Vanishing point: In its August
issue, the Blade printed this ad
promoting Dr. Steven Kooshian (above),
but the current ad (below) claims
the indicted AIDS doctor hasn't been
connected to the practice for a year.
It must be tough to be the Orange County-Long Beach Blade. The monthly magazine claims to represent the interests of its gay readership, yet it failed for years to report allegations that G. Steven Kooshian, a Southern California AIDS doctor, was secretly injecting his patients with water and multivitamins rather than life-saving drugs. Indeed, the Blade went further than failure to report: it attacked those who did, once running an advertisement in which Kooshian called OC Weekly's reporting on the accusations against him "wholly inaccurate," and continued to run ads for Kooshian's high-profile practice as recently as last month.
In July, the U.S. Attorney leveraged an FBI investigation and the Weekly's coverage to indict Kooshian on conspiracy, 25 counts of health-care fraud and three counts of making false statements relating to health-care matters.
Since then, the Blade has scrambled to explain itself.
"We think it is important that we choose accuracy and comprehensive information instead of prematurely publishing articles to avoid appearing lax in coverage of issues that affect our community," declared Blade publisher Bill LaPointe in his magazine's September issue.
Other SoCal gay news outlets aren't buying it. Laguna Beach-based Metrog.com has blasted LaPointe. AEGIS news service highlighted the Weekly's Kooshian stories. And in its Aug. 9 issue, IN Los Angeles magazine noted that when the gay community needed critical information about a controversial doctor, the Blade failed.
The Kooshian scandal could have been the gay-owned Blade's opportunity to prove its commitment to its readers. Instead, the paper sold its credibility to a man whom Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeanie Joseph says made a fortune off duped gay patients and their insurance companies.
Bad feelings linger. "The fact that you have put advertising dollars ahead of the health and well-being of your readers is as heinous as the actions of Kooshian," Ryan Link of Anaheim wrote in a letter published in the latest Blade.
Sadly, LaPointe remains clueless. He called the criticism "unnerving" and said he has a "sneaking suspicion" the Blade is being singled out for failing to "meet timing expectations with an article about Kooshian."
After months of investigation and citing well-placed sources as well as court records, the Weekly first reported accusations in July 2001 that Kooshian had been secretly giving his patients saline solution or water instead of expensive, powerful anti-AIDS drugs—and then billed their insurance companies as much as $9,000 for each of the fake injections. Kooshian hired a lawyer who threatened a libel lawsuit in an attempt to scare the Weekly off the story. It didn't work. The reports quickly became the top story in the local gay community.
But LaPointe and the Blade—which earned about $1,200 per month in Kooshian advertising, a significant sum for the publication—wrote nothing. According to sources close to the magazine, a bitter war broke out in the Blade's office. The crux of the debate centered on this question: When an advertiser is suspected of serious wrongdoing alleged in court documents, don't readers deserve to know the facts? LaPointe—whose background is in advertising, not reporting—said no.
Joseph Amster, a longtime Blade editor, quit during the Kooshian fiasco. Though Amster declined to comment on his departure, multiple sources said he was enraged by LaPointe's failure to take on the Kooshian story.
In July 2002, the Blade gave Kooshian space for a special, full-page ad. The Weekly's reports were "lacking in journalistic integrity and objectivity" and "wholly inaccurate," Kooshian claimed at the time. LaPointe stood by silently, still collecting the doctor's advertising money.
These days, LaPointe says he has been waiting for "comprehensive information" about the allegations. But the Blade remained mum after the Weeklyreported in March 2003 that Kooshian, who was convicted of illegally selling steroids in Newport Beach in the early 1990s, admitted during a sworn deposition he gave AIDS patients fake injections. That same year, the gay doctor argued in California Superior Court that Charles Karel Bouley II, a national radio personality and the surviving partner of a 34-year-old gay patient who died under his care, should have no legal standing to sue.
Even if the Orange County district attorney's office and the state's medical board ignored Kooshian, federal agents followed the Weekly's reporting. On July 20, 2005, Kooshian and one of his nurses were indicted. Officials found evidence that the doctor, who favored expensive cars and extravagant vacations, had been operating a lucrative criminal conspiracy. At an Aug. 1 arraignment, Kooshian and nurse Virgil Opinion pleaded not guilty and were released on bail.
This time the news was impossible to ignore. Some 214 weeks after the saga began, the Blade finally published its first news item on the subject, "Local Doctor Indicted for 'Subdosing' AIDS Patients."
But even that story doesn't get the facts straight. The magazine insists Kooshian's ties to Valley View & Ocean View Internal Medicine—the Laguna Beach, Long Beach and Garden Grove practice he founded in the 1990s—had been severed last year. If so, LaPointe didn't explain why the doctor's name appeared prominently in the practice's Blade advertisement as recently as last month.
"Your choice of a physician is probably the most important decision to make when dealing with all the complicated issues concerning HIV," reads the August ad. "Doctors Sue Reddy, Kenneth Horwitz and Steven Kooshian will help with the many faces of this disease through compassion and the caring expression of knowledge. . . . Our reputations are known nationally, as well as locally, through the hundreds of patients we have helped and saved."
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In the current Blade issue, Reddy—who did not return phone calls from the Weekly—claimed Kooshian has had no ties to the practice since September 2004. If true, she oddly ran an additional 11 consecutive months of ads featuring Kooshian's name and bedside manner. Reddy has already laid the foundation for ignorance: her latest ad claims Kooshian's problems only recently surfaced.
If Reddy is backpedaling, LaPointe is standing tall. He attributes the long Kooshian news blackout to his "unwavering responsibility" to make sure he had "all the facts before any information is disseminated to the public." He didn't mention he waited to run a story only after the doctor had allegedly left his local practice, sold his $5.1 million Newport Coast home and moved out of town.
Rather than apologize, LaPointe congratulated himself: "The Blade's goal was, is and will continue to be to provide—to the best of our ability—news, information and resources to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community with accurate, comprehensive and quality articles."