The Observer has responded to bloggers’ responses to its uncritical story about a fundraising campaign to send a child to the Burzynski clinic. Stephen Pritchard writes:
Yet what was intended as a gripping, human-interest story quickly drew a sustained attack on the paper for apparently offering unquestioning support for a highly controversial cancer treatment, known at antineoplaston therapy.
That seems like an unnervingly irresponsible way to look at the matter. However gripping a human-interest story may be, surely it’s irresponsible (at least) to report a campaign to enable a very expensive very dubious “treatment” as if it were just a gripping story.
Pritchard then explains that desperate parents are desperate, and then rebukes critics for not getting that.
And this is the point that is being lost in the vitriol that is flying around the internet. Undoubtedly, the Observer was wrong not to have included criticism of the treatment. A simple check with Cancer Research UK would have revealed the depth of concern about it and, no question, that concern should have been in the article, but because it was absent doesn’t mean that the paper was promoting the treatment, as some have suggested (“pimping” it, as one science writer so crudely tweeted).
Oh brilliant; great job of accepting responsibility. “Wull we didn’t promote it.” Really? By telling a gripping human-interest story about it? That’s a very Pontius Pilate sort of view of media influence.
I’ll leave the last word to the deputy editor. “We had no intention of endorsing or otherwise the treatment that the Bainbridge family have chosen for Billie. The focus of the article was the extraordinary campaign to raise money for the course of action that the family, after careful consideration of the benefits and risks, had decided to pursue. It is a story of courage and generosity involving thousands of people. Of course, it is entirely legitimate to raise issues about the Burzynski clinic as a number of readers have done, and we should have done more to explain the controversy that it has provoked. But some participants in the debate have combined aggression, sanctimony and a disregard for the facts in a way which has predictably caused much distress to the Bainbridge family.”
I feel like doing a Basil Fawlty – “Oh I see, it’s my fault is it.” “”Oh I see, it’s the bloggers’ fault is it.” Pointing out the dubiousness of a dubious “treatment” which is really a trial which has been in progress since 1977, with no success so far – that’s aggression and sanctimony, is it.