I had suggested to the Sheriff’s Officer and the family of Ms. West that night at the hospital that an autopsy would be in the family’s best interest. We had to find out what exactly had happened to Donda. That is what people, who have done no wrong and have nothing to hide, do.
On the other hand, Scoggins, apparently with the help of Brad Rose, Kanye West’s entertainment attorney, was trying to mislead the authorities and suppress the facts. That’s what guilty people do. Donda West’s body had yet to be transferred from the hospital to the Coroner and already Scoggins (presumably with Rose’s guidance) was spinning lies.
The Monday following her death was anything but routine for me and my office staff. The day began with me alerting the receptionist and other staff members as to what had happened; I cautioned them all not to speak about it to outsiders. It was very important that we remained professional and adhere to all HIPAA requirements.
Payam Afsharian, our administrator and owner of Brentwood Surgery Center, and I had discussed Donda’s death over the weekend. Payam, who can only be described as a great spirit and a wonderful heart, was devastated. His partner, Rick, who is a retired attorney, was present that morning and we discussed the impact this tragedy might have on the center. Rick, I liked, but he also had that posture indicative of attorneys: opinionated without the burden of facts and quietly condescending. He knew he could spin a story to say what he wanted, and over the years, having worked as a governmental employee, I got the impression his opinion of most people wasn’t favorable. However, having worked in the government sector for so long, he prided himself on being an insider.
I performed a breast augmentation that morning and despite my ‘walking on eggshells’, my patient was quite candid; she offered her condolences and assured me that she was quite confortable with me as her surgeon. She had done her research, talked with other patients and seen their results. She was ready to go.
Following the operation, my scrub tech, Larry, received a call from a Plastic surgeon in the community who had “heard about Donda West” and “wanted to know what had happened”. That surprised us all. It turned out she had received a call from a plastic surgeon that had been called by the West family physician. Larry offered that he had no idea. She had been discharged and was home at the time of her death. So let’s put the rumors to rest: everything reported in the press was coming from the West family camp, and not me, my office, or anyone affiliated with us. (And just for clarity’s sake, all the stakeholders including the family, the attorneys, the Medical Board of California, the Coroner, and the City Attorney knew it.)
In the afternoon, I saw two patients who, in addition to Donda West, had had surgery on Friday. One, a long term patient of mine made an interesting observation. She had been in the recovery room when Scoggins had finally arrived to recover his aunt. In the consultation room, this patient stated matter of factly: “Oh, come on Dr. Adams…you’re not that gullible are you. Anyone can see the nephew killed her.”
I was not prepared to make a statement like that and frankly; I thought it was a bit unfair, and not true. I’m still not willing to swallow it, but I can not deny that Scoggins’s lies to the coroner’s investigator made me question his motives.
Rick, Payam’s partner, also got a bit chattier during the afternoon. Apparently, he had talked with colleagues “in the know”, and now people in Washington D.C. were weighing-in. That was completely baffling to me and I dismissed it as Rick “showing off”. Why would anybody in the government, in D.C. no less, care about us. More appropriately, without the facts of the case, why were they weighing-in anyway?
Part of it I soon found out were the rumors circulating in the press. In the early afternoon, I once again called the staff together, explained Larry’s call, and tried to impress upon them the seriousness of the matter and the importance of us remaining professional. I particularly wanted to prepare them for the press. I wanted them to be cautious of what they said to people over the phone; I wanted them to be friendly and not defensive; and I wanted them to know that, in order to get a story, people in the press, reporters in particular, were not above misrepresenting themselves in order to get the story they wanted.
The advantage of books, over say, video, is perspective. While the actions, or inaction, on the part of Stephan Scoggins gets the story going, he is impotent to create the kind of “media circus” that surrounds our story. That required the help of some particularly mean and ruthless people in powerful positions.
