A physician-follower of this site wrote to me: “Please consider reviewing this very lopsided and scientifically uninformed piece on NPR on breast cancer screening.”
The piece was headlined, “Congress May Be Forced To Intervene Again On Mammogram Recommendations.” We offered a roundup of news coverage on the issue – new US Preventive Services Task Force draft recommendations – last week.
The lead-in to the NPR piece gives a little background about the USPSTF recommendations – 6 years ago – and now. The lead-in stated: “It still discourages women from taking a test they commonly get for free.” That felt like an imbalanced introduction from the outset.
The piece was delivered by a congressional reporter, not a health care reporter, and it sounds like it.
I would agree with the reader who brought this to my attention, saying it was lopsided. And, because the politics of the issue are dominant, it’s not surprising that it is scientifically incomplete.
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, diagnosed with breast cancer at age 41, said in the piece: “We know that there are women who will die if this recommendation goes through.”
There was another soundbite from former US Congressman Phil Gingrey from 6 years ago: “You put doctors in an untenable position and you put their patients at risk of death”
Missouri Senator Ray Blunt, then in the House, was featured saying: “These new proposed guidelines have caused a great deal of confusion for women. I believe it’s a huge mistake to send a message to women and their families that an early alert system is not beneficial.”
Stances in opposition to the US Preventive Services Task Force by the American Cancer Society and the American College of Radiology were cited.
But the 4 minute piece had no interview with anyone with the Task Force. Not a quote. Not a word. That’s imbalance. You can talk about bipartisan opposition all you want. But on a scientific controversy, citing bipartisan opposition doesn’t equate to balanced or sound journalism.
The comments are coming in on the NPR website. And the imbalanced story may have fueled some of the imbalanced commentary, such as:
But some NPR listeners were upset by the journalism involved, writing:
If we once again allow news coverage of this issue to be dominated by politics – and by coverage that delivers a superficial thumbnail sketch of a scientific controversy – we will have done more harm to women and to all news consumers than anything we can do with mammograms or without them.