In these crazy times, we desperately want information and we expect it to be accurate. It’s up to the media to vet and make sure information is correct. We fell short this time.
Deadline Detroit posted a story with comments by from Dr. Patrick Wiater, an orthopedic trauma doctor at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak. His seven-paragraph statement came in the form of a message to various people that claimed "the ICU in the hospital is full of young adults on ventilators fighting for their lives." His point was that people don't realize COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, affects many young people.
When I first read the statement I was alarmed, and thought it was important information to share. After all, so many young people ignore warnings to social distance, when in fact about 25 percent of COVID-19 cases in Michigan have impacted people in their 20s and 30s, according to the state. And in Oakland County, the median age of the 229 infected people, as of Saturday morning, is 27. The age range is 7 months to 92 years.
I verified that the doctor authored the message, and learned through the Beaumont employee who circulated his message, that Dr. Wiater was OK with having it published.
Late Friday night, shortly after the article was posted, Beaumont Health spokesman Mark Geary emailed a statement saying: "90% of the COVID-19 patients being cared for at Beaumont’s eight hospitals are over the age of 40." I immediately added that to the story.
On Saturday, through the hospital, Dr. Wiater issued this apology: "In reality, much of what I wrote in that text message is exaggerated and untrue. During this time of crisis, truth and accuracy are more important than ever. I sincerely apologize for sharing false information."
He also said it was a private message and didn't realize it was being shared and posted online and social media without his knowledge. I'm skeptical of that. Before we posted the story, the message was on social media, including on the Facebook pages of another doctor, a Beaumont nurse and a patient of Dr. Wiater's.
I trusted that a doctor in his position would not exaggerate and fabricate facts, particularly at a time of crisis. I realize now I was wrong. I assume he had positive intent to shock more people into taking this more seriously, but obviously misinformation is not the way to do that.
We at Deadline Detroit intend to continue intensive daily coverage of this pandemic and promise to do all we can to assure accuracy.
I personally apologize to readers.
Editor, Deadline Detroit