Media observer Howard Kurtz threw a big softball to his frequent guest Jeff Jarvis on his CNN "Reliable Sources" program last weekend when he had the author-blogger-prof come on to talk about his recent blogging about his prostate cancer.
Kurtz allowed Jarvis - unchallenged - to say "If just one person gets the PSA test that reveals this in me, that's a good thing."
Is it always a good thing? Can it be a bad thing? The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force reminds men that it can be. They state:
Potential harms from PSA screening include additional medical visits, adverse effects of prostate biopsies, anxiety, and overdiagnosis (the identification of prostate cancer that would never have caused symptoms in the patient's lifetime, leading to unnecessary treatment and associated adverse effects). Much uncertainty surrounds which cases of prostate cancer require treatment and whether earlier detection leads to improvements in duration or quality of life.
It's fine for Jarvis, Kurtz, Larry King, Michael Milken, Joe Torre, John McEnroe (the list goes on and on) to make whatever choice they choose to make and we hope they're happy with it.
But it is wrong to use a network television platform to give one-sided advice to an entire population of men without giving balancing information on harms.
At the end of the segment, Kurtz told Jarvis, "You've broken a barrier."
But Kurtz may have also been complicit in breaking journalism's code of ethics (at least the Society of Professional Journalists' code of ethics), which states that journalists should:
-- Examine their own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.
-- Support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.
-- Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.
If you value PSA screening in your own life, that's fine. But with your network TV platform, support the important exchange of ideas on competing values, not just crusading advocacy.
It is not just a simple blood test. It is not a simple decision. Harms can occur. That should be reported.
(Thanks to Pia Christensen for the tip on this broadcast.)