The Columbia Journalism Review Takes the Robert Hartwig Challenge and finds the real Insurance Hoax

Thanks to my good friend Russell, I was again very pleasantly reminded of the Bloomberg exposé on the insurance industry, The Insurance Hoax just won’t go away.

To catch everyone up, Bloomberg ran a major 2 part series on insurance claims practices last fall that the industry took severe exception. Robert Hartwig, Head Shill in Chief for the industry trade group III wrote a letter of indignation calling the report factually inaccurate to Bloomberg who stood by their reporting.

Sam Friedman also took exception when the report was named a finalist for a Deadline Club award labeling it a hatchet job. I counter balanced his letter of protest with my email in support of the piece but the Deadline Club passed on the Bloomberg piece.

Then just as the dust settled down the story won an award from the New York press club again raising Sam’s ire. I again could not resist chipping in my two cents worth. 😉

I respect Sam’s opinion of course and believe he is a journalistic professional of the highest caliber. He also has a passion about a subject in insurance most people find incredibly dull and through his enthusiasm that shows in his blogging helps make important trade issues understandable for interested lay people.

So just when we thought this excellent story was finally put to bed the Columbia Journalism Review took the Hartwig challenge and tested his assertions the story was factually inaccurate. The story gives a good history of the controversy, includes some comments from Sam, and finds the Bloomberg story was indeed accurate and good reporting.

A big Bloomberg News piece on insurance has unleashed the wrath of that industry, entangled New York’s Deadline Club in an awards dispute, and now pits journalist against journalist.

Matthew J. Winkler, Bloomberg’s editor in chief, accused the journalism club of “unethical” conduct in its most recent awards contest for allowing an insurance industry trade group to compromise the “integrity” of the club’s judging.

In a three-page letter to Tim Paradis, an Associated Press reporter and the club’s president, Winkler said that in its jury deliberations it accepted industry allegations that a Bloomberg Markets magazine expose, “The Insurance Hoax,” contained factual errors without talking to Bloomberg. Winkler said the club eventually backpedaled and admitted that the piece didn’t contain errors after all bubut found other reasons to deny the story an award.

“We don’t know why ‘The Insurance Hoax’ failed to win any of the four awards for which it was a finalist,” Winkler wrote. “We do know the process by which the stories were judged was irregular, opaque and unethical.”

The text of Winkler’s letter, obtained by The Audit, is available here.

The issue goes far beyond a journalism contest and pulls the curtain back on an aggressive public relations campaign by the insurance industry and others against Bloomberg News and a bitter argument over what is and isn’t an “error.”

The campaign has been led by the Insurance Information Institute and its president Robert Hartwig, who in a widely circulated letter to Bloomberg Markets’ editor Ronald Henkoff calls the story “malicious,” “biased, “inaccurate,” “intellectually shabby,” and more. Significantly, he contends the series contains contains several factual errors, ranging from the misuse of a key industry ratio to blown arithmetic, that are so important the series couldn’t have been written without them.

In an email to me, Hartwig goes so far as to call the series the Million Little Pieces of insurance journalism.

“It made a big splash when it came out but when subjected to fact checking it simply didn’t pass muster,” Hartwig says. “The authors and editors at Bloomberg should be embarrassed because the piece is a disgrace to the Bloomberg name.”

Bloomberg says it stands by its story and, after meeting with Hartwig, declined to run a correction. A spokeswoman adds that Bloomberg is still waiting to hear from the Deadline Club.

Paradis, the club’s president, told me the club plans to write back to Winkler. Meanwhile, he defended its awards process and offered what amounts to a qualified endorsement of the facts in the stories.

“We received complaints about the story and therefore had no choice but to examine it,” Paradis said. “We did so in good faith and gave both sides fair treatment. The results speak for themselves as the story was named as a finalist in several categories. If an entry doesn’t merit being a finalist, it’s not included. We had several categories for which no entrants were recognized.”

I’ll cut to the conclusion: a review by The Audit found no significant factual errors and no errors at all involving the insurance industry. The III’s allegations are unfounded. Details are below.

I urge all our readers to take the Hartwig Challenge and read the full Columbia Journalism Review story they call Fact Fight.


2 thoughts on “The Columbia Journalism Review Takes the Robert Hartwig Challenge and finds the real Insurance Hoax”

  1. The CJR review was written by none other than Dean Starkman of the Insurance Transparency Project fame, Sop.

    Great post – and, as always, good to hear from Russell.

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