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BYRON HARRIS TO DELIVER KNEECAPPING TONIGHT

This should be a fun media lesson for all the kids at home. Remember back when Byron Harris, from Channel 8, came to the office for a friendly chat about how we do our “Best Doctors” issue? (If you don’t, follow the jump for a collection of the FB posts that followed said chat.) Well, kids, sweeps are here! The report airs tonight. An alert FBvian heard a radio spot promoting it. The ad says: “Best doctors listings. What they don’t want you to know. What they won’t tell you.” Words to that effect. Then you hear a quote from yrs trly: “I don’t care if the doctors have lost a malpractice case–or even two of them.”

Now listen. “What they won’t tell you”? “What they don’t want you to hear”? Byron Harris didn’t secretly videotape our interview. I invited him into my office because he wanted to do a story about how we put together our “Best Docs” list. Because I want people to hear how we do it. Sensationalize much?

And about my quote. Harris asked me if we vet the doctors on our list. I told him we did. We check with the Texas Medical Board to make sure each doc is in good standing, not under any disciplinary action, etc. Harris asked if we look at their malpractice suits. I told him, with 643 doctors, that’s not feasible. And then I said, “I don’t care if the doctors have lost a malpractice case–or even two of them. A lot of times, they settle cases like that because it’s cheaper than fighting them–even if they’re innocent.” Again, words to that effect.

Let’s see if they air the full quote tonight or if the truncated version from the radio spot is all we get. Me, my money is on the latter. I think we’ll see how, during sweeps, even a good TV journalist like Byron Harris is forced to turn out overhyped half-truths. Should be interesting.

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Following are the posts that went up on FrontBurner immediately after Harris decamped from D offices:

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Byron Harris in the house. Murmur. Of course, he’s talking to Tim. I believe it went swimmingly.

–Eric Celeste · January 24, 2007 11:31 AM


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Murmur, indeed. Byron was here to talk to me about our Best Doctors issue. And by “talk to me,” I mean “kick me, repeatedly, in the crotch.” He’s very good at his job. Essentially, so far as I can tell, he wanted to know whether our list of Best Docs is a good one–though the words he used were “valid,” “statistically significant,” and “scientific.”

Let’s take a deep breath and jump to see whether I really did come across like Nathan Thurm:

The facts: there are 11,000 docs in our survey area. Last year, 1,014 of them cast a ballot, accounting for 24,816 individual doctor nominations (obviously, many docs received multiple nominations). We take those nominations, whittle the list down to only those docs who received a large number of votes relative to the number of votes received by other doctors in each of 40 specialties, and have an anonymous panel of highly respected physicians review that list. Our panel ensures that each doctor on the list is indeed one of the best in town. Last year, we published 643 names (about 5 percent of the docs in our survey area).

So is that “statistically significant”? “Scientific”? I’ll leave that to those who work at a higher pay grade. But is it “valid”? Absolutely. At least I think so.

And I should have been able to make that point without sounding defensive, which is how I fear I came across. Again, because Byron is so good at his job. Sample transcript, from memory:

BYRON: Why are podiatrists on the list? They’re not doctors.

TIM: They’re not?

BYRON: You didn’t know that?

TIM: No, I didn’t. But if you had a problem with your foot, wouldn’t you want to go to a podiatrist?

BYRON: Yes.

TIM: So, Byron, you’re saying we should call it the “Best Doctors and Podiatrists in Dallas”? That’s kind of wordy for the cover, but I’ll consider it.

BYRON: Isn’t the purpose of this just to sell magazines? Aren’t you just trying to make money?

TIM: Of course! That’s what we do! Sell magazines! Make money! And give our readers information they want. [deep breath] Listen, Byron. [leaning onto desk] Your TV station sells air time. That’s how it makes money. So that you can do what you’re doing now. And so that, during sweeps, your station can say, “Up next: the thing in your house that can kill you!” …

… and so on, lecturing Byron frickin’ Harris on the economics of TV journalism.

More than murmur.

The piece is supposed to air February 12. I’m sure we all look forward to it.

–Tim Rogers · January 24, 2007 11:56 AM

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Not that I’m obsessing about this or anything, but hang on a sec. Podiatrists are, too, doctors. They are doctors of podiatric medicine. Says so here. Much like doctors of dental surgery and doctors of optometry (as a helpful FBvian pointed out).

Byron Harris? You listening? Come back. Bring your cameraman. I want another shot at it. I’ll do better next time.

–Tim Rogers · January 24, 2007 03:01 PM

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A very clever FrontBurnervian imagines how Byron Harris will edit our interview. Genius:

Harris: Is D’s Best Doctors scientific? Not in the least. Just ask D’s executive editor, Tim Rogers.

Tim: Scientific? I’ll leave that to those who work at a higher pay grade.

Harris: That’s right, the man behind the trusted list that many Dallas residents use to determine which medical provider they will entrust with the care of their family admits that it’s nothing more than a magazine money-making scheme.

Tim: Of course! That’s what we do! Sell magazines! Make money!

Harris: Rogers said he believes the system D magazine uses is, quote, “valid.” The magazine ballots from around 9 percent of the area’s 11,000 physicians, and then consults a panel of anonymous doctors who hand pick the winners. Winners that include some medical practitioners–such as podiatrists–that aren’t even doctors.

Tim: You’re saying we should call it “Best Doctors and Podiatrists in Dallas”? That’s kind of wordy for the cover, but I’ll consider it.

Harris: Wordy maybe, but at least accurate. And accuracy is what Preston Hollow resident Jane Smith wishes she had had.

Smith: That podiatrist didn’t even realize my son’s foot was covered in gangrene.

Harris: Byron Harris, Channel 8 news.

–Tim Rogers · January 24, 2007 04:00 PM