January 22, 2010
By Kate Johnson
The earthquake in Haiti has delivered a different sort of seismic upheaval in the fields of both medicine and journalism, as professionals in both camps debate the ethics in the niche zone where their respective crafts overlap. Television MDs like Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Dr. Richard Besser have helped deliver babies and stitch up injuries with the cameras rolling, creating rumblings and debates about the blurring of journalistic and medical boundaries.
With journalistic clarity, The Society of Professional Journalists issued an unambiguous scolding: “Advocacy, self promotion, offering favors for news and interviews, injecting oneself into the story or creating news events for coverage is not objective reporting, and it ultimately calls into question the ability of a journalist to be independent, which can damage credibility,” SPJ President Kevin Smith said in a statement.
Characteristically, the American Medical Association was less specific and more cautious in urging restraint: “The spontaneous volunteer has no place in disaster response,” asserted James J. James, MD, DrPH, MHA, director of the Center for Public Health Preparedness and Disaster Response, at an American Medical Association (AMA) webinar.
But still, the television networks -– including ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN –- are milking the coverage of their physician reporters for all it’s worth.