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More NBC News cheerleading rather than reporting health news

Last week it was NBC’s hype of a drug for restless leg syndrome.

This week it was NBC using some of its airtime to promote a new “laser hair comb” for baldness. You figure a network newscast has about 22 minutes for real news. It chose to give a chunk of that time to this. The video can be seen on the MSNBC site.

[2017 Update: The video is no longer available but the transcript can be found HERE ]

What’s going on with the NBC newscast? Is it cheerleading-in-TV news month? Perhaps, given that we’re in the midst of a ratings-sweeps period.

In our systematic review, we wrote: “There is an underlying tone of disease-mongering whenever a national TV network uses some of its precious 22 minutes of airtime to promote an expensive new product to “treat” – or as the story says at one point, “cure” – baldness – a condition that is a normal part of aging for many men.

The story didn’t quantify benefits. People thinking of paying $550 for such a device should be given some estimate of how well it works.

But the bigger failing of the story was that it missed an opportunity to point out how such devices are approved by the FDA. Such new devices must only pass a test of “substantial equivalence” to products already on the market. The FDA lists 10 such products. So not only did the story fail to tell how well the device works, it failed to put the new idea into the context of existing alternatives.

No sources were cited.

Anchor Brian Williams’ comment – “..when you use the expression “potential cure for baldness” in this country, you’re going to be a multimillionaire overnight…” – is more cheerleading than reporting. If this story had to be reported as one of the few stories of the day in a network newscast, it should have offered more evidence and context than boosterism.”

One wonders what the 47-million Americans without health insurance would think if they saw a story like this on the network news.

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