Nina Pham: A Case Study in Media Manipulation

Please understand that I am not commenting here on the merits of Ebola survivor Nina Pham’s lawsuit against Texas Health Resources. She says she has nightmares and her hair is falling out. She says Presby used a video of her without her consent. Maybe she’s entitled to some money. And maybe, as she has said, she really does want to “make hospitals and big corporations realize that nurses and health care workers, especially frontline people, are important.”

No, what I want to talk about is Charla Aldous, the lawyer representing Pham. Because Aldous has pretty much posterized Texas Health, and right now she’s hanging on the rim, looking down at Texas Health, enjoying the afterglow of her monster dunk. If I’m reading her playbook correctly — and I’d like to think I am — here’s how she did it:

Step 1: Get your line in the water. (Sorry, I know. I started with a basketball metaphor, and now I’ve switched to fishing.) In October, the Observer posted an item titled “Local Attorneys Gearing Up For Ebola Lawsuits.” Sounds like it’s a story about a bunch of Dallas lawyers getting ready to file lawsuits, right? No, turns out the only two people quoted in the story are Aldous and her law partner. Says Aldous of her potential clients: “I have been contacted, but cannot disclose the names. I have not yet been formally retained.” Translation: “I’m open for business!”

Step 2: Keep working it. Aldous posted the entire Observer story on her website. If I had a time machine, I bet I could travel back to October and show you that if I googled “Dallas lawyer Ebola,” Aldous would have been the top result.

Step 3: Use the dog. Sunday, the day before Pham filed suit, Aldous got the story on the front page of the Morning News. The online version included no fewer than three pictures of Pham and her now famous dog, Bentley. And it included a picture of a tough-looking Aldous, her arms folded. I mean, how many times do you see a front-page story about a lawsuit that is about to be filed? The News reporter, Jennifer Emily, essentially wrote the best press release ever.

Step 4: Keep working it some more. The day the story published, Sunday, the News’ PR company, HCK2 Partners, sent out a release about the “exclusive” story, offering Emily for interviews. In part, the release said, “Jennifer Emily is available for interviews to discuss the pending lawsuit and her meeting with Pham.” Emily’s story mentioned that she met with Pham for 90 minutes. She wrote about 3,000 words. I wondered what else Emily had to say that she wasn’t able to get into print. You see how brilliant Aldous is, right? Not only did she get the story placed, but she got the reporter to do her work for her, fielding follow-up questions from other media outlets about the lawsuit.

Step 5: Spike the ball, do Butch Johnson’s California Quake end zone dance. (Yes, I know. Now I’m on to a third sport.) Yesterday the suit was filed. Today brings us another story in the paper. Online headline: “Ebola Nurse Relieved, Sad After Filing Suit Against Owner of Dallas Hospital.” Aldous probably would have preferred: “Ebola Nurse Relieved, Sad; Dog Remains Hopeful After Filing Suit Against Evil Owner of Dallas Hospital.” But she’ll probably take it. The story does cite a legal expert who says that Texas Health will likely settle the suit without going to court. Oh, you think so, doctor? Dang straight they’ll settle. They’ve seen enough of Charla Aldous’ work to know that they don’t want to see any more.



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  • Johnyalamo

    So are you saying that this Nina Pham story is one big advertorial cooked up by DMN and Aldous?
    Local news today has to be taken with a grain of salt. Channel 8, especially the morning program, is the worst offender. Last night I saw this very odd lip injection story on WFAA during the 10PM news! It felt completely like I was being advertised to in the form of a ‘news’ story.

  • Brad

    Tim once pointed out that when someone is represented by Larry Friedman, that’s all you need to know about which side you should root for. Same goes for Charla Aldous — she wants to try this in the press because it’s better to extort a settlement than try to prove a case. Protip: a legal pleading usually doesn’t use a half-dozen different fonts.

    • Atticus

      (1) I hope Charla wins for her client.
      (2) She hasn’t had much of a problem proving her cases. She takes them to trial and wins big.

  • Steve

    You have to remember that this is an individual and her lawyer going up against a corporation with a PR department and a host of employees who will wage a battle of attrition and misinformation in order to win. You should not condemn Pham and her lawyer for trying to even the playing field. If you were Pham, you would expect nothing less.

  • cali

    I am sure they have plenty of Bentleys…

  • RMontes

    Charla Aldous is one of the best, most caring lawyers in this country. She truly puts her heart and soul into every case, and becomes like family to the clients she represents. Charla does not do things half heartedly. She’s meticulous, she does her homework, and the work she does changes things for the better, not only for her clients, but for everyone.

    • Atticus

      Could not have said it better myself.

    • Leigh Bailey

      Seconded. Charla is peerless in her pursuit for justice. Tim, do Dallas a favor and join Fox News.

  • Mandy

    What you miss Mr Rogers is the big picture and Pham did quote it. But first I digress, are you a Nurse-? No I am one and work for attys. If you are in the Media than you know 20k RNS wen’t on strike in November AFTER all this. These for profit corp hospitals are NOT gearing up for the nest outbreak. It’s all about money for them, not the healthcare providers or Patients. This case is Pivotal for the future of all Americans in safety. Ebola is decades old. Pham said it-“So this doesn’t happen to another Nurse.” She is spot on, As Nurses we stand for our patients. Texas preb paid the Duncan family hush money real quick. The CEOs email means hard core denial and they are baring the big guns w/ a major firm. Which means this will go to court. Good-it needs as much publicity as can be garnished for SAFETY. Humans safety comes above Corporate greed. Her atty needs to spin this as big as possible there is so much more at stake here.At least Nina has her dog, The Spanish CNAs dog was euthanised.

  • Bill Marvel

    “Aldous took that news value and leveraged it. ”
    It’s what lawyers do, Tim. Why you’re a journalist and not an attorney.,

  • Marie Mendoza

    You obviously do not know what it is like to be in the front lines of healthcare. I would like the entire 2 minutes of my life back from reading this GARBAGE. D magazine is doing poorly.

  • Denise

    I’m curios. I have seen ongoing reporting on Nina Pham but she wasn’t the only “employee” affected. Why is there nothing being reported on Amber Vinson? Interestingly enough, the GOFUNDME account set up for Pham exceeded $86,000 while Vinson’s barely reached $30,000. Why is it that the media focus is primarily on Nina Pham? Shouldn’t the lawsuit be a joint one with both nurses?

  • Heather

    I’m not surprised she’s suing. I am surprised that she volunteered to care for Thomas Duncan and then chose to sue after contracting Ebola. She knew the risks. After she settles, she can pay back the Dallas taxpayers the appx $200,000 spent on Bentley.

  • Just CallMeB
  • Brett Chisum

    Step 6: Have about a dozen typos in your pleading, including one in your very first sentence.

    • CivilRightsLawyer

      Huh? What typo in the first sentence? There isn’t one in the version I saw at DMN.

      By the way, aren’t you a baby lawyer at that law firm that is trying to piggyback on the Nina Pham press by filing a lawsuit on behalf of someone who was merely on a plane with Amber Vinson? And yet you are going be critical of an attorney who is apparently very distinguished and is pursuing a claim that there seems to be a lot of support for nationally and upon which you are trying to piggyback? Odd.

  • comeon.

    This is horribly written.

  • C Newman

    I know you meant that as snark; but it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to have someone like Tim with his vast knowledge of Dallas involved with a national powerhouse like Fox to offer divergent views. That is such an easy throw-away attempt to disregard the above post. It also just proves that you have probably never read another post or article of his. Ever.