One of the golden rules of the legal profession is "Don't ask a question if you don't know the answer." Well, it's much the same in my line of work — never ask a doctor if he's a doctor unless you know he's not.
In my case the confrontation came not in a court room but rather a parking lot outside the 1960 York Medical Clinic in Houston (Click the monitor to watch). The subject of my inquiry was "Doctor" Manuel Hernandez, who, over the preceding three days, had prescribed a total of 720 pills – powerful painkillers and other controlled substances - to four CBS News employees posing as patients in pain, in violation of state and federal law.
A check with the Texas Medical Board and others around the country had confirmed that Hernandez was not licensed to practice medicine in Texas – or any other state.
Needless to say, Mr. Hernandez had some explaining to do. Clearly, we weren't going to get answers inside the clinic so we decided to brace him in the clinic parking lot.
I've done a lot of so-called confrontational interviews over the years. Some happen when you're sitting across from an interview subject; some on the phone; some on the street. No matter the venue the same rules apply: come prepared, come polite and come persistent. I reminded myself of all three while sitting in a car with producer Pia Malbran glancing anxiously at my watch. We knew from Pia's earlier scouting mission that Hernandez left the clinic at 4 o'clock on the dot and walked straight to the passenger side of his royal blue Monte Carlo to drop off papers. That car was now about 100 feet away from ours as took another look at my watch: 3:57. I exited the car and moved to the side of cameraman Joe Duncan's van. He was locked and loaded, door open, ready to roll as soon as Hernandez appeared.
"There he is," said Pia. I turned and started walking straight toward Hernandez. I wanted to intercept him at the passenger door. My timing was nearly perfect. As he arrived I came quickly around the back of the car and did what I always do: clearly and carefully identified my reason for being there — an opening I'd rehearsed in my head many times before.
"Dr. Hernandez, I'm Armen Keteyian from CBS News in New York. I'm doing a story about what's happening in the clinic right here. Why are you prescribing pain killers to people who go in there?"
To say Hernandez was surprised would be putting it mildly. In many respects he was something of a sympathetic case: said to be licensed in Mexico, unable to practice in the states, making 20 bucks an hour doling out pills. So when he responded by saying, "Ask my boss" I knew exactly who he was talking about.
But that wasn't the point. Not today.
"No, you're the guy who's doing it. Why are you prescribing painkillers without a physical examination and without looking at anybody's records? Why is that?"
By now Hernandez had reached the driver's side door. The conversation, at this point, was decidedly one-sided. I knew Joe Duncan was over my shoulder recording the entire scene. It was here I wanted Manuel Hernandez – and his boss — to know what I knew.
"Are you even a doctor, Dr. Hernandez?"
I went on a bit from there adding some color to the confrontation (…you didn't take any of their records, you didn't even shake their hands) but by now Hernandez was in the car, belted up, pulling away.
In the end, my entire reason for flying to Houston was over in less than a minute. I watched a replay in Joe's camera – to make sure we'd done our job. We had. Then it was back to the airport. I had a plane to catch. And an important story to tell.