Health News Review

I’ve been too nice the past two years, calling my year-enders “PR puffery” or “PR stuff.” The stuff I’m writing about here is pure crap.  So we’re calling it that.

This annual series is about the bombardment of news releases sent to journalists who are trying to decide what is vital information for readers, viewers and listeners. If journalists were to write about every news release they receive about institutions’ new multi-disciplinary specialty centers, or about every “first”, or about every “only one-of-its-kind” announcement, there would be no time for enterprise journalism. While the tone of this post may be light-hearted in places, we end with a very serious note about why this matters to the public.

So now, just some of the collection of PR crap that one little blogger received in 2012:

  • Last year’s edition was barely published before I received this one to kick off 2012:  A company “Announces the Cure for Cancer and Viral Diseases…Look at this from a cost stand point in the health care industry. It is a minimum of 25% reduction in the total cost of medical care.”
    • This set the tone for what followed from many PR “professionals” the rest of the year.
  • Sunscreen Can Stunt Penis Growth in Boys-Yes, It’s True
    • Now I’m going to be trying to think of what SPF really stands for.
  • “Shocking Timely Story Idea:  COLD FEET FOR JUNE WEDDINGS COULD BE OCD.”
    • Or, it could be that International Falls, MN isn’t the place for a June wedding!
    • The doc pushing this diagnosis has actually named it “relationship OCD or ROCD” – you’ve been ROCD!!
    • I’m supposed to care that he’s been interviewed on the NBC Nightly News and the TODAY Show and in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, but I don’t.

      Goddess of fertility, museum in Turkey

  • March 18 is Goddess Fertility Day- Pregnancy Tips
  • A Miami plastic surgeon, “Dr. Schnoz” offering a nose job and trip to Miami to the winner of a video contest
  • “Praised by Dr. Oz as “The #1 Miracle in a Bottle To Burn Fat.” – “raspberry ketones push the body into a fat burning zone”
  • New celebrity-weight-busting secret  helps keep holiday pounds off”
    • Hey, with Montel Williams and Paula Abdul pushing this stuff, who can resist? Me.
  • A New Look for the New Year…cosmetic procedures have become easier and more accepted in recent years.”
    • No thanks, not by me.  I’ll stick with the old look for another year.  As Willie Nelson sang, “This face is all I have, worn and lived in. And lines below my eyes are like old friends.”
  • Give the Fountain of Youth…cosmetic procedures that can be gifted to yourself or others this holiday season.”
    • No thanks again from me and Willie Nelson.
    • This news release was from/about a “stem cell therapy expert.”  I don’t know how the FDA can possibly keep up with this stuff.
  • Another “stem cell expert” offering “same day facelifts.
    • Can I get a digital rectal, oil change and tires rotated on this drive-by as well?
  • Gain Mobility With Stem Cell Therapy
  • 47 percent of Americans exposed to dangerous bacteria by eating lunch at their desk, exposing themselves to 400 times more dangerous bacteria than the average toilet seat.”
    • Poorly written.  As is, it suggests that people face more hazard than do toilet seats.
    • Of course, there’s a product behind this.  I’m not going to help them hawk it. I detest fear-mongering.
  • “How Adding Supplements Is A New Year’s Resolution Worth Following.”
    • including goji berries…digestive enzymes…alkalizing tablets.  Hey, wonder if those alkalizing tablets would clean up the toilet seat issue from the previous bullet?
    • Caveat emptor.
  • “Would you be interested in speaking with….(someone who) works with shamans, healers, growers, harvesters, scientists, trade officials and other plant medicine experts in dozens of countries. Part David Attenborough, part Indiana Jones…”
    • No, thanks.  I’d rather watch “Raiders of the Lost Hype”
  • “Cocoa observational study moves the needle in the right direction
    • Just 10 people in the study
    • 10 healthy people
    • Study looked at “endothelial cell function”
    • I didn’t see the needle move.
  • Fastest 50 Robotic Surgeries  at xyz Hospital”
    • Given a learning curve for robotic surgery that is estimated to be in the hundreds of procedures, would you want to be one of the first 50 at a hospital touting how fast it got to 50?
  • “New Research Indicates Up to 60 million Americans Suffer from Hammertoe  Foot Deformities”
    • from “a privately held medical-device company offering a novel approach”
    • 60-million Americans!  Why don’t they have their own Hammertoe Awareness Month?
  • One news release that touted products:
    • “rich in antioxidant cocoa flavanols”
    • containing “the super potent anti-aging, anti-inflammatory trans-Reseveratrol isomer sourced from Organic French red grape and vine”
    • with “natural wildcrafted Japanese knotweed” (my brain is in knots trying to keep up)
    • The publisher’s “Beautiful Leg”

