Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Lost Art of the Apology

This interesting article was written by Judy Blatman for the Council for Responsible Nutrition blog.  It speaks to the large amount of misinformation in today's press.

"There was a time when the press waited for facts to come to light before filing stories or broadcasting accusatory pieces. Those were the days when newsrooms were fat with budgets, and reporters would meet you for a burger and a scotch to get to know you and your industry. There were even fact checkers.

I’m not saying those things don’t exist today—but let’s face it, the network big budgets are gone—and broadcast bureaus and accompanying correspondents have been sliced from their jobs like the meat off the turkey carcass on Thanksgiving. Often there’s very little, if any, time to think about a story before it airs—as producers and editors are held hostage to getting the story out before their competitors. That was tough enough when the competition was two other networks.  Now, everyone is the competition—and getting it out first means living on an endless news cycle.

But still there are people responsible for getting things right. That’s what made it even more frustrating to have watched a couple of weeks ago as the story of the hospitalized high school athletes in Oregon unfolded.

Since all the info I have about the story comes from the press, I’m not completely sure how these athletes ended up with compartment syndrome, or who used the word “creatine” first, but I know what wasn’t known. Which is that at the time the story was reported, there was no proof that creatine was involved. But that didn’t stop a well-respected local doctor or the press from making noise that the supplement industry was unregulated or that creatine was likely involved.

Worst of all, it didn’t stop ABC News from airing a story that was at best, choppy and sloppily slapped together to fit that evening’s “scary story” slot  (or at least that’s how it appeared to me) with just enough innuendo to indict creatine without actually showing any relationship between the incident and the supplement. A story that was craftily produced to be difficult to criticize (or sue) on a factual basis, but edited in such a way that one could easily conclude that creatine was evil.  It was supposition at its best—or worst.  And not at the level of journalism that I would expect from the network news.

To compound matters, as the story unfolded, it became even more evident that creatine was not involved (although I’m not sure that even now, all the facts have been collected). But here’s the thing about creatine and this story—first,  the athletes weren’t taking any, and second, there doesn’t appear to be a scientific connection to creatine and compartment syndrome—the ailment that caused the hospitalization. So you think that at the very least ABC News would remove their story from the website? Or even respond to our email asking for the story to be taken down. Maybe the local doctor would write us back answering the email sent scientist to scientist—suggesting some of his “facts” were not? Or that we might have heard back from at least one of any of the number of print reporters we reached out to—asking them to make corrections to their characterization of supplement industry regulation or urging them to talk to an academic researcher about creatine and compartment syndrome. Nope. Apparently, in the era of a 24/7 news cycle, admitting you may have rushed to judgment or issuing a mea culpa is apparently a lost art.

So, if I’m being honest, I should probably concede that it is possible that the people we reached out to didn’t get our emails—perhaps the notes are stuck in junk mail folders, or we had outdated email addresses. But you know what…why should I bother to check the facts—if they don’t tie in to my story."

The good news is that the Council for Responsible Nutrition does check facts, and they require that member companies check their facts, as well. 

Ellen Troyer, MT MA
Biosyntrx CEO / Chief Research Officer
Voting Member - Council for Responsible Nutrition