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.