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Wrath wrongly falls on doctor

More than 300 angry people call his office after he's incorrectly identified on radio as the person who said America got what it deserved.

By SAUNDRA AMRHEIN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 15, 2001


For 13 years, Dr. Imad Jandali has helped save the lives of young children in Hernando County. The popular pediatrician gets bombarded with so many greetings in public, he has to hide when shopping at the grocery store.

A native of Syria, Jandali is a U.S. citizen, along with his wife and three children. He proudly displays a letter of thanks from President George W. Bush for his campaign support. He felt sick and sorrowful with the rest of the country after the terrorist attacks in New York and at the Pentagon.

But when he arrived at work Friday morning, Jandali found himself the target of 300 angry phone calls blaming him for making a comment that America got what it deserved in the attacks. Some callers asked his staff how they could work for him. Others cursed him and threatened not to come back to his office in Spring Hill.

Somehow, shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem erroneously obtained and broadcast his name as the physician at Oak Hill Hospital who made the alleged comment to horrified colleagues Tuesday while watching television images of planes crashing into the World Trade Center.

"It's a stress you would not believe," Jandali said.

According to police reports, Clem called Jandali's office Friday morning and asked an employee on the air, "Is this the office of the dirty son of a b---- that said those nasty things about our country?"

The employee tried to tell him it was mistake. By then, the whole office was in tears. The phones started to ring, and would not stop for several hours.

After Sheriff's Sgt. Melissa Tisevich arrived, Clem called again. Tisevich told him that Jandali was not the doctor involved in the Oak Hill incident.

Clem became annoyed, called her a "b----" but then talked to Jandali and apologized on the air for his mistake, sheriff's reports say.

Soon after the apology, the calls subsided, a shaken Jandali said.

"We closed early because of this," Jandali said. "I think we're going to lose a lot of patients, but that's not the issue."

The issue is to get out the message that he had nothing to do with the alleged comment made by the other doctor. Even Oak Hill Hospital's officials called Clem to clear up the confusion.

"It's important for Hernando people to know that we were a victim of giving the wrong name to the media," Jandali said. "We belong to this country. It's my country . . . I still feel the pain and the sorrow and sadness (of the terrorist attacks). It's an act of criminals."

Clem and station managers could not be reached for comment.

For its part, the Sheriff's Office doesn't plan on raising a ruckus about Clem's name-calling.

"We get called worse than that," said spokesman Lt. Joe Paez. "We're not going to get into it with Mr. Sponge."

Still, it remains unclear how Jandali's name wound up on the radio. Oak Hill Hospital officials refuse to release the name of the doctor who uttered the alleged comment until they conclude an internal investigation. Sheriff's officials said the man was not of Arab descent.

The hospital indefinitely suspended his privileges to practice at Oak Hill, pending a further review. On Friday, chief executive officer Jaime Wesolowski said he had not concluded the investigation and now expects it might last longer than he thought because the hospital's doctors want input on a final decision. In Thursday's edition, Hernando Today released the name of a Spring Hill doctor -- not Jandali -- and attributed it to a hospital spokeswoman. But she denied ever confirming the name and said she was misquoted by the paper. The Tampa Tribune also ran that story.

The Hernando Times has refrained from printing the name with previous stories -- or this one -- because officials have declined to confirm the identity of the doctor.

Jandali isn't the only Hernando County physician suffering from backlash.

Dr. Raju Rao was driving west on Cortez Boulevard on Thursday afternoon when a white man in a red Camaro threw an object from his car at Rao, striking the left rear window of the doctor's car.

Following reports of the incident at Oak Hill Hospital, the Hernando County Medical Society released a statement supporting the hospital's temporary suspension of the doctor.

But, if true, the doctor's sentiments that America got what it deserved are hardly unique -- and are even heard among some notable white residents.

The Rev. Jerry Falwell and religious broadcaster Pat Robertson have told the Associated Press that Tuesday's terrorist attacks happened because Americans have insulted God and lost the protection of heaven.

Though Hernando County resident Kenneth Kovalik disagrees with what the local doctor said, he said that part of what makes this country worth dying for is freedom of speech.

"You're punishing the guy for expressing his opinion," Kovalik said of the doctor.

"I am not condoning by any means what was (said). Personally I think it was horrible and despicable," he added. "In my own personal feeling, the guy should be horsewhipped. But if I had the whip in my hand, I would have to drop it and walk away. If he could be whipped for saying what he said, I could be next."

- Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. The federal government is collecting reports of ethnic discrimination, vandalism and other abuses in the wake of this week's terrorist attacks. To report an incident, call the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights hotline at 1-800-552-6843. The commission's Web site can be found at www.usccr.gov.

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