Health and Science News for Parents

More on Katie Couric, who doubles down even as critical coverage grows

written by Tara Haelle

I wrote yesterday about Katie Couric’s disastrous segment on the HPV vaccine on her daytime TV show, and I included a list of several articles that also discussed the many ways Couric was irresponsible, inaccurate and damaging to public health. I also wrote a lengthier piece analyzing her show over at Knight Science Journalism Tracker that was published today and that I hope you’ll check out.

True "balance" would have included thousands more people on Couric's stage, as Refutations to Anti-Vaccine Memes aptly points out.

Since that post, the number of scathing articles about Couric has exploded. Searching “Katie Couric HPV vaccine” on Google pulls up pretty much nothing but well-deserved criticism. (I’ve included a lengthy list at bottom.) And yet, Couric, whose ratings were already nosediving (a potential motivating factor for Wednesday’s sensationalistic piece of crap episode), has decided to double down on her false balance. As Skeptical Raptor describes at his blog today, Couric issued a statement this afternoon which purports to address the criticism with a defense that the show “presented the facts supporting the potential of the vaccine.”

Of course, the show didn’t present the facts; today’s statement even references one of the most egregious inaccuracies in the show: Diane Harper’s statement about “the clinical trial results that the vaccine only provides protection for a finite amount of time.” In fact, the vaccine lasts longer than the five years claimed by Harper, just as other HPV vaccines have been shown to do. The statement also references Harper’s misleading discussion of Pap smears: “She also questioned, given the overall success of Pap testing to screen for cervical cancer, whether the vaccine is necessary or just optional.” As Tara C. Smith wrote at Aetiology, detecting pre-cancerous cells through abnormal Pap results – hopefully before it’s too late – is not the same as preventing the infection that can cause the cancer in the first place, not to mention the fact that Paps can have false negatives and that too many women do not get regular Pap testing as they should.

So Couric’s producers seem to think that the way to address their grievous treatment of an important public health issue is “to continue the conversation and invite a number of medical experts, journalists and scientists to weigh in here” — because CLEARLY letting experts, journalists and scientists comment on a webpage is just as good as devoting a major portion of a daytime TV show to inaccurate, misleading scare-mongering. It’s greatly disappointing that a once-respected journalist is allowing concerns over ratings to trump accurate and responsible journalism – especially one who had already built a reputation for drawing attention to public health issues such as colon cancer.

I am also going to “continue the conversation” about HPV, but I will do so with a responsible discussion of other recent discouraging news related to the vaccine which reveals how important it is that the public receive accurate information about it. Expect to see a post soon about another recent study on HPV vaccine uptake obstacles along with personal stories of acquaintances of mine who had the HPV strains that can cause cancer.

Meanwhile, here’s a more comprehensive list of the many articles criticizing Couric’s HPV vaccine segment. (The ones I already listed yesterday are toward the bottom.)

Tara Haelle, KSJ Tracker, “Guest post: Anti-vaccine fear-mongering back in the mainstream: Katie Couric trades fact for emotion

Skeptical Raptor: “Katie Couric doubles down on the Gardasil false balance

Harpocrates Speaks: “Katie Couric chooses ratings over ethics

Alexandra Sifferlin, Time: “Is Katie Couric The Next Jenny McCarthy?

Jen Gunter, Dr. Jen Gunter: “Impact of Katie Couric’s misinformation on HPV vaccine in one image

Jen Gunter, Dr. Jen Gunter:: “The real HPV controversy from Katie Couric’s show, her expert

Christine Vara, Shot of Prevention: “Victims Katie Couric Neglected To Mention In Her Discussion of HPV

Skewed Distribution: “Katie Couric tries and fails to undo the damage

Hunter, Daily Kos: “Couric’s anti-vaccination segment a symptom of wider scientific illiteracy

David Kroll, Forbes: “Katie Couric And Cervical Cancer Prevention With The HPV Vaccines, Gardasil And Cervarix

Liz Klimas, The Blaze, “Katie Couric Slammed for HPV Vaccine ‘Alarmism‘”

Robin Marty, Care2: “Katie Couric Ditches Journalism for Drama in Manipulative HPV Vaccine Story

Katie McDonough, Salon: “Katie Couric gets called out for promoting bogus science on HPV vaccine

Ryan Jaslow, CBS News: “Katie Couric show on HPV vaccine sparks backlash

Phil Plait, Slate: “Katie Couric Gives Anti-Vaccine Ideas a Shot

Alyssa Rosenberg, ThinkProgress: “Why Did Katie Couric Invite Vaccine Deniers On Her Talk Show?

Orac, Respectful Insolence: “Katie Couric on the HPV vaccine: Antivaccine or irresponsible journalist? You be the judge!

Amanda Marcotte, Slate: “Katie Couric Hands Her Show Over to Anti-Vaccination Alarmists

Seth Mnookin, The Panic Virus PLOS Blogs: “Katie Couric promotes dangerous fear mongering with show on the HPV vaccine

Emily Willingham, Forbes: “Katie Couric Promotes Anticancer Vaccine Alarmism

Matthew Herper, Forbes: “Four Ways Katie Couric Stacked The Deck Against Gardasil

Karen Ernst, Moms Who Vax: “In the Media, A Bad Day for Vaccines

Dorit Reiss: “The Costs of the Fight Against the HPV Vaccine

Tara C. Smith, Aetiology, “The Pap smear is no panacea, Katie Couric

Michael Hiltzik, LA Times, “Katie Couric puts the anti-vaccination movement into the mainstream

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4 Responses to “More on Katie Couric, who doubles down even as critical coverage grows”

  1. […] Haelle, in her most recent article about Couric’s anti-Gardasil episode, really exposes the cynicism of Couric’s […]

  2. William Shryer

    It is actually sad to see someone so intent on resurrecting their career that they would stoop so low as to join the anti-vacination crowd. Their ideas have found their way to the trash heap of society over and over again, yet they come back from the dead like some sort of zombie apocalypse. Like some in the Republican Party of you have no real ideas you can sell snake oil to the fringe and they will give you a false idea that you are significant. Poor Katie!

  3. […] inoculations”) and a doctor who rejects the scientific evidence about vaccines. Before that, Katie Couric fell into the false balance trap on HPV vaccine reporting (one that flared up again last year at The Toronto […]

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