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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Media Distortions

A theme of this blog has been learning to live with less anxiety, so I just have to plug a new article by my friend Meredith Broussard on The Huffington Post about the exaggeration in the media of food allergy deaths. Last time Meredith wrote about this, she got hundreds of irate letters from parents accusing her of wanting to hurt their children, which makes me wonder why we get so invested in our fears. She isn't saying that allergies are not important or that we shouldn't protect our kids. (She is an allergy sufferer and the parent of a very cute toddler, just for the record.) She just wants us to have accurate data and a little perspective. Funny that this is so hard to come by. This morning I brought my daughter to her allergist and asked about an NPR story on asthma drugs that cause more deaths than they prevent. The doctor refrained from rolling his eyes and sighing deeply, but I could tell that was only because he has good social skills. He patiently explained that the media keeps quoting a very flawed study that came out four years ago and presenting it as if it is new news. "They were comparing extremely sick people who weren't taking medicine regularly with patients who were less sick and better managed," he explained. "We need the government to fund a study with better methods before we really know. I don't know why the media keeps stirring this up."

Well, of course, fear gets ratings, even on NPR, I suppose. That's why I'm cutting back on my news consumption again since every other story seems to be about fear: the fears of auto workers, the fears of Miami millionaires and the charities they support, the fears of Indians and Pakistanis... You get the picture. Not that these fears are not real. Of course, they are. It's just a little perspective that's lacking. And speaking of that, there was a story on TV this morning (I can't resist watching when I'm at the gym) on having a "Green Christmas." It featured a guy whose entire house and front lawn were covered with Christmas lights in various shapes and colors. Last year his display cost him about $3,000 dollars in electricity. So how is he becoming "green" this year? He switched to wind energy, which the reporter pointed out could boost his bill to $4,000. Now, I think it is great that network television is finally promoting wind energy, but would it be too much to ask the reporter to point out that other green possibilities include buying LED lights or cutting back on the amount of lights used? During the commercial break there was a message from PECO (our local energy company which now supplies higher priced wind energy). It wished us "a safe, happy, and energy conscious holiday," which really made me laugh. (Maybe it was "energy efficient," not sure.) The conspiracy theorist in me wonders if PECO makes a greater profit off wind and is influencing the news room, the way Meredith alleges that the funders of the allergy studies make money off of selling Epi-pens. Of course, now I could be accused of promoting fear and paranoia myself. I want to be a savvy media consumer, but I don't want to live in fear of media conspiracies. It's always a balance.


Blogger Lone Star Ma said...

This is a hard one. I am glad to know the number of deaths is small but that doesn't really address why - and good management (born of fear?) could be the reason. My elder daughter is allergic to nuts and ant bites and those are two of the biggies that can cause anaphalaxis. The cross contamination issue is what gets parents so terrified. My daughter reacted once because she ate an egg and cheese omelette instead of her usual fried eggs at our favorite diner and we realized that the fried eggs are cooked in their own pan but the omelettes are cooked on the same grill as the pecan pancakes. Hard not to be crazy with fear in this sort of scenario.

7:54 AM  
Blogger Eileen Flanagan said...

Thanks for your perspective, Lone Star Ma. I often wonder where the line is between productive caution and unproductive fear. I think that's the tricky thing to discern.

9:59 AM  
Blogger Lone Star Ma said...

It's nearly impossible to discern on this sort of situation...

7:39 PM  
Blogger reality said...

It is quaint that you came to your friend's defense for her indefensible article. I almost wish that you both for a month would walk in my shoes; your child develops a life-threatening peanut allergy. You cannot imagine how vigilent and panicked you are at first, especially after that first close call and 3 day stay in the ICU praying that God will let you child wake up... But, I would never want anyone else or any other child to bear this burden. The problem with both of your articles is that they define this burden as born out of fear. You are mistaken. This is based in reality not fear. Afer the initial panick subsides, we parents live in the REALITY of what are kids face every minute of every day. And it stinks. What makes it worse are people who dismiss the reality that was forced upon us, as annoying or trivial to them. It hurts. But more importantly, your dismissal and trivialization of their deadly condition is dangerous as it encourages others to feel as you both do. I have no "anxiety" just reality.

12:31 PM  

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