      “Beautiful Legs features a blend of trans-Resveratrol and grapeseed extract plus Diosmin to promote circulation and oxygenation. Derived from citrus, clinically proven Diosmin helps maintain vein structure and smooth skin tone. Beautiful Legs combats swelling and water retention for legs that look defined and shapely, not heavy.”  (That’s the look I’m going for in 2013!)

  • This is the actual subject line of one news release I received:

CORRECTED INFO:  Interview Opp:  1 in 10 Has a Memory Problem (Someone apparently forgot something.  Is it now up to 2 in 10?)  


I’ll end this piece the way I ended my 2010 and 2011 PR year-ender pieces (see both below):

This is not all fun and games. In my 2009 report on “The State of Health Journalism in the US,” I wrote:

“The challenging nature of the news environment today threatens to make it more difficult for health journalists to maintain the wall that once existed between the editorial and advertising sides of the business, and perhaps less able to see through or deflect the influence of public relations professionals. For journalism, and for the audience it serves, this may be the most troubling trend today. … The danger is that with the increasing constraints in many newsrooms, the PR folks may be winning more often — getting their messages through to news audiences in a less filtered or unfiltered way. They’re helping to provide content to fill the shrinking news hole — content that the shrinking news staff can’t provide. In an interview for this report, one East Coast newspaper reporter said that “My big fight was with the way PR people were basically able to steer news …The health team was relying more and more on public relations to provide the story, and sources for the story, and they had too much control over the story. When you let someone else who has an agenda — to make a hospital look as good as it can — [control the story], it gets in the way of finding that truth.”

And it’s not fun and games when we’ve found more than 120 stories in the past 6.5 years that have relied solely or largely on news releases in “reporting” on health care news.

2010:  Year-end review of health care PR puffery sent to journalists

2011: My 2nd annual year-ender: Health care PR stuff one blogger sees in a year


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Joshua Schneck posted on December 26, 2012 at 6:10 pm

As a PR professional working in healthcare, I can only say, drink a large glass of that anti-aging, anti-inflammatory trans-Reseveratrol isomer and hold on tight. 2013 will probably be worse. Thanks for the great job you do advocating for responsible healthcare journalism!

Rose Hoban posted on December 29, 2012 at 10:52 pm

Thanks for this Gary. With your permission, I’ll be using that quote from the 2009 report for my funders and in grants to potential funders. It’s amazing to me how hard it’s been to get folks to hear how what’s happening in the health reporting world is harmful – at the most basic level – to their health.

Lisa Collier Cool posted on January 5, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Re cocoa research, I have gotten several variations of a press release that keeps claiming that this research has reached “a tipping point” and at one point, was sent a book on this topic by a publicist. When I looked up a study cited on the first page of the book, in which cocoa was dubbed a superfood that was superior in its purported “antioxidant benefits” to blueberries, acai, cranberries and other superfruits, I discovered that the research was funded and conducted by people who work for the Hershey Center for Health & Nutrition.

This obvious source of bias was NOT even mentioned in the book, but instead the study was discussed in a manner that put it on par with Harvard-led research, which I found scientifically dishonest. The book also promoted a specific cocoa supplement, making me feel that the book was probably also company-funded. I asked to be removed from this publicist’s list.