The Heart of the Issue - 1

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Media are right to inquire about the premier's health

According to NTV News, Premier Danny Williams is having his heart surgery this morning. And sources tell me the premier is not in Florida, though I will respect his privacy and not disclose his location.

Sources also say the premier is not too happy about all the controversy this story is generating back home.

If the premier wants to identify who is responsible for that, he need only look in the mirror. Because if the premier had handled this correctly in the beginning, the media would have moved on, the noise would have subsided, and this story would not have made national or international headlines.

The NTV Evening Newshour broke this story on Monday evening, and Deputy Premier Dunderdale confirmed it the next morning, in a news conference that raised questions rather than answered them.

Many headlines have been made and numerous points debated since then, so we need to cut through the fog. All of the controversy to date can be distilled down to these key points:

Premier Williams is responsible for and a staunch defender of the health care system in Newfoundland and Labrador.

That system has seen its share of problems, and some claim it is in crisis.

The premier has found the system inadequate for did not meet his medical needs, so he has gone elsewhere for surgery.

No matter how you look at it, this is big news. It does not look good, as we see right now in the American media. Williams can be excused for not foreseeing THAT development, but local fallout should come as no surprise.

A simple explanation of the premiers type of treatment and why it cant be done here was all we needed not bland, hazy reassurances from Dunderdale. If the premier or even his cardiologist had offered this information, everyone and I mean everyone would have sat back on their haunches, wished the premier well and kept their powder dry.

However, in the absence of information, questions will continue to be asked. That is inevitable. You dont need a communications expert to predict this outcome. The ball was fumbled badly, either by the premier or his staff, or both

I am not alone in saying this. Todays Telegram has much the same message for the premier, on its editorial page. The paper says communications on this issue hasn't been stellar. Here is the conclusion to that editorial:

There are no doubt plenty of explanations for the way that the news came out, and the way that Williams and his officials chose to handle it.??

The premier's office is a close-knit one, to say the least, and the way the disclosure was handled may have had more to do with the staggering personal impact of the impending surgery on the people in that office than it did with a conscious examination of the likely impacts of the premier's choice of treatment. Then again, the government has a record of reacting defensively, so this is no real surprise.??

The problem is there was bound to be a firestorm about Williams' health and treatment, and the government knew it.??

The way they chose to handle it has done nothing but add fuel to this particular fire.

Thats not all. The Globe and Mail made similar points in its editorial yesterday. Here is an excerpt:

The care of Danny Williams's ailing heart is very much the business of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. As Premier, Mr. Williams is the custodian of the health-care system for all. He has found that system lacking for himself, when his own health is at stake. He and his government therefore need to explain why he has gone to the United States rather than staying home for heart surgery. ...

To evade these questions or postpone answering them would lead residents to the inference that there is one standard of health care for the public, and another for government leaders...

What makes a detailed explanation all the more important in the case of Newfoundland and Labrador is that the province has had a crisis of confidence in health care, after hundreds of breast-cancer tests were botched from 1997 to 2005. If the province's top politician were thought to have found the health system not worthy of him, public confidence in that system would be shaken further.

Mr. Williams is not in the position of any private citizen acting as gatekeeper for his own health, as Ms. Dunderdale put it. As Premier, he is the gatekeeper for the health-care system, and thus in charge of a public trust. To defend that system publicly while going elsewhere for his own care puts that trust on a shaky footing. There may be a completely reasonable explanation, but until Mr. Williams and the province provide details, the message he is sending is that Newfoundland and Labrador, and perhaps the rest of Canada, too, is not good enough.

All those people who are calling the open line programs, sending nasty emails and leaving vitriolic messages on media answering machines, attacking media for even covering this story, are wasting their time. They are barking up the wrong tree.

They are wrong.

The media is right. And it should continue to ask questions.

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  • W
    July 27, 2010 - 14:54

    Had word not leaked out... would the public know anything yet?