Monday, December 16, 2013

Just Missing the Mark Again, Katie Couric Airs HPV Followup Segment

Back on December 4, award-winning journalist Katie Couric aired a mindnumbingly bad episode of her show Katie. Throwing her credibility and journalistic ethics to the wind, she made her show a platform for the anti-vaccine organization SaneVax, which promotes the erroneous belief that Gardasil, among others, is horribly dangerous and is killing our kids, going so far as to make available a guide on how to blame the vaccine if anything bad happens to your child at some point after they receive it. The episode featured two women, one (Emily Tarsell, National Vaccine Information Center's Director of Gardasil Network Development) who blamed Gardasil for the death of her daughter, and one (Rosemary Mathis, Founder and Director of SaneVax) who blamed a wide range of non-specific maladies that her daughter experienced. Both guests have a vested interest in scaring people away from the vaccine. In addition, one of the primary investigators of the Gardasil (Merck) and Cervarix (GlaxoSmithKline) clinical trials, Dr. Diane Harper, appeared on the show to downplay the effectiveness of the vaccines, stating they only lasted 5 years, while overselling pap smears in such a way that it made the vaccine seem pointless. For the science and reality side of the "conversation", Couric included Dr. Mallika Marshall. Dr. Marshall did her best to point out the facts of the vaccines, but when the entire show was framed to generate fear and mistrust of the vaccine, she had a very difficult time of it.

While others focused on the myriad flaws and errors in the episode, I focused on the ethics, though I did include links to a number of other articles lambasting the show. As a journalist, Couric had a number of responsibilities to her viewers to seek out the truth and report it. Unfortunately, she and her producers opted for ratings. The Friday after the episode aired, someone at the show put up a lukewarm justification for how they opted to do the show. It did not offer any apologies, nor did it correct any of the misinformation from the episode. More criticism popped up, and Couric herself penned a "mea culpa" of sorts on the Huffington Post. It was a step in the right direction, but Couric still didn't go far enough to correct the errors and damage done by her December 4 show. She addressed some, but not all, of the problems the others pointed out, but she skipped over some very important points. To make matters worse, she did it in the wrong venue. Rather than devoting time on her show to the corrections, which would have been seen by the same audience as her original episode, she opted to address a completely different audience: the ones who were criticizing her and already knew what the problems were.

Well, it seems that the well-earned criticism has finally filtered through...kind of. This past Friday, December 13, Couric devoted her "Follow Up Friday" segment to HPV and the vaccines that prevent it.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Followup: Katie Couric Addresses the Criticism...Sort Of

Last week, Katie Couric, award wining reporter and host of her own talk show, Katie, threw journalistic ethics to the wind. She hosted a show on the HPV vaccines, engaging in false balance by propping up two anti-vaccine anecdotes as being not only valid, but equivalent to the scientific evidence supporting the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. The backlash from science bloggers, journalists and the public was fast and brutal, pointing out all the things Ms. Couric (and her producers) did wrong.

When lukewarm justification for the way the show was done appeared on the Katie web site, it was not an apology. It did not correct any of the errors of the show. In short, it failed the ethical obligation to "admit mistakes and correct them promptly". Today, Katie Couric posted an article on the Huffington Post titled Furthering the Conversation on the HPV Vaccine. While it goes part of the way toward correcting things, it isn't quite enough.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Katie Couric Chooses Ratings Over Ethics

The blogosphere, Twitter, even mainstream news outlets have been abuzz about a recent episode of Katie Couric's show Katie. The episode, which aired December 4, 2013, was on the HPV vaccine, a vaccine that prevents infection with a virus that causes cervical cancer, head and neck cancers, warts and so forth. To give you an idea of how Couric and her producers were going to frame the discussion, here's what the teaser said:
The HPV vaccine is considered a life-saving cancer preventer … but is it a potentially deadly dose for girls? Meet a mom who claims her daughter died after getting the HPV vaccine, and hear all sides of the HPV vaccine controversy.
This blurb could have been written by the National Vaccine Information Center. Just like NVIC's recent anti-flu vaccine ad and more generic anti-vaccine billboards, the topic is framed to emphasize fear and distrust of the vaccine. And after watching the show, I agree with the numerous critiques that have been levied at Couric and her producers. The flaws with the show have all been stated very capably, so I'm not going to bother repeating them. Nor will I go into detail about the human papillomavirus or the vaccines that prevent infection. If you are interested in learning any of that, take a look at the links down at the bottom of this post.

Instead, I want to talk about the effect that Couric's show may have, not to mention some of the ethical implications involved.