Is the News Getting Crazier, or Is It Just Me?
By Louis Sportelli, DCIt's time again for another article. Deadlines seem to come around so fast, and world changes so rapidly, it is almost impossible to just keep up. Just trying to understand the issues in the news that surrounds us each and every day is becoming more and more complicated. Take, for example, some of the unusual and even bizarre issues that have recently been in the news.
A man is awarded three billion (yes, with a "B") dollars in a lawsuit against the tobacco industry. I have no love for the tobacco industry (a nonsmoker myself), but come on! The plaintiff was an admitted heroine and cocaine addict who claims he "kicked" those habits, but tobacco was simply too addictive for him, and guess what? A Los Angeles jury believed him and punished the tobacco company. Who forced him to smoke? Apparently, he assumed no responsibility for his health and lifestyle, nor did the jurors. I can hardly wait for the avalanche of lawsuits based on the "lack of personal responsibility" theory, or maybe a lawsuit by one of the readers of this column (or should I say, "another" lawsuit) against Microsoft for allowing me to write this commentary on its software.
The Media Circus
The execution of Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh was the morbid media circus of the 21st century. There were more than 1,400 reporters (with trucks, satellites, and other news paraphernalia), eager to witness and monitor the execution. The media could not get enough of his "date with death," or his terrorism. If his final wish was to become a celebrity, it was de facto granted by the histrionically driven media, which has completely lost objectivity in reporting the news.
Taking place on the East coast was another trial for a similar criminal - a foreign terrorist who left a trail of destruction - but he did not receive a lethal injection. Instead, a New York jury gave him life in prison. It is rather difficult to convey a message of equal justice under the law to society with any credibility when the rules are bent, juries are influenced, and punishment is inequitable. Has our justice system succumbed to foreign influences in making its judicial decisions? The facts make it appear so.
McVeigh was the first federal prisoner executed since 1963. Eight days later, a second federal prisoner was executed in Terre Haute, Indiana, but his was a blip on the media screen. It goes to show you that whoever comes in second place is not remembered very well. Do you know his name?*
Then, there is the widow of Dale Earnhart, who had to go to court to stop the autopsy photos of her husband from being broadcast over the internet. The gruesome images of the NASCAR driver were apparently appealing to a bloodthirsty crowd who wanted to see pictures of body parts on their monitors. The people argued it was their "right to know." How sad for the family and how sick for society. How far does the "right-to-know" extend? What about the right to personal privacy? These are tough questions that must be debated and decided upon by a judicial system already in turmoil, reeling still from the controversial decision generated by a pregnant chad, or was it dimpled?
Sensational headlines seek out a desperate kind of news item, apparently appealing to a large segment of society. These include the fantasy-type, "Who wants to be a Millionaire?" or "fluff" headlines that provoke little thought, and infuriate those who are disposed to logic and rational deliberation.
We also have a lone U.S. senator who changes parties and therefore alters the balance of legislative power. Who says one vote doesn't matter? Perhaps his constituents in Vermont will remember the senator's gambit when the next election comes around. He was elected to office by the voters as a Republican, but violated public trust by his actions, no matter how well-meaning.
What do the young kids think when a multimillion-dollar contract is given to Britney Spears for her endorsement of Pepsi to entice teens to drink the fizzy liquid and be just like her? Of course, we know it happens all the time in every commercial, but are we so shallow that we believe, just because celebrities endorse a product or service (for huge fees) that they really care about the product? At least when ex-New England Patriots owner, the late Victor Kiam said, "I liked the razor so much I bought the company," for Remington, there is a modest level of truth and belief, not unlike "ol' Dave" Thomas (another corporate owner) telling us about Wendy's new taste sensation. One really wants to believe him.
Let's not forget the 20-million-dollar ride into space by the wealthy businessman whose interest in space is a bit more costly than most people can afford. He has demonstrated that everything is for sale, including a seat on the space shuttle, if there are enough rubles on the table.
It appears that every day the reporting of news and the bizarre headlines from the minds of those clever copywriters provides some sort of perverse joy or fulfillment for the masses, and enables them to get through the day knowing that others have suffered. It seems sad, but it is dangerously close to being true.
In chiropractic news, we have also taken to sensationalizing whatever comes down the pike. Sometimes we do it because it is the only way we have been conditioned to think. Other times we are so caught up in the negatives that we do not see the underlying issues as clearly as we could. Good news is often suspect and has little mass appeal. Bad rumors are more believable and generate more interest, or so it seems.
