A Merry Dance Between The Media And Public Health

We touched on so many controversial topics in my policy class but it definitely got hotter when we started talking about autism, vaccination and Jenny McCarthy. A quick synopsis of the whole debate was based on Jenny McCarthy who found that her son became autistic as soon as he was vaccinated. She was able to get him back to normal by using lifestyle changes. She went ahead to write a book. Unfortunately, her writings might have used information from a study that was completely fabricated. The person, who did that study lost his medical license, cannot practice and his journal article was retracted. One of the questions that was asked was why do people listen to Ms. Jenny McCarthy and follow her advice. Some of the answers were a) her story gives people hope. b) It gives people something to latch on to. c) her story seems plausible since many are going through or have gone through similar experiences and some have noticed similar changes when they follow her method d) people do not take the time to do the research e) the journal that the article was in, is a respected journal and articles are almost never retracted from that journal, so some believe that for that article to get in there, then it must have some merit f) the media.

This isn’t the first time that I have heard the media blamed for things. In fact, earlier in class, one of the reasons given for the lack of respect and recognition that Public health gets is poor use of media. Even though, this isn’t to blame the media but it points to the use of media and how media can influence perception. But, that’s the reason that those who do media properly ensure that there is some form of balance.

The question for today is this: is the media responsible for the acceptance of Jenny McCarthy’s ideas? The answer is No. The media’s role is mainly two parts which is to educate and inform. A lesser role is to entertain even though in America, entertainment seems to be the order of the day. Jenny McCarthy’s ideas are an alternate idea, which the world needs to know. The media played its role, they invited her, she informed everyone and she tried to educate people about her thoughts on vaccination and the supposed effect that it had on her son. Now, to ensure that there is some form of balance, medical doctors or those who are in the profession and have alternate information should have also been invited to speak. This ensures that the listening or watching public is fully informed of the options and they have all the information necessary to take a decision.

My whole spiel is this: do not blame the media for showing you what is in your world, or showcasing those who have an alternate viewpoint or reality than what you assume should be normative. Rather, with each new viewpoint you get, this should push us to further investigate and to see if there is any truth to the information. As someone said in class, we still have not really pinned down what causes autism, we just have gotten better with the range of diagnoses and I will say that maybe, just maybe there is a need for another study on vaccinations. To the questions that you want me to answer on vaccinations: should your child be vaccinated? Yes, if your child will be amongst other children. Is Jenny McCarthy a dodo head? Well, I really don’t know. All I know is that her child is now cured, but I don’t know if he ever got the diagnoses for autism to begin with or if he was ever evaluated after the cure to confirm his healing. Should more research be done on vaccinations? Most definitely. Do the media blow things out of proportion for ratings? Sometimes. Information can be presented differently, highlighting what will get people talking for ratings. That is the reason that we need more people who are critical thinkers, so that they can skin the information down to what it really is. Is that ethical? Well…..But, I will like to say that I am a fan of stories, news report that highlight issues, of course I love them more if all elements are highlighted but the likelihood that I will go after someone with a pitchfork because the person didn’t spill everything is nominal. But, then that’s me. I will end by stating that at the end of last class, one of the many things I learnt are that we should not accept everything as is but we should be willing to go further and investigate if it is on an issue of Public Health. Also, we should be willing to see the wood for the trees or something like that.


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