Your morning jolt: Georgia Public Broadcasting rejects Phoebe Putney documentary

Last year, we told you of an independent documentary that looked at the 2003 clash between two whistle-blowers in Albany, Ga., and the nonprofit Phoebe Putney Health System – southwest Georgia’s largest hospital group.

The film, “Do No Harm,” has political implications. It includes a deal of footage on the actions of then-Dougherty County district attorney Ken Hodges, who is now a Democratic candidate for attorney general. Hodges faces state Rep. Rob Teilhet (D-Smyrna) in a July primary. Hodges leads in fund-raising.

Public broadcasting stations and networks in several states, including South Carolina and Louisiana, have scheduled “Do No Harm” for broadcast. But you will not see it in Georgia – at least not now.

Nancy Zintak, a spokeswoman for Georgia Public Broadcasting, said the statewide network has rejected the film. “The reason that we’re not airing it is basically is it was not balanced,” Zintak said. “It didn’t come to us like a vetted news journalistic program like ‘Frontline.’ It came from an independent, non-journalistic producer. There was no attempt to show another point of view.

“The door is not closed on the film, but as it stands right now, it wasn’t up to standards,” Zintak said.

GPB is a network of nine public TV stations that cover most of the state. We’ve got a call into WPBA-TV, an Atlanta PBS outlet, which could decide separately whether it will air the documentary.

In 2004, Hodges’ office tracked down a series of faxed messages to Albany community and business leaders that challenged the way the hospital group did business. The authors were accountant Charles Rehberg and surgeon John Bagnato, who said they were attempting to draw attention to the lack of charitable care offered by the tax-exempt facility.

Hodges’ office used grand jury subpoenas to obtain phone records that led back to the pair. The district attorney then passed the information to Phoebe Putney, permitting the hospital system to file a civil suit against the whistleblowers. A countersuit was settled out of court.

Hodges, now a member of the Baudino Law Group in Atlanta, says he did nothing wrong. But after his role was publicized, Hodges recused himself from the later criminal prosecution of the fax-senders — charges that were later dropped.

A federal wrongful prosecution lawsuit, filed by Rehberg, the Albany accountant, includes Hodges among its targets. The case makes an appearance before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals this week.

In the past, Hodges has dismissed “Do No Harm” as propaganda generated on behalf of litigators attempting to target non-profit hospital systems across the country.

“Georgia Public Broadcasting has a long, proud history of airing straight-down-the-middle news stories and thorough, balanced documentaries. They recognize that this movie isn’t one of those. We agree with their decision not to air it,” Hodges campaign spokesman Jonathan Williams said Monday morning in an e-mail.

Not many are currently anxious to add to the discussion. Denise Godoy spoke for “Do No Harm” producer and director Rebbeca Schanberg of Chicago. “The filmmaker respects the [GPB] decision and hopes to work with them in the future,” she said.

Teilhet, Hodges’ Democratic opponent, had no comment.

Also in the race for attorney general are Republicans Sam Olens, the Cobb County Commission chairman, and Max Woods of Macon, a former U.S. attorney for Georgia’s Middle District.

Olens, too, declined comment. “I’m certainly concerned about the ethical implications that have been alleged, but it would be inappropriate to make a comment as I’ve, frankly, not seen the documentary, nor have seen other materials related to it,” he said in a morning phone interview.

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16 comments Add your comment

Hodges for AG

January 25th, 2010
11:22 am

i think this shows that these people after ken are hacks!

donald

January 25th, 2010
11:23 am

i hope to see this issue go away and talk about real AG issues like predatory lenders!

Christie L.

January 25th, 2010
11:39 am

A partisan push on a biased film is cheap. GPB telling Teilhet they are not FOX news and won’t be used as such is PRICELESS!!! GPB is raising the bar for higher standards in broadcasting. Stick with the DEBATES GPB!!!!!!!

Cody

January 25th, 2010
11:59 am

I’ve followed this controversy … I’ll not vote for Hodges, and I don’t know Teilhet.
Let’s see how the “wrongful prosecution” lawsuit plays out.
If I had to vote today I’d go with Sam Olens.

lmno

January 25th, 2010
12:01 pm

I love Public Broadcasting and am thankful for their existence.

I haven’t seen this film, but am familiar with the original case. I believe that the whistle blowers were doing a great public service and think its a travesty that they were prosecuted for thier courageous actions.

Felix

January 25th, 2010
12:04 pm

I saw the doc and frankly found it very disturbing. I can see why Hodges would not want it aired, as his actions during the time in question are suspect at best. I throughly recommend it, however, because the film directly concerns the misdeeds of so-called ‘non-profit’ hospitals who are basically gaming the system and not paying as much taxes as they should. It is also highly relevant to our ongoing national healthcare debate, which (thanks to conservative misinformation) resembles a junkyard brawl more than a sophisticated discussion on the merits. Shocker!

Georgia Whig Party member

January 25th, 2010
2:54 pm

This is the kind of thing you really can’t tell until you see the movie. Which apparently we won’t be doing on GPB. Personally I like GPB and if the doc can be seen as politically biased I am glad they didn’t show it. I want to know when I am watching GPB that I am not getting preached to. Sounds like Felix did see it and he confirms GPB view point.

Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t see it, just means we shouldnt see it on GPB.

[...] sharp response has to do with this morning’s post on Georgia Public Broadcasting, the Pheobe Putney Health System down in Albany, and a federal [...]

TEDK

January 25th, 2010
6:48 pm

The film is unabashedly a hack job on Hodges. Why else would Telhiet feel need not to comment. Only time they’ve been silent…

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Clint

January 26th, 2010
11:19 am

Pheobe and Hodges are thick as thieves. Pheobe owns Albany and Hodges lock, stock and barrell. Albany has Pheobe to blame for losing the Cooper tire factory (you know how democrats love their blue collar jobs). Pheobe has a strangle hold on Albany and many dr’s and politicos in this part of the state. Hodges main concern should be his part ownership in a night club in the 1990’s. As far as Bagnato is concerned, he is not a politcial hack. He is a fine surgeon that was fighting to expose the rampant Pheobe/Gov’t official corruption. There is so much to this story and Mr. Galloway has a lot more research to do if he is interested in truly providing all the fact to his readers.

Hypocrite hunter

January 27th, 2010
4:08 am

If you are not terrified of giving Hodges statewide powers…after his actions at the county level…you are not paying attention. I don’t know if the others are any better, but the unchallenged behavior was awful at so many levels that you don’t even get to the most frightening of the insinuations of corrupt prosecutors in (hospital) bed with powerful business interests.

Frank

January 28th, 2010
12:30 pm

So 20 minutes after this story originally posts, ” Hodges for AG ” and “donald” are pleading for the next topic so dear old Ken can keep this one to himself. Well today the aspiring AG will have his day in court, this time at the defendant’s table. We will soon see how that turns out, but please spare the likes of Ken Hodges in public office. Georgia has enough problems.

Jimmy

February 2nd, 2010
8:34 pm

Ken Hodges is filth.

Ever hear the story about how Ken Hodges was driving too fast in the rain a couple of years back and flipped his SUV over? Nearly killed his passenger, but, of course, Hodges wasn’t charged.

[...] Public Broadcasting says they won’t allow Do No Harm to be seen by the public on their airwaves. Nancy Zintak, a spokeswoman for Georgia [...]