endangers its workers, our best defense is an informed and engaged citizenry.

In closing, a related question: Why is the county health department withholding information on where people test positive for the COVID-19? There is too much information being withheld from the public. This is America, not China or Russia. I have it reliably that an Intalco worker was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Tuesday. Why haven’t we, and all employees at Intalco, been informed? What is being done to protect other Intalco workers? It happened this week.

About John Servais

Citizen Journalist and Editor • Fairhaven, Washington USA • Member since Feb 26, 2008

John started Northwest Citizen in 1995 to inform fellow citizens of serious local political issues that the Bellingham Herald was ignoring. With the help of donors from the beginning, he has [...]

Comments by Readers

Wynne Lee

Mar 22, 2020

I believe that I read in recent Council minutes that revealing locations of covid19+ persons would lull people in other locations into a false sense of security.

Not sure how lack of location info is supposed to DEcrease fearful ambiguity, uncertainty and insecurity. But then, I’m a mere elder who’s learned over the decades that truth, even when painful, is far more useful in adapting effectively than shoving critical info under the rug, in the forlorn and sometimes fatal fantasy that what’s unseen doesn’t exist.

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