By Gary Schwitzer, Published: March 06, 2012
The reason we have dedicated ourselves to our HealthNewsReview.org project is that we believe that health care news can influence people and it can either help them or hurt them. In the crush of meeting their daily quotas, journalists and their news organizations may sometimes forget that what they report may influence individual decision-making. Here is a case in point.
A reader wrote to me that he had received an email about a story produced by CBN-TV (the Christian Broadcasting Network) about the benefits of coconut oil for Alzheimers Disease.
This man wrote to me:
I have a brother recently diagnosed with dementia. Our hopes took a giant leap. On further reading my hopes nosedived when reading the critique of the coconut oil treatment. There were too many unanswered questions about how (the doctor in the video) reported how her husband was treated. Maybe it was just to sell a book.
Well, such book promotions work and this man, indeed, bought the book before he did his homework.
The story is about a doctor treating her own husbands dementia which she called a type of diabetes of the brain. The story weaves a tale of what ketones from coconut oil can do. The reporter says that after two weeks of adding coconut oil to his diet, the man had stunning improvement. Of course, there is a book behind this. The doctor wrote, Alzheimers Disease: What If There Was a Cure?
Look at this one screenshot from the story:
The story also says that coconut oil is a natural antibiotic that also helps kill viruses like HIV and herpes viruses.
No evidence no data was provided to back up any of these bold claims. The story ran almost 6 minutes an eternity in a TV story so there was plenty of time to provide evidence.
The man who wrote me finally did some homework and he says that what he found hit me between the eyes. There are gobs of web sites promoting coconut oil and many stating it helped their loved ones. I truly hoped it did but am still skeptical. About CBN-TV, well, when they tell you something you want to believe they are great. Then when you find out they are just reporting something without authentication, you realize they are just filling a time slot.
But journalists you are not just filling a time slot or filling space or meeting the expected story output quota: your stories may help or harm, inform or misinform.
Related content: About a year ago, we criticized a Denver Post story,Coconuts are busting out all over.
Health News Watchdog Blog
Gary Schwitzer has specialized in health care journalism in his more than 30-year career in radio, television, interactive multimedia and the Internet. He is publisher of the website HealthNewsReview.org, leading a team of more than two dozen people who grade daily health news reporting by major U.S. news organizations. In its first year, the project was honored with several journalism industry awards - the Mirror Award, honoring those who "hold a mirror to their own industry for the publics benefit," and the Knight-Batten Award for Innovations in Journalism. His blog - which is embedded within HealthNewsReview.org - was voted 2009 Best Medical Blog in competition hosted by Medgadget.com