The calls started rolling in early last Thursday morning. CIGNA employees were calling to say that someone had emptied the New Times rack outside their Seventh Street and McDowell office and tossed all the newspapers into a nearby Dumpster.
The employees said they wanted to read New Times' cover story, which exposed CIGNA's hidden price discounts with local hospitals. The discounts allow CIGNA to pay drastically reduced charges for medical services, while CIGNA patients are expected to pay their full share of an undiscounted bill.
"I was very greatly upset and I'm sure everybody else was because . . . every time there were papers [in the rack], they were removed," a woman who said she was a CIGNA employee complained Thursday afternoon.
The paper dispatched a reporter and photographer to the site with an additional supply of papers at 10 a.m. Friday.
While the photographer gained a vantage point of the CIGNA Dumpster, the reporter dropped a batch of papers in the New Times rack at the entrance to the medical center, then headed to a nearby phone booth to notify CIGNA that the rack had been restocked.
The reporter never got through. After five minutes of an endless telephone-message loop, he hung up and headed back to the CIGNA office to check on the papers.
Not surprisingly, the whole stack was gone.
Shortly after the papers had been put into the rack, a young man had loaded about 40 copies of the newspaper onto a hand truck and pulled them around the corner to CIGNA's trash Dumpster. The photographer recorded the disposal.
CIGNA marketing director Scott Leyva says he has no trouble with CIGNA employees tossing the papers into the Dumpster.
"I probably would have thrown them away myself," Leyva says.
At the same time, Leyva says he doesn't know who threw the papers away or if anyone ordered their disposal. He also refused to allow an interview with CIGNA administrator Jeff Nelson, who runs the McDowell office.
Leyva says the papers were probably tossed because CIGNA officials didn't want patients reading negative material about the company before seeing their doctors.
"If you owned your own business and something negative came out about you in the paper, would you want it right outside the building?" Leyva asked.
New Times actually made three efforts to get the papers to CIGNA's employees. The first delivery of 180 papers arrived as usual at 7:30 Wednesday evening. By dawn, they were gone. New Times' circulation department sent a second batch of 120 papers to the site at 8:45 a.m. Thursday, but by 11 a.m., those, too, were gone. New Times circulation director David Lynn then went to the site and observed the newspapers piled high in the open Dumpster.
"They had a security guard at the Dumpster so nobody could go in and dig them out," Lynn says.
Leyva, CIGNA's spokesman, said in a subsequent interview that the company's attorney gave CIGNA workers the green light to do whatever they wanted with the papers.
"If it is on our property, anybody can take as many as they want to and do whatever they want do with them," Leyva says.
Not so, says New Times attorney Alan Blankenheimer.
New Times limits distribution of the paper to one copy per reader. Businesses distributing the paper agree to do so on those terms, Blankenheimer says, adding that they have no right to destroy newspapers.
"You can't distribute the ones you like, and not distribute the ones you don't like," he says.
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Apparently, CIGNA has enjoyed having New Times at the McDowell Road site. Office administrator Nelson asked New Times to begin distributing the newspaper at that office on March 11, 1992. Demand for the paper was so great, Nelson asked for a larger rack, which was provided.
Demand for last week's issue apparently broke all records, based on calls received by New Times.
"I know there was something written on CIGNA," a CIGNA employee said in a phone call to the paper. "I sure would like to read it."
Extra copies can be obtained at the New Times office.