U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Health care reporter kicked off press call following critical coverage of federal agency

Incident Details

Date of Incident
February 1, 2018

Denial of Access

Government agency or public official involved
Type of denial
Government event
Modern Healthcare
— Modern Healthcare
February 1, 2018

Virgil Dickinson, the Washington bureau chief for trade publication Modern Healthcare, was kicked off a Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services services press call on Feb. 1, 2018. The denial of access came just a week after a spokesman for CMS threatened to cut off Modern Healthcare’s press access to CMS in retaliation for its coverage. 

On Jan. 23, Modern Healthcare published a story by Dickson about the resignation of an official at the agency. According to the Association of Health Care Journalists, a spokesman representing CMS then emailed both Dickson and his editor, Matthew Weinstock, demanding that part of the article be removed. The spokesman, Brett O’Donnell, is a Republican consultant who was working on behalf of CMS but was not employed by the agency.

“Short of fully correcting the piece we will not be able to include your outlet in further press calls with CMS,” O’Donnell reportedly wrote in the email to Weinstock.

On Feb. 1, Dickson was kicked off a CMS press call.

Following a public outcry, CMS apologized to Dickson and Modern Healthcare.

Aurora Aguilar, the editor-in-chief of Modern Healthcare, told ACHJ that a representative of CMS called her on February 6 and promised that its reporters will continue to have access to press calls.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].