The Devil Does Journalism
I’m sure by now that plenty of you are familiar with “>bestselling novel that was turned into an equally successful film starring Meryl Streep as a world famous and incredibly demanding fashion editor and Anne Hathaway as her harried personal assistant. It’s fairly well known that the character played by Streep is based on Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue. Normally this blog would be about as far away from Vogue and its concerns as possible, but this month the magazine contains an extensive feature on fish consumption. Now, normally we approach the sort of journalism done by a fashion or lifestyle magazine with more than a bit of trepidation, as in the past they’ve “>the one screenplay she’s sold has yet to be produced — may very well be the most alarmist, willfully unbalanced piece of “journalism” we’ve seen. In short, it would appear that while Ms. Wintour might be demanding when it comes to the performance of her personal assistants, she seems far less exacting when it comes to the journalism standards she demands of her magazine. The fact is Garritys article would actually be a pretty funny romp through unbridled scientifically contradicted paranoia if it werent such a miscarriage of journalistic justice. From the title on the article is filled with Fourth Estate malpractice. The headlines shouts mercury rising in bold print. Nowhere is there evidence that mercury levels in commercial seafood are rising, she offers no scientific peer reviewed examples to back this up but instead cites agenda-driven quasi science from environmental lobbyistshardly a high bar for sourcing.
Perhaps Garrity is unaware that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) draft report on the very topics she is writing about. And not just any draft report, the most in-depth, published, peer-reviewed assessment of science on the topic to date. Perhaps when crafting the Bill of Rights its authors would have chosen to ignore the Magna Carta?Garritys ignorance of the FDAs report or her choice to ignore it is staggeringly irresponsible. Aside from her own apparent lack of research, perhaps her myriad sources neglected to mention its existence to herany of the growing body of evidence that concludes that the real dietary risk from seafood is not eating enough of it would fly in the face of the presupposed conclusions they appear to have fed her.
So, rather than gather facts from research reviewed by doctors at institutions like the University of Washington, Harvard School of Public Health and Children’s Hospital and Research Center at Oakland she uses a 2008 Oceana/Mercury Policy Project report that saw volunteers collect things like tuna samples from grocery stores and sushi restaurants for mercury testing. She then notes how some of the fish exceeded the FDA average for mercury content. But what she doesnt tell you is that the average of the tuna samples both fresh and sushi in that very study were below the FDAs action level. She doesnt mention this but does note that the studys findings were horrifying and that that contradictory studies (perhaps ones that arepeer reviewed) that actually recommend fish consumption tipped her into paralysis. As mentioned at the top, a journalistically substandard article but humorous nonetheless.
Garritys smorgasbord of marginal sourcing continues throughout. She writes that its easy to find people with elevated blood levels of mercury– and how does she find this tantalizing nugget? She discovers it when she goes out with friends. But these elevated levels her friends have told her aboutdo they equate to any symptoms, any ill affects any detriment to the patient? Perhaps instead she should have consulted Dr. Gary Myers and read his report published in the Journal of Nutrition titled Nutrient and Methyl Mercury Exposure from Consuming Fisha 20 year study.
Or, I guess she could just rely on stuff her friends told her– yea lets do that.
Then theres her use of Kathryn Mahaffey, Ph.D. apparently an impressive source given that she was formerly the EPAs leading mercury scientist. Ah yes, but once again what Garrity doesnt tell her readers exposes the real agenda of her sources. Mahaffey isnt just a former EPA official she is currently an environmental activist for Oceanawhat? Thats right, in fact Mahaffey authored Oceanas comments on the FDAs draft report mentioned before, something perhaps she forgot to tell Garrity about.
Further along she cites another doctor who is described as one who is pushing for greater awareness of mercury in seafood, Jane Hightower. Another noted environmental campaigner who insists she is an independent voice with no activist agenda. However, in the preface of her own book she thanks the Mercury Policy Project, an organization developed by The Tides Center, which describes itself as a “nonprofit fiscal sponsor to forward-thinking activists and organizations.” What’s more, Hightowers been featured on Natural Resources Defense Council the website , “the nation’s most effective environmental action group.” She talks about the need to get the word out about mercury and how, “of course, we need NRDC and others to work with people in the field, and to take it to the masses.” No activist agenda?
Garrity knows enough to make sure to write about the benefits of Omega 3 fatty acids, but then leavened the rest of her article with disinformation directly culled from environmental activist talking points. Everywhere you look there are references from groups like Oceana, NRDC and Monterey Bay Aquarium, but nary a peep from health organizations like the “>American Diabetes Association, both of which have endorsed the proven health benefits of eating fish. While Garrity might think it’s fine to get your scientific or nutritional information from a lawyer with an environmental activist group or from friends, its perhaps safer to consult actual nutritional sources like the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, which included The Devil Does Journalism (Part II)