It all started at the IRE conference this summer, when a 60 Minutes producer approached WFOR-TV’s Stephen Stock. Would he be interested in working together on an investigation?
That brief conversation led both CBS News and its Miami affiliate to produce separate but parallel stories a few weeks ago on Medicare fraud. “We discussed strategy. We shared ideas, information, insights and sources,” says Stock. “We made sure we each did different angles so that we ‘wouldn’t step on the toes’ of the other.”
The basic facts of the two stories are the same: Medicare fraud costs the government $60 billion a year and much of it happens in South Florida. But what’s striking when you watch the pieces back to back is how different they look. WFOR used undercover video that it shared with CBS but 60 Minutes decided not to use it. The local version included a Google map and more video from a warehouse where federal investigators kept their files.
“When I first went in to talk to the FBI and HHS investigators (with no camera) I was FLOORED!!! FLOORED that the entire large conference room was packed with boxes of evidence,” Stock wrote in an email. “I said ‘Oh my gosh! This is huge.’ I kept that in the back of my mind and asked (months) later to shoot the boxes…to ‘demonstrate to our viewers’ how bad this problem is.”
Stock had reported on Medicare fraud before and he says some of his best sources for the latest story called him “out of the blue.” His advice to other journalists? “When people call who say things that sound outrageous…at least meet them and listen—it might be true!”
One more tip: read letters to the editor in the local paper. “There was a guy who wrote in complaining that his Medicare number had been billed for things he didn’t need, use or receive. I got his name from his letter to the editor, called him and did the interview. Bingo. It was just the issue that we’d been working on for weeks.”
Stock’s 8 minute piece aired as part of a half-hour special on WFOR. Which story is better? Hard to say. Both are worth watching.
Here’s the CBS 60 Minutes story, reported by Steve Kroft: