The reason we have dedicated ourselves to this project is that we believe that health care news can influence people – and it can either help them or hurt them. In the crush of meeting their daily quotas, journalists – and their news organizations – may sometimes forget that what they report may influence individual decision-making. Here’s a case in point.
A reader wrote to me that he’d received an email about a story produced by CBN-TV (the Christian Broadcasting Network) about the benefits of coconut oil for Alzheimer’s Disease.
This man wrote to me:
“I have a brother recently diagnosed with dementia. Our hopes took a giant leap. On further reading my hopes nosedived when reading the critique of the coconut oil treatment. There were too many unanswered questions about how (the doctor in the video) reported how her husband was treated. Maybe it was just to sell a book.”
Well, such book promotions work – and this man, indeed, bought the book before he did his homework.
The story is about a doctor treating her own husband’s dementia – which she called “a type of diabetes of the brain.” The story weaves a tale of what ketones from coconut oil can do. The reporter says that after two weeks of adding coconut oil to his diet, the man had “stunning improvement.” Of course, there is a book behind this. The doctor wrote, “Alzheimer’s Disease: What If There Was a Cure?”
Look at this one screenshot from the story:
The story also says that coconut oil is a “natural antibiotic that also helps kill viruses like HIV and herpes viruses.”
No evidence – no data – was provided to back up any of these bold claims. The story ran almost 6 minutes – an eternity in a TV story – so there was plenty of time to provide evidence.
The man who wrote me finally did some homework and he says that what he found “hit me between the eyes. There are gobs of web sites promoting coconut oil and many stating it helped their loved ones. I truly hoped it did but am still skeptical. About CBN-TV, well, when they tell you something you want to believe they are great. Then when you find out they are just reporting something without authentication, you realize they are just filling a time slot.”
But journalists – you’re not just filling a time slot or filling space or meeting the expected story output quota: your stories may help or harm, inform or misinform.
Related content: About a year ago, we criticized a Denver Post story, “Coconuts are busting out all over.”