Medical Tuesday Blog
Medicine Meets the Press
The clash between physicians and the press in the U.S. is older than the republic itself. The first recorded debate goes back to the Boston smallpox outbreak of 1721. Newspapers, including Benjamin Franklin’s The Courant, launched a crusade against Dr. Zabdiel Boylston’s practice of immunization.
That conflict continues today, fueled by the explosion of both media and medicine.
Doctors believe that reporters are biased and hostile, looking for the sensationalistic angle rather than striving for a balanced story. Reporters view doctors as arrogant, rich and insensitive.
A comprehensive study of the relationship between physicians and the news media corroborates those attitudes. “There is bad feeling on both sides; the evidence of it is inescapable,” writes John Siegenthaler, Chairman of the Freedom Forum at Vanderbilt University.(1) The Freedom Forum’s survey of physicians, reporters and editors is blunt: “physicians don’t trust the news media, and the news media don’t trust doctors.”(2)
Kathryn Serkes, President of Square One Media Network has an excellent guide on how to work with the media. Let’s say the issue is: “Managed care is bad for patients.” Your support statements would be: “Managed care treats patients like pets because the ‘owner’ (the company) decides if ‘Spot’ is worth treating. It replaces the Hippocratic ethic with a veterinary ethic. Physicians are subject to an untenable conflict of interest of being caught between the best interests of their patients and the bottom line of the company.”
As long as the only stories hitting the airwaves or getting in print come from our opponents, the misperceptions about doctors will continue. In the words of one of my clients, Dr. Michael Schlitt, AAPS Board Member and president of the Washington state chapter, “The most important lesson I’ve learned since medical school is that making the media your friend is critical to the cause.” It is your responsibility to use the news to help tell our story. If you don’t, who will?
Kathryn Serkes, President of Square One Media Network, is an Emmy-award winning producer/reporter, media consultant, and the public affairs consultant.