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“Just add water” TV health reporting

Gary Schwitzer is the founder & publisher of HealthNewsReview.org.  Back in the 1970s he worked in local TV health news in Milwaukee and Dallas before joining CNN.  Then he saw the light and left TV news altogether.

The Grade the News (GTN) website reports on the questionable medical “€œreporting” done by syndicated TV and radio celebrity Dr. Dean Edell, who calls himself “America’s Doctor.”

Edell appears on San Francisco’s KGO Channel 7 with introductions that often say, “Dr. Dean Edell reports.” But the story points out that Edell does no original reporting in many of the stories.

GTN reports: Many of his TV stories, along with transcripts under his byline on the KGO Web site, were taken nearly verbatim from a low-profile news service in Florida that mails out prepackaged video reports to more than 100 TV stations across the country.”

The company, Ivanhoe Broadcast News, allows local reporters to put their names on stories they didn’t report, film or write — without mentioning Ivanhoe. Stations also are permitted to omit geographical information, giving viewers the false impression that the stories were locally produced and the patients and doctors quoted in the stories could be their neighbors.

Edell doesn’t practice what he has preached, according to GTN: In his writing and in news stories on television, Dr. Edell has condemned the unattributed use of video news releases — ready-to-run stories produced by companies or government agencies looking for publicity.”

In an opinion piece he wrote for the Knight Ridder news service in 1997, “Beware the Television Report of ‘Important Medical Breakthrough,’“ Dr. Edell scolded health journalists “faced with shrinking budgets and staffs, pressure to produce more segments, and shorter deadlines” who succumb to self-interested parties pushing “pre-packaged video tape complete with ready-made scripts.”

It’s worth noting that the main product of Ivanhoe – the company from which Edell’s station buys ready-made news – is called “Medical Breakthroughs.” But he was correct in his 1997 warning: this kind of “just-add-water” TV health reporting is proliferating.

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