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If You Want Accurate News About Health, Turn Off the TeeVee

November 17, 2009

Seriously.  Most television newscasts are sorry affairs, but when it comes to health news, forget it.  Relying on health news from television news programs could actually be harmful to your health.

Don’t take my word for it. Check out this column by Marty Kaplan writing at the Huffington Post. Kaplan is the director of the Norman Lear Center and Professor at the USC Annenberg School, so he’s an expert at watching the media.

Kaplan starts by calling out CNN for some nonsense about an “anti-cancer bra” (not kidding!) that the network’s reporters covered.  But down a little further in the piece, there’s this:

CNN is far from the only offender. As the independent nonprofit documents on its website, the morning health news segments on ABC, CBS and NBC regularly and “unquestioningly promote new drugs and new technologies [and] feed the ‘worried well’ by raising unrealistic expectations of unproven technologies that may produce more harm than good.”

On the day before CNN’s cancer-preventing bra story ran, University of Minnesota professor Gary Schwitzer, the publisher of Health News Review, told Bob Garfield, host of NPR’s On the Media, that a lot of these network TV health stories aren’t just bad journalism; they’re actually dangerous, malicious, sickening. Garfield asked him if there’s any evidence that this kind of coverage — “this dreck” — causes real harm. Yes, he said, reports show very clearly the impact of health news coverage, both good and bad, on consumers of that information. …

Health News Review recently announced that after three-and-a-half years, they’re not going to review TV health news segments anymore. No matter how bad some of the stories are, the networks just don’t care.

If you want the real deal health news-wise, you’ll have to do some reading. It’s just not possible to summarize the pros and cons of research and other health issues in the 60 seconds or so that most newscasts allot for their stories.  For starters, here’s a list of the 20 most popular health websites. Plus, I’ll keep updating my blogroll with other good sources.

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