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Dr. William Armington

Dr. William Armington, a neuroradiologist who remained at Memorial Hospital during Hurricane Katrina, sued Sheri Fink, M.D. the New York Times, and Pro-Publica for defamation for their 2009 Times article “Deadly Choices”, which alleged that numerous medical personnel at Memorial Hospital in an unethical light by engaging in or permitting the euthanizing of acute-care patients trapped at Memorial. In his complaint Dr. Armington alleged that Fink and the Times “misled and exploited him for profits and notoriety” by “a sensational and exaggerated recounting of a tragic event” calling it “a sensational and scandalous article.

The complaint filed by Dr. Armington demonstrates, from his perspective, the techniques used by Dr. Fink in conducting misleading interviews. Dr. Armington’s complaint echoes those of many others Fink sought out in researching her book. Dr. Armington alleged that Dr. Fink called him and asked him to speak about his experience at Memorial Hospital, representing that her article was to be about “physicians and crisis and that the article would be, in part, for the use by future healthcare providers in crisis situations”, referencing a prior book she had written about physicians in Kosovo (complaint, paragraph¶ 43). Dr. Armington further alleged that after he discovered that Ms. Fink, New York Times and Pro-Publica’s “true focus was to create a story about death, euthanasia and ‘reporting on Katrina crime’, something that was intentionally withheld from him” (¶ 44).

In addition to being misled at the inception, Dr. Armington complained of being misquoted by intentionally withholding “the true focus of their story and further misled him when they fact checked the article, intentionally refusing to read the quotes and context of the article.”  The “fact checker” did not read any of the text of the article and asked only general questions regarding his interaction with other doctors. Dr. Armington’s complaint stated that defendants “misled and exploited [him] for their own commercial goals, profits and notoriety” and that their “motivation was to curry favor with wealthy donors by manufacturing a novel, sensational and exaggerated recounting of a tragic and extraordinary series of events.”

Because of the strong inclination of our court system to protect the Freedom of the Press to produce such articles, the case was ultimately dismissed on First Amendment grounds by the U.S. District Court. Judge Martin Feldman who, nevertheless, noted that the motivation behind the article seemed “ghoulish, driven, in part, to sell a sensational topic like the use of euthanasia in disaster. "See William Armington, M.D. vs. Sherri Fink, et al, Civil Action 09-6785, Eastern District of Louisiana, Doc. 33, p. 12.

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