Star-Telegram Steps in it With Obamacare ‘Horror Story’

This is what happens when newsrooom staffs get slashed to the bone.


Let’s just skip over the controversy about Star-Telegram sportswriter Gil LeBreton. Yesterday, he wrote about UT’s new football coach. LeBreton wasn’t jazzed by Charlie Strong, who happens to be black. LeBreton wrote, “OK, I get it. But where’s the wow factor? It’s as if the Longhorn Network fired Leno and hired Arsenio.” I’m sure LeBreton didn’t mean that to sound racist. But an editor should have helped him out there. Forget skin color. It’s just a badly dated reference. Dang it. Not a very good job on my part of skipping that controversy.

Okay, the real problem at the Star-T happened back in late November, when the paper ran a piece about Obamacare horror stories. Online, it was titled “Obamacare Stirs Anxiety for Thousands With Canceled Policies.” The story profiled four people and their horror stories. One person, Whitney Johnson, is a 26-year-old who has MS. She said her insurer had cancelled her policy and a new policy would cost her more than $1,000 a month. But that’s impossible. The Affordable Care Act prevents insurers from charging more for preexisting conditions.

A healthcare writer named Maggie Mahar noticed the issue and found a policy on an exchange that would cost Johnson just $332 a month. Then Mahar did some more digging and found that three of the four people in the Star-T story, including the woman with MS, are Tea Party members. Mahar wrote about all this on January 3 for It took her a month to get an answer from the editor of the Star-T story and the reporter about how the mistake happened. Read Mahar’s post. It’ll make you feel sorry for the reporter. You can she how she was put in a nearly impossible position (she wasn’t familiar with the ACA, she was on a tight deadline, she was trying to please her editor).

What’s hard to understand is why it took the paper so long to answer Mahar’s questions — and why it still hasn’t printed a retraction of any sort. Or maybe it has and I’m not clever enough to find it. I called and emailed the paper’s editor, Jim Witt, to ask him whether a mea culpa is forthcoming. I didn’t wait to hear from him before I put up this post because I don’t want to wait a month for an answer.

Update (11:20): By email, Witt says: “We’re investigating the situation right now … will let you know when that’s complete … ” His ellipses, not mine.

Update (4:37): Witt is writing a column about all this for tomorrow’s paper. It will be online later tonight.


  • CSP

    Actually, Arsenio does have a show on again, so I’m not sure it’s a dated reference.

    • Tim Rogers

      Art Garfunkel is playing Franklin, Tennessee, on January 30. That doesn’t mean an Art Garfunkel reference isn’t dated.

  • guest

    Pretty sure that’s Jim Witt (no H).

    • Tim Rogers

      Sloppy. No excuse. Thank you.

  • Eric Celeste

    What does any of this have to do with Courtney Kerr or your poor career choices?

  • Sean Wood

    It is so sad how far that paper has fallen.

  • Jim Schermbeck

    This is a problem at the S-T not only for health reporting, but for just about any kind of traditional beat reporting, save the cop shop. There’s just nobody left over there, nobody with any institutional knowledge of the subjects they’re covering, because they’re all “general subject” reporters now. And it’s not just the S-T. There was an AP story about coal plant CO2 sequestration that ran in the DMN with a quote from a spokesperson named Laura Miller. No Morning News editor caught that this was former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller. That would not have happened even three years ago. This is why we need platforms like D and the DO more than ever.

  • Tim Rogers

    What does it say about you that you used to work at the Star-T and I asked you to read the post right after I put it up and you didn’t catch that I’d spelled him name “Jim Whitt”? Thanks for helping out with my career, Eric.

  • Tim Rogers

    The DMN has a story today about the fight on the UT regents board. It centers on Wallace Hall. Nowhere is it mentioned that Hall lives in Dallas.

  • dkv

    Boom Tim!! Worng again, Hall lives in University Park. He also has awesome hair, kind of the anti-eric

  • CSP

    Which is all the more odd because, a couple of months ago during the height of the controversy over Hall’s role as a UT regent, the DMN ran an article about the ridiculous amount of money St. Mark’s has raised ($122M?) for its Centennial campaign. Hall, an SM alum, was featured predominately in that article for his efforts raising money for his alma mater. It seemed odd to me, to say the least, that the fact that he was simultaneously in the news and for his facing impeachment for how he was actively trying to screw over another of his alma maters didn’t even merit a passing mention.