Debra Lamm and Lee Newspapers Falsely Claim Governor Bullock Canceled Surgeries

News concept with newspapers
News concept with newspapers

I understand the challenge that must be involved when a reporter has to pretend that people like former GOP Chair Debra Lamm and Corey Stapleton are legitimate candidates for the US Congress, but through the stifled laughs that must accompany those interviews, a reporter still has an obligation to present facts.

In a truly bizarre story in the Lee Newspapers about the Republican primary race for the U.S. House(one that did not even mention two of the six candidates by name), one paragraph contained the claim that Governor Bullock shut down elective surgeries in Montana:

Lamm, the former Montana GOP chairwoman, sees a need for government to get out of the way of hospitals, particularly when it comes to elective surgeries, which Gov. Steve Bullock ordered canceled in response to the pandemic. The government shouldn’t be deciding what’s elective, Lamm said.

It’s just not true, of course. The Governor’s order did not ban elective surgeries; hospitals collaboratively decide to postpone the procedures they could.

From Yellowstone Public Radio last week:

Hospitals in Montana have started performing elective procedures that had been postponed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Hospitals are reopening in phases with additional screenings in place.

Hell, the reporter who wrote today’s story could have read his own damn newspaper to see that it was the hospitals who decided to postpone some surgeries.

That policy of deferring, not canceling, elective surgeries was developed by Montana hospitals. In a statement issued on March 26, 2020, they outlined their collaborative approach to protect the public:

The Montana Hospital Association (MHA) is committed to ensuring the protection of our patients and caregivers as we strengthen our resolve to respond and defeat COVID-19 in our state. As an association, we have collaborated in the development of our policy statement regarding the cancellation of elective procedures.

Keeping patients safe and the public focused on measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 is of utmost importance to the hospitals of Montana. It is important to note that “elective procedures” is not defined and the need to ensure the availability of medically necessary surgeries and care must be part of any collaborative policy that shapes care delivery. Our larger communities are served by hospitals with a broad array of services and the need to ensure the availability of these services to the public is a significant consideration when determining the need to cease elective procedures.

Their statement goes on to note which procedures should have been delayed, and which should not.

As it turns out, the government didn’t determine what was elective, Ms. Lamm. The hospitals did.

Now, I don’t anyone expects Deb Lamm to get basic facts right, but newspaper reporters should. The myth that the governor’s order banned elective surgeries across the state has taken hold in Bizarro-world of conservative Facebook, and it can’t help for the mainstream media to give credence to the lie.

I hope we will read a correction on this tomorrow.

Update: 8 hours later, the story was updated with a correction that did not note the massive factual error in the piece. On May 14, though, as of 7:00 a.m., the original story with the error is back in place.

Update 2: The story also wrongly claims that Republican candidate Joe Dooling was once a Lewis and Clark County commissioner. He was not.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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    • Great news!! William Barr has tested negative for integrity! The White House insisted on the test because they were concerned he might have been contaminated by ethical professionals in the DOJ. They were reassured to find that he has maintained “social distancing” from anyone displaying symptoms of honesty or respect for the Constitution.

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  • Lutey again!!

    I suppose he could claim he was reporting the words of Lamm? Could say. But, he has a record of playing fast and lose with facts when the Greedy Old Plutocrats are involved.

    Way past time to bust the trusts.

    • Lutey went back and “updated” his story to say the hospitals had decided to suspend elective surgeries. At the same time, Lutey also deleted Lamm’s crackpot allegations. He did not update his reference to Joe Dooling as a former Lewis & Clark County Commissioner, which he never was. He was once chair of the L&C County GOP.

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