Backstage in the newsroom

Every now and then we take you backstage in our newsroom to explore how stories are shaped.
The tendency on the part of the public and even with those of us in the reporting business is to think of a story as contained within itself. But stories often have a fluidity to them. Such is our story that unfolded in a Senate Appropriations Committee meeting Wednesday.
Budget director Linda Luebbering was outlining budget requests for the committee with the department’s financial officer, Joe Eddy, when Senator Schaaf brought up the subject.
We talked with Schaaf after the meeting and ran the interview with our story on Missourinet.com, along with an excerpt from the committee hearing. The issue came up on the Senate floor yesterday morning and Schaaf restated his concerns and questions. The department apparently had not gotten back to him in the intervening hours since the committee hearing.
Our story did not say Corizon’s Oklahoma pharmacy company, PharmCorr, was the compounding pharmacy but did say Senator Schaaf related that he had been told it was and that he had asked the department of Corrections to tell him if that was true.
The Corrections Department, which treats information about the execution process as top secret under a state law designed to protect participants in the process from adverse public reaction, apparently had not responded to Schaaf’s questions. Although it might seem reasonable for the department to have told Schaaf that Corizon and PharmaCorr are NOT involved in executions, it apparently has remained silent.
Word reached Corizon about our story of Schaaf’s suspicions. Yesterday afternoon, one of the company’s media people sent us a statement saying our story “indicates that Corizon’s pharmacy provides execution drugs to Msisouri correction facilities.”
We don’t think our story “indicates.” It reports one Senator’s questions and by inference the department’s lack of candor on that part of the execution issue. But that’s not an issue worth getting into a spat about. The issue is whether Schaaf’s suspicions are valid. And Corizon says they’re not.
We quickly posted a follow-up story that included the statement. In short, Corizon says neither it nor PharmCorr “do not participate in executions in any way.”
The way the story developed might raise some questions about whether we should have reported Schaaf’s comments to begin with. We thought of them, too.
We thought the story went beyond suspicions but not because we thought Schaaf’s questions represented truth. The response, in fact, did tell us something we hadn’t heard before—that “team” members are paid in cash from the institution’s expense and equipment budget.
The discussion points up the difficulties that are caused by lack of transparency or even translucency in state government. Schaaf is asking for a letter from the department saying his information about Corizon is not true. A layman might wonder why the department would put Corizon in the position it has found itself in when it could easily say Schaaf is wrong without giving away the name of the compounding pharmacy, which it wants to protect.
Silence only breeds more suspicion that does no one any good. But government is not very good at getting that message.
Somehow we have a feeling this story isn’t over.

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