Coffee is good for your heart, coffee causes dementia, Orange Juice is good, Orange Juice is bad. For years, I have coached writers and producers to view medical claims with skepticism. Few things in life scare me more than a tease offering “new hope for women with breast cancer”, or “Could this odd looking device end your back pain forever?”
Now, monitoring the health claims on television has become a vocation. HealthNewsReview is put together by University of Minnesota journalism professor Gary Schwitzer and his team of two dozen health-news reviewers. Every producer in the country should be looking at this.
More from Susan Perry at the MinnPost:
I seldom watch the morning network news shows. For one thing, I’m usually at my computer in the early morning hours, writing this blog. But I also like to keep my blood pressure at a low, calm level. I find much of the news reporting on the morning news shows frustratingly shallow.
Wanting to throw a cup of coffee at the TV set is not good, I believe, for one’s blood pressure.
University of Minnesota journalism professor Gary Schwitzer and his team of two dozen health-news reviewers do watch the morning news shows — or, at least, the health segments on them. They then publish their reviews of those segments on Schwitzer’s indispensable (for health consumers as well as health journalists) online site HealthNewsReview.
What they’ve found lately is disturbing, if not all that surprising. As Schwitzer wrote Monday in a “publisher’s note”:
By reviewing health news coverage every day, we are able to see big pictures of clear patterns unfolding that the casual day-to-day news consumer may miss.
One picture is quite clear. The morning health news segments on ABC, CBS and NBC do the following regularly:
• Unquestioningly promote new drugs and new technologies
• Feed the “worried well” by raising unrealistic expectations of unproven technologies that may produce more harm than good
• Fail to ask tough questions
• Make any discussion of health care reform that much more difficult
He then lists some of the network news segments that back up those perceptions. Here are a few recent examples with Schwitzer’s comments:
CBS Early Show
“Three heart tests every woman should know about”
June 18, 2009
“Classic morning show health news garbage — confusing screening and diagnostic tests and confusing viewers. And a glaring error on the CBS website claims that heart scans had no radiation! On which planet?”
ABC’s Good Morning America
“Breakthrough obesity drug”
July 21, 2009
“Miscasts an experimental obesity Rx as potential ‘silver bullet’ for people wanting to drop a few pounds. Oddly refers to interviewee’s potential conflicts of interest as evidence of expertise. Huh?”
CBS Early Show
“Walk on: New device helps paraplegics walk again”
July 22, 2009
“This segment puts a check next to nearly every item on a list of Health Journalism Worst Practices. It calls the device new, revolutionary, miracle. The device is none of these. Terribly misleading.”
“This is a dangerous pattern,” Schwitzer concludes. “Such stories do more harm than good to public understanding of health care. This must change.”
You can read the full reviews of these and other network news health segments at the HealthNewsReview website.
Check your blood pressure first.