Dr. Jennifer Ashton, CBS news medical correspondent, in an interview on the Columbia j-school site, says:
“The people who are really at the forefront of medical media and medical correspondents – they are physicians.”
I couldn’t disagree more. Hundreds of non-physician journalists have toiled on this complex beat far longer, with more dedicated fulltime effort, and with a track record that in many cases surpasses that of most, if not all, physician journalists. Physician journalists often tend to bring their “member of the gang” medical mentality with them as they approach news topics. They are still more physician than journalist. Some give advice, not balanced news. Some promote the “medical model” – not a “public health model.” Some tend to talk about medicine’s terrific new toys without ever discussing costs, quality, access, disparities.
Some – not all.
I don’t want to be guilty of the same stereotyping that Ashton used in blanketing all physician journalists – but her boast that her type is in the forefront of medical journalism is not supported by fact.
Case in point:
The CBS Early Show – where her segments often appear – has been reviewed six times so far in 2009.
Of the ten criteria we apply to the review of all stories, those segments have been judged satisfactory between 10-20% of the time. On important little things like cost, evidence, scope of the potential benefits and of the potential harms. Things consumers need to know in order to evaluate claims being made about new treatments, tests, products and procedures.
Here are reviews of three of her recent segments:
Physician-reporter segments on the other networks have received similar poor grades. Give me an ink-stained wretch who applies basic healthy skepticism and journalistic fundamentals to these topics any day.