Journalists want to “own” the story. They want to define the issue and set the tone. They want to be seen as the seasoned insider who not only gets the story first, but gets it right. They don’t want the official story; they want the real story. They want the angle to the story that no other journalist can get, and that is where the problem lies. The pressure to be first; the desire to be the one who defines the issue; and the need to be recognized for that, serve to create an environment where the journalist can find himself creating the story and not merely reporting it. Ego takes over, and the “lead dog” takes the pack of journalists who follow, down the same path.
The lead dog, generally, but not always, is the industry insider who defines the issue, and writes or reports the story that will serve as a reference for subsequent reporters “picking the story up” for their markets. The lead dog wants to be seen by his colleagues as the one who spoke with the principals and therefore got the story no one else could get. Unfortunately for me, the lead dog was Harvey Levin, an attorney and producer at TMZ, and apparently an amoral, context dropping, grotesquely evil sociopath known to indulge an instinct for cruelty he should have outgrown in grade school. (I am angry about his distortions of the truth, the effects it had on the people I care about most, and I make no excuses for it. I am going to use his reporting, next to the facts to demonstrate my point.)
He called my answering service Monday evening, two days after Dr. West’s death. He introduced himself and his company, neither of which I had ever heard of, and began to rattle off questions and statements for “verification”. I confirmed that I was indeed Ms. West’s surgeon. “Please be fair to this family” I offered “they just lost a family member”.
“I will be fair to you, doctor” he snapped back in that tone that lawyers use where “doctor” is French for “asshole”.
“You’re not listening” I interrupted. “I didn’t say me. I said be fair to this family.”
Mr. Levin, it seems, is not one to be put off and kept attacking with a barrage of questions. I informed him that I didn’t want to be rude to him, and it is not my way to hang up on people, but that I wasn’t going to answer specific questions about my patient. He attempted to bait me using the technique of “verification” again, by suggesting that another surgeon who had also seen Dr. West, a Dr. Aboolian in Beverly Hills, who I did not know, had intimated to him that he “had told Ms. West that he would not operate on her without clearance because she had some medical problem”. (Apparently neither Harvey nor Aboolian had the information from Cedar Sinai that I had and they weren’t going to get it from me.)
“I do not know Dr Aboolian” I said, “but if he discussed that with you, it would seem a bit inappropriate to me.” I did tell Harvey, however, that if and when it became appropriate, and that if he was fair to the family, I would give him and his organization my first interview. He did neither.
To my surprise, Harvey ended up the following evening on “Larry King Live” and without a story to peddle, he made one up. Harvey wasn’t interested in presenting the facts of this case-he had none. Harvey was interested in mudslinging, because he apparently has decided that in the world of celebrity, mudslinging is what people want. I’m okay with that, except we’re not talking about an actor going drinking with friends, we’re talking about a doctor and reputation is everything. If I am at fault, I deserve what I get. But I deserve to be gotten based on the truth and facts, not on someones lies or misguided opinions not based in fact.
Unfortunately, Harvey Levin, on Larry King Live, is also where the rest of the world heard the story, and this is where and why it went so terribly wrong and off point:
Harvey Levin began by saying that he called me and then “I called him back”. That’s not true. He called my office after hours and so was connected to the service. He then misrepresented himself. My service called to say that there was a man on the line saying he’s calling about a patient, but could not tell them “who the patient was, or the patient’s problem”.
I asked them to put him through. The operator offered that “he’s lying” and I said I know, but we shouldn’t take the chance. It really could be a patient who needed me. “Besides,” I said, “we both know it’s some kind of reporter, and experience has taught me it’s always better to take their (that is the press) calls, be cordial, and establish some kind of dialogue. To avoid them for whatever reason is a mistake; they will simply make up a story without you”. (For the sake of clarity I might add that the service operators get very protective of doctors. They speak with you at the most trying times and at the strangest hours. They get to know you well. This operator was not stupid and she had also been privy to what was going on in the press. In a sense, I appreciated her concern and her willingness to protect me.)
What I could not appreciate, was what to follow.