The CBS Early Show, saying it was “looking for clarity” on the mammography debate after the American College of Ob-Gyn statement last week, turned to “medical correspondent” Dr. Jennifer Ashton, who appeared in the studio with Nancy Brinker of the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
Now, the Komen Foundation has a one-sided view of the mammography debate (entirely pro-screening) – one not shared by all breast cancer advocacy organizations – e.g., Breast Cancer Action or the National Breast Cancer Coalition. So there’s a bias there.
But the KomenWatch.org website (2017 update: this site is no longer active) pointed out that the supposedly clarifying correspondent showed up wearing “Komen’s embroidered logo on her blouse.” (Picture at left from the KomenWatch.org website from Dr. Ashton’s on-air appearance.) They asked:
“Is Dr. Ashton an employee of the Komen organization? Is CBS running an advertorial for Komen? Is the television spot another marketing strategy involving Komen product placement?”
Here’s the CBS clip:
I’m not addressing the science in this post.
I’m addressing journalism ethics.
Journalists shouldn’t wear endorsements – not while reporting on controversial topics – not anytime.
We’ve commented frequently on examples of media bias for mammography – and for various screening tests.
A recent analysis in a journal article ending with the conclusion of media bias for screening. (Addendum on July 29: I should have pointed this out right away: there are methodologic issues with this study, e.g., pooling major news sources with tweets and with PR Newswire (!?). Although flawed, it is one more look at this issue.)
It violates any principles of sound, fundamental journalism ethics. And I’m going to keep writing about it whenever I see it.
Addendum two hours after original post:
This interesting exchange took place on Twitter after this post was published:
See this amazing exchange today:
Why did @DrJAshton wear a @komenforthecure logo during Nancy Brinker intvw? asks Komen Watch http://ht.ly/5OSP5 via @garyschwitzer
@ivanoransky b/c as a women’s health specialist, I support breast cancer awareness. On AHA women go red day, I wear red.
SPJ code of ethics. http://bit.ly/4r4BR “distinquish between advocacy & reporting” @DrJAshton: @ivanoransky as women’s health specialist, I support breast CA awareness. On AHA women go red day, I wear red.
@garyschwitzer real MD’s r patient advocates 1st/ foremost,& I m a real doctor. As “reporter” I try 2 give both sides,but I m not an anchor.
To which I finally responded:
.@DrJAshton: Sounds lk U suggest anchors & reporters have difft ethics on balance/advocacy;Reporter side of u shld read http://bit.ly/4r4BR
I’ve written about ethical issues involving network TV physician-reporters before (See this example.) But this admission that she views herself as an advocate, and the suggestion that reporters have a different ethical standard than anchors is striking. As a physician wrote when he saw that a CNN reporter tweeted a breast cancer advocacy message last week, “Could a political reporter say ‘Vote for Smith?’!”
This is a troubling lapse in journalism ethics from someone who has – in all fairness – probably never been given any training in journalism ethics. So don’t just blame the reporter in this case; blame the corporation that thought it was a marketable idea to put a young female physician on the air as a journalist.