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.
For instant updates, follow me on Twitter.