Take the issue of the physical therapists claiming they perform manipulation and reduce subluxations in the process. There is negative reaction from the profession and a hue and cry to protect what we do from infringement, for a process and procedure that has been a mainstay of chiropractic since its inception. Personally, I think it is interesting to see the 180-degree change of attitude by all professions - medicine, osteopathy, physical therapy and some of the specialty groups within each of these categories - about manipulation. Only 30-40 years ago, "spinal lesions," "mechanical dysfunctions," "subluxations" or other terms used to describe a spinal dysfunction, were merely "figments of chiropractors' imaginations," and now everyone wants to claim superiority in detecting and correcting them. Let's not forget that "spinal manipulation" or "chiropractic adjustments" were given primarily by chiropractors and a few other "weird" groups, which incidentally, were often labeled as quacks when referred to in the context of delivering health care via manipulation. Today, osteopaths are announcing that they are reclaiming their heritage as osteopathic manipulation specialists; physical therapists pronounce they have always been involved in mobilization, manipulation, and adjustment of the human body; medical physicians are enticed to take weekend courses to learn about spinal manipulation, and others are waiting in the wings to make their proclamations.
The chiropractic press continues to present these "breakthroughs" as potential threats to the survival of chiropractic. Maybe we should be thinking of these events as validating the core issues that have been the mainstay for chiropractic. Perhaps we should be shouting, "We told you so 105 years ago!" rather than attempting to erect barriers to a procedure that may eventually constitute a monopoly by our profession; perhaps we should set the minimal standards of education and training before anyone can perform a manipulative procedure. That approach would not only protect the integrity of the procedure, but also ensure that a level of competence would be established by the very profession that truly pioneered the art form and the underlying science and rationale for its utilization. A few thoughts and reflections on how we respond to various challenges headlined by our own internal media often give some indication where we are as a profession. Can we dominate the landscape with a monopoly on subluxation, or would we be better off setting the standards for all others to meet?
On another recent note, there was glee upon hearing of a chiropractic institution put on probation by the CCE Commission on Accreditation. Instead of joy, perhaps we should be somewhat assured that minimal levels of oversight and competence are being reviewed by those organizations entrusted with that duty. Should we be happy about the probation, or should we be comforted in knowing that the job of accreditation is being taken seriously? It's more about the process than the issue. We witnessed this in our recent transitions and debate regarding the presidential election: no armed militia in the street; no concern about where the power would reside; ultimately, it is in the process empowered by the people.
In the final analysis, the probation serves as a sentinel. Much like the parked state trooper on the highway causing everyone to instinctively slow down, this announcement will cause every institution to review its programs; tighten its process; review its procedures; and the end result will be a better educational process for all.
Other items in the chiropractic news that raise eyebrows and blood pressure in those who are more closely affected can also be instructive for the profession. A province in Canada that banned the Activator device caused a curious reaction by both sides of the issue. A dispassionate observation of the matter appears to reveal an underlying emotional reaction manifest in an unfortunate decision with far-reaching ramifications. On one hand, those who promulgated the regulation believe the letter of the law has been satisfied, but those who utilize the device feel defiled by the regulation. Examination of this internal war will reveal the fact that many who exclusively use the device in question have intentionally or unintentionally disparaged their colleagues who do not. Terms such as "safer," "superior," "painless," and "scientific" have appeared in advertisements by those doctors who use the device, and doctors who use their hands for traditional manipulation have felt the brunt of such negative ads claiming safety and superiority. In an already explosive news media regarding the issue of CVA and safety, advertising suggesting a greater safety measure and trying to identify a competitive advantage has resulted in an internal battle over a device that should not be part of the battle. It is an innocent victim in an ill-thought-out campaign, resulting in a war of words to capture "market share."
Perhaps it is time to review all of our advertising in chiropractic, and recognize that we ought not to be competing for each other's market segment, but use our limited resources to expand market share to new patients who have not utilized our services. An internal battle between techniques will only serve to limit our already dwindling share of the market.
The battles continue to rage within and outside the profession. Somehow every practitioner in the profession must understand the impact of today's instantaneous communication technology: ubiquitous, menacing, and readily available and easy for all to access. The doctor of chiropractic in any small town in the Midwest is equally as visible as the doctor of chiropractic on Madison Avenue. Whatever the profession does individually, it does collectively. Whatever image we create, we all are either enhanced or tarnished. It matters not where, how or who. The interdependence each of us has on one another has never reached a higher level of significance.
Can we learn from the press reports that continue to confuse and become part of the collective solution, rather than contributing to the problem by being part of it? Think about the headlines you would like to see to advance the profession.
*His name was Juan Raul Garza, 44, a drug trafficker who ordered the murder of three other drug traffickers.
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