PBS, Scientific American Frontiers, & Chiropractic

By Nicholas Regush

Reprinted with permission from HEALTH NEWS ANALYZER #41
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Why even assume that Public Broadcasting is any better than the regular networks in handling health issues? Don’t be naive!

I only raise this today because of the scores of emails I have received, asking whether I watched the chiropractic community get skewered in an Alan Alda-hosted TV special on PBS channels, beginning on June 4.

First, I didn’t catch the show, but I have visited the PBS web site where some of the material is online. Second, the anger being expressed today via the International Chiropractors Association, which is calling for an apology from PBS, doesn’t surprise me in the least. Given that the segment was funded by a subsidiary of Phillips Medical Systems, that the series that celebrity Alda hosts is sponsored by Scientific American (an extremely conservative, boring and unimaginative science magazine that shills for the high-powered in the medical and scientific community and a magazine that I refuse to read any longer) and that PBS has strong financial ties to the medical establishment, why wouldn’t there be anger when the TV segment aired?

Did anyone actually think that the segment could possibly be fair, given the track record of TV to get things right on health issues and the strong struggle that has often pitted the chiropractic community against conventional medicine? Let’s get real!

I was in the TV news business long enough (too long) to know that anything that is considered as “alternative” is already off on the wrong foot. Most TV producers are too poorly qualified (ignorant) to understand the nuances that shape modern health competition and progress. Targets are easy because all you have to do is grab a few so-called “experts” (usually the most venal critics) and run with them and not provide the targets with a ray of hope in responding with any depth to the harpoons.

I don’t even have to watch to know the likely formula. Get a case or two, have them say nice things about their care and then show them up to be gullible fools. Bring in the venal experts, fire a few shots that will stick in the minds of viewers (such as suggesting that chiropractors all claim that spinal adjustment can CURE disease) and then build up the laugh meter slowly for the rest of the piece. Forget about history (such as state licensure and Medicare inclusion and ignore studies that offer evidence of effectiveness of treatments). Also have the host (the celebrity knucklehead who really doesn’t do any real work, but fronts the debacle) read the simplistic script in just the right tone to make sure that the audience gets the drift of the piece.

Let me say this quite bluntly: DON’T DO IT! By that I mean, NEVER agree to go on American TV if you are a member of a group deemed “controversial” unless you are looking for trouble or the show is live! At least then you can take a poke back and outshout someone (if that is how you wish to spend your leisure time).

If you are ever asked to be part of a segment that is exploring your “controversial” group, tell the producer or the show’s bookers (usually people in their early 20s) to take a hike.

People and organizations constantly get sucked in and then sucker-punched. They are led to believe that the coverage will be fair. It certainly can be, but most often it is not. Want to take a chance? Then prepare yourself for the protests after the show and the seeking of an apology.

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Nicholas Regush is an award-winning investigative reporter who worked for the Montreal Gazette for twelve years, served as a consultant to the Center for Bioethics, affiliated with the University of Montreal, and worked free-lance as a medical analyst for CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) radio and a producer for CBC TV’s The Fifth Estate, a newsmagazine featuring investigative stories. He has also written several books and numerous magazine articles and produced features for ABC TV’s news magazines, Day One and Nightline. Nicholas has been producing medical features for six years for ABC’s World News Tonight with Peter Jennings and has written more than one hundred columns (“Second Opinion”) for abcnews.com.”

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