What kind of feeling or impression would these words and phrases give you about a business—any business: balk, big bets, uncertain, dogged, lack of evidence, closed, losses, ridiculously expensive, behemoth, decline, taken a toll, money-losing, no guarantee, dispute, concerned, unproven, pricey, problem, bankruptcy? Let me guess: not so hot, right?
All of these words are used by Melinda Beck of the Wall Street Journal in her May 25, 2015 editorial-disguised-as-news article about proton beam therapy for cancer treatment. I’m not sure whether her spin on proton was intentionally negative—I have no reason to question her motives—but regardless of her intent or lack thereof, the article needs to be fixed.
I have no reason to doubt her facts. What I will do is reverse spin it 180 degrees the other way …
So I’m going to fix it by rewriting it. Let’s give Ms. Beck the benefit of a doubt and stipulate that her actual data—the facts, as presented by her—is correct. I’m not going to fact-check the article because that’s not the point, and I have no reason to doubt her facts. What I will do is reverse spin it 180 degrees the other way using no information other than what was included in her article.
The Positive Spin
My counter-spin rewrite is intentionally in much the same style as Ms. Beck’s original article. For an accurate A-B comparison I’ve kept my article about the same length as hers, included most of the relevant facts she presented, and added no new factual information beyond what she included.
This is not a rebuttal; it is a rewrite. First read her article (click here), and then read my rewrite (minus the copyrighted photos) in the box below. If you’re short on time, just read the heading and first few paragraphs of each. After reading both, ask yourself how each leaves you feeling about proton therapy.
Let me be perfectly clear: my rewrite of Melinda Beck’s article is equally and intentionally slanted, but in the opposite direction. Same facts, reverse spin. Neither hers nor mine is unbiased, and neither should be regarded as objective news or presented as such. But when an article—her article—appears in the Business News section we expect objective, unbiased reporting.
Feeding the Falsehoods
All therapies—including proton—continue to push forward with refinements that are initially experimental, maybe costly, but possibly better. Surgery, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, x-ray radiotherapy, and yes, proton therapy are legitimate options now, even as researchers and practitioners strive for improvement. All should be in our cancer treatment toolbox today, while we hope they become more effective and affordable tomorrow.
… misrepresentations make it easier for insurers to justify denials of coverage for patients in need …
Articles like Ms. Beck’s do the public a disservice by using a respected news platform to intentionally or maybe inadvertently feed the falsehoods that proton is a new and floundering therapy that is experimental, too costly, and without advantage. Such misrepresentations make it easier for insurers to justify denials of coverage for patients in need. Possibly even worse, proliferation of such negative notions can and sometimes does contribute to the complete omission of proton therapy from the list of options presented to patients who should at least be informed about it.
Ms. Beck had some good factual information in her article, but until she can find a way to report business news minus her subtle spin, she might be more comfortable and appropriately placed in the editorial department. News reporting carries a responsibility: many consumers of the news assume it to be reported objectively. When it’s not, it becomes a form of propaganda that influences the thinking of unsuspecting, trusting, and often vulnerable individuals.
You can let me know what you think by emailing me directly. I also urge you to follow the lead of my good friend Harold Mills and others by adding your comment after the original Wall Street Journal article (click here).