How a Former NYT Reporter Proved Media Screws Up Medical Coverage

Just having a chronic medical condition is frustrating beyond belief. This election season and the media coverage of the election has made it unbearable. Those of us who have spent months or even years fighting to get diagnosed and treated know the value of compassionate and qualified doctors and sound, reasoned science. With one in ten persons having a rare disease, the issues are compounded in a desperate quest for awareness, funding, medical studies, and treatment.

We often make the mistake of placing our trust in the media, that they will provide us with thoughtful and reasonably researched, expert analysis and opinions. This year we have realized that faith has been misplaced; I argue on the subject of medicine it has been a catastrophic failure.

It astounds me that both journalists and licensed doctors have been allowed to go on air and in print with so much misinformation and not have any noticeable repercussions. Although Dr. Drew has been called out by several medical boards for his speculation on Secretary Clinton’s health, he still retains his medical license. It is unethical and damaging to the public for supposed media professionals to act in this manner. For example, many people who have epilepsy have watched time and again as false narratives have been used to proport myths about their disease simply to promote a political movement. Today in Newsweek, Kurt Eichenwald demanded an apology from Sean Hannity on behalf of all epilepsy patients, himself included. It was powerful, and I cannot do it justice.



I generally avoid arguing with people online, but last night I noticed someone in my feed spreading false information about my particular illness. I did not realize at the time who he was, but about halfway through was not as shocked as I should have been to discover he is quite proud of his biography. But it told me so much about the nature of reporting, and how misinformation spreads so quickly.

I’ve authored or co-authored more than 15 books (including a New York Times bestseller)—narrative nonfiction, essays, sports, satire, pop culture, biography, and autobiography.  As a journalist for the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, among other papers and periodicals, I reported on everything from politics to hot-air ballooning, pregnancy to cancer research, pop culture to business. http://www.joelengel.com/bio/

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In other words, “Leave me alone to harass people with misinformation, while I brag about my status as an ‘investigative journalist’. I know how to use Google, and that makes me smarter than you. Don’t complicate my life with facts.”

I could sit here and whip out a five hundred word essay to refute Mr. Engel, but since he cited the Atlantic article, I will leave it with this direct quote from that article he recommended:

Travell’s prescription records also confirm that during his presidency—and in particular during times of stress, such as the Bay of Pigs fiasco, in April of 1961, and the Cuban missile crisis, in October of 1962—Kennedy was taking an extraordinary variety of medications: steroids for his Addison’s disease; painkillers for his back; anti-spasmodics for his colitis; antibiotics for urinary-tract infections; antihistamines for allergies; and, on at least one occasion, an anti-psychotic (though only for two days) for a severe mood change that Jackie Kennedy believed had been brought on by the antihistamines.

Kennedy’s charismatic appeal rested heavily on the image of youthful energy and good health he projected. This image was a myth. The real story, disconcerting though it would have been to contemplate at the time, is actually more heroic. It is a story of iron-willed fortitude in mastering the difficulties of chronic illness …

Yeah, about that…guess what Joel? You are the media problem, personified. Thanks for the example, though. I couldn’t have scripted it better if I had tried. But don’t let me interrupt that narrative you’re trying to sell.

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