Yesterday The West Australian splashed this picture over most of its front page:

The paper also dedicated its editorial “Pitiful picture of publichospital inadequacy” to the story, declaring, “The picture says it all. A public hospital’swretched inadequacy could not be shown moregraphically or pitifully…” It continues:

This is a picture of profound shame and disgrace. No doubt Health Minister JimMcGinty and his bureaucratic offsider Neale Font, can do their statistical juggling act to suggest things are better than they seem. But the picture can’t lie.

Turns out it can. Yesterday afternoon the “frail, elderly grandmother” stepped forward — which created a few problems for The West. These problems: she’s not a grandmother, she’s not frail, she’s not elderly and she’s not suffering from a neurological condition.

The woman pictured is 46-year-old Gayle Sargent, a current patient at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital. In response to the story, she composed this letter to Paul Armstrong, the boyish and increasingly beleaguered editor of The West Australian:

Click for a larger image

Sargent read this letter aloud to TV crews last night and asked for an apology from The West.

She didn’t get one, and in the spirit of accuracy and right of reply the paper didn’t publish her letter. Instead, this is what she got on the front page of The West today:… a story which continued to run hard on bed shortages and included, five paragraphs down, a reference to the mistakes made in yesterday’s story:In addition, the article included some excerpts from Sergeant’s letter, described as a letter issued to the paper “by the hospital’s public relations department” and “signed by the woman.”

Crikey contacted Paul Armstrong this morning to ask why the paper didn’t publish a full and prominent correction, an apology, or Sargent’s letter to the editor in full but he didn’t get back to us before deadline.

Peter Fray

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