Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Websites Exploit Women Worried About Hysterectomy

There they are on the home page of five attractive women, all dressed in white and smiling broadly. Why are these women so happy? They've had a hysterectomy--and obviously enjoyed it!

Yes, if you believe the claims on both Hystersisters and, having your uterus removed--and likely your ovaries as well--can not only be anxiety-free but also a happy, happy experience.

If you do believe that, as we say in New York, there's a bridge in Brooklyn we'd like to sell you.

Selling, of course, is what both these websites are about. Selling you not on the idea that most hysterectomies--as many as 90%--can and should be avoided because they are so damaging to women's health. No, not that. Instead, both websites are trying to sell you on a different type of hysterectomy, and preferably, in the case of Hystersisters, one done with the daVinci robotic system.

The convenient Find-a-Doctor feature on that website is sponsored guessed it, daVinci!

Intuitive Surgical, Inc., the company that makes the daVinci systems, is bullish on its future. The company's investor relations website reports that for the first half of 2010 revenue was up 49% from the first half of last year to $679 million.

This company's intensive public relations and advertising campaign--I've seen their press releases turned into glowing news stories by naive reporters in several newspapers--is all about getting hospitals to buy the robotic systems for a sweet $1 million to $2.3 million each.

And the revenue stream just goes on from there. Annual service agreement: between $100,000 and $180,000. Disposable instruments and accessories for each procedure: between $1,300 and $2,200.

Is it any wonder that medical costs in this country are impoverishing us?

The websites are a fabulously clever way of putting pressure on doctors and hospitals to buy the systems.

Women who've been told they need/should have a hysterectomy run to their computers for information.

And what they find at Hystersisters is designed to prompt them to ask their doctors--themselves getting pitched by Intuitive sales people--if they use the robotic systems. It's push-pull marketing at its best.

But pushing daVinci isn't the only thing wrong with these two websites, as I'll explain in my next blog in a few days.

In the meantime, any women who's considering a hysterectomy should go to the HERS Foundation website to get the cold, hard facts about the serious health problems and loss of sexuality that the surgery too often brings about.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Post Reporter Right to Challenge Paladino

I have to admit I got a good laugh out of the confrontation between a NY Post reporter and Carl Paladino, the Republican candidate for governor of NY State. But it was not just great entertainment. It also offered a good look at a reporter trying to do the job right.

Fred Dicker pressed Paladino for evidence to back up his charge that Andrew Cuomo is an adulterer, just like Paladino himself, who has admitted not only an affair but that he fathered a girl who is now 10. Paladino's admission, of course, was tactical. Rather than wait for someone to out him, he tried to neutralize the situation by openly discussing it. But apparently not satisfied with the public reaction, he accused Cuomo of the same sin.

Too often, reporters respond to this type of situation with what journalists refer to as "he said, she said" stories. That is they report the allegation and then the denial, making no attempt to tell the public who is right. This is what sometimes passes as "objective" reporting, when instead it should be called "stenographic" reporting--just take down what everyone says and put it into some grammatical sentences.

Fred Dicker, on the other hand, was doing what good journalists do: demanding verification of Paladino's charge. He wasn't content to just offer an assist to the mud-slinging unless Paladino showed him the evidence.

His reward was to be called "biased" and a "stalking horse" for the Cuomo campaign. Paladino sounded like a mobster when he told Dicker, "I'll take you out." But one of Paladino's aides caught on the video trying to separate Dicker from the candidate made another threat, one that usually cows journalists into being stenographers. He told Dicker, "You're off our campaign list. You get nothing more from us."

To a reporter, that's a threat with teeth. It means no access to the candidate, no easy way to get comments or advance word about upcoming appearances or policy papers. Ready access to powerful people makes a reporter important to his or her news organization. In Washington, D.C., it makes reporters powerful, virtually guaranteeing front-page or top-of-the-broadcast position.

It also can make reporters dupes for politicians' lies, tools for efforts to sell a war or advance legislation harmful to the public. As we sadly learned about the selling of the Iraq war with a heavy assist from New York Times reporter Judith Miller, a buddy of Dick Cheney.

So it was refreshing to see veteran Albany reporter Fred Dicker get in Paladino's face and demand the evidence.

I showed the video to my Media Ethics class at Hofstra University as an example of a reporter with ethics trying to do his job. Ethical reporting starts with seeking the truth, and Fred Dicker modeled that for everyone to see.

I hope Dicker's career thrives after this episode and that he gets the credit he deserves for doing the job the way it should be done. Washington reporters could well take a lesson from him.