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SOUND OFF SUNDAY: Chicago Tribune Medical Writers – Part of the Flat Earth Society?

20 Dec

On December 8,  the Chicago Tribune ran a story on Lyme disease that was so poorly researched and reported, and well just plain one-sided,  that Lyme patients and advocacy groups were calling for retractions, apologies and the firing of the two reporters. It also ran in the
 Los Angeles Times, as both newpapers are owned by the Tribune Company.

 Trib reporters Patricia Callahan and Trine Tsouderos cherry-picked their way through science in their article entitled “Chronic Lyme Disease: a dubious diagnosis.” They have a habit of going after disease treatments at odds with mainstream medicine, as they wrote a similar article on autism last year as well as many others targeting anything outside of the mainstream box.

Red flag No. 1 is that Tsouderos only recently began writing on medicine and science. Prior to that she was the Trib’s………………wait for it ………………………….. food writer.  On her official Chicago Tribune bio she writes: “I have covered Hurricane Fran, Tennessee Walking Horses, Oprah, Jennifer Lopez’s (now defunct) relationship with Ben Affleck, cupcakes, freak bikers and the honeymoon suite at the Ritz.” 

The way in which Callahan and Tsouderos wrote is more appropriate for a blog. It surely wasn’t researched medical journalism. It was pseudo-journalism so on-sided that they obviously made up their minds before beginning their “investigation.” Whereas true medical journalist attribute facts to scientists, Callahan and Tsouderos simply used their own voices to lambast and ridicule physicians treating chronic Lyme disease and their patients.  

The reporting was so appalling that Callahan and Tsouderos were taken to task by other medical journalists on Knight Science Journalism Tracker, a website for peer review of science journalism.  The topic is brilliantly debated on this website.

Callahan and Tsouderos basically call many fine physicians charlatans. One in particular, Bernard Raxlen, MD, a psychiatrist in New York City, has saved the life of two people I know who had been thrown to the curb by other physicians. One Orange Park, Florida, mother said an advanced case of Lyme made her son so psychotic, that it wasn’t until the fifth month of aggressive intravenous antibiotics perscribed by Dr. Raxlen that they once again were able to see the son they once knew. 

Another patient was the only person, from what I can tell, who had her letter to the editor response printed in the Chicago Tribune. The initial publication of her letter online deleted the very name of the doctor who she attributed to saving her life – the one much maligned Dr. Raxlen in the article. It took many phone calls and emails to get Dr. Raxlen’s name put back in her letter.

The reporters also mocked those physicians who prescribed more than a few weeks of antibiotics to their patients as continuing to treat them for financial gain when there was no scientific evidence that prolonged antibiotic treatment helped. They held up medical establishments such as Johns Hopkins as evidence.

At a recent presentation of the Lyme disease documentary Under Our Skin at the University of North Florida, however, David Chinoy, MD, spoke about his year-long antibiotic treatment he received while being treated for Lyme at Johns Hopkins. Dr. Chinoy was a well-respected cardiologist in Jacksonville before getting bit by a tick right here in Jacksonville that sent him into a Lyme disease tailspin and forced retirement. Dr. Chinoy said he “was in bed for a year and in my easy chair for another year” and in the third year he started coming back to life.

Most Lyme disease patients have been all but abandoned by main stream medicine. If one has their Lyme disease diagnosed immediately upon acquiring it, a few weeks of antibiotics usually takes care of the offending bacteria. But those who have carried it with them longer, a few weeks of antibiotics may as well be a few weeks of aspirin. The complexity of Lyme disease is mind-boggling. Even infectious disease physicians will tell you that. And in most cases, patients don’t simply have Lyme disease; they have a host of other bacteria as well that were carried by the tick or other vector that bit them.

Here’s the rub too – doctors treating Lyme disease with long-term antibiotics are universally accused of putting the population at risk for anti-resistant bacteria. But nothing is ever said about dermatologists who treat acne with more than a year of antibiotics. So Lyme disease patients are to be deprived of what could cure them?

Dr. Raxlen refers to those like Callahan and Tsouderos as “the flat Earth society.” They know what they know and refuse to look at the facts otherwise.  They can be likened to those medical colleagues who ridiculed Drs. Barry Marshall and Robin Warren who received a Nobel Prize for their discovery that the bacteria h. Pylori causes peptic ulcers. For more than 100 years physicians believed they were caused by things such as stress and spicy foods. 

You’ll often read that Allen Steere, MD, is credited with “discovering” Lyme disease. Actually, it was a housewife in Lyme, Connecticut, Polly Murray, who discovered that something was making her family and many others in Lyme seriously ill.  She was relentless in her quest to pinpoint the offender, and she was also written off as a wacko housewife by the Public Health Department as someone with nothing better to do than cause trouble. She was a smart cookie though and did her homework. After more than a year, she took her findings to Allen Steere, MD, at Yale, who listened. You can read her story in her book “The Widening Circle: A Lyme Disease Pioneer Tells Her Story.”  (Woe to those who underestimate the determination of a mother to find the cause of her child’s illness.)

The bottom line on the Chicago Tribune story is that it should have stopped dead in its tracks on the editor’s desk.  As well, there hasn’t been one word from the paper addressing the story that caused an  influx of angry letters from around the nation. ONE letter to the editor was printed from a patient. None from the advocacy groups or other medical journalists. These were all posted online  in various places as “unpublished letters to the editors of the Chicago Tribune.”

Callahan and Tsouderos should not be allowed to continue as medical writers
for the newspaper. 


Political Correctness Is Now Bullying

22 Oct

If you ask me, political correctness was started by out-of-control liberals.  They now use it at every turn to try to flog into submission those who don’t agree with them. They insist that the other person must be a bigot — or whatever the offense du jour is– if they don’t have the same viewpoint.

Juan WilliamssThe firing of Juan Williams from NPR is a case in point. Williams was fired for not something he said on NPR, but rather something said on” The Bill O’Reilly Show.” 


 According to Williams:

Yesterday NPR fired me for telling the truth. The truth is that I worry when I am getting on an airplane and see people dressed in garb that identifies them first and foremost as Muslims.

This is not a bigoted statement. It is a statement of my feelings, my fears after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 by radical Muslims. In a debate with Bill O’Reilly I revealed my fears to set up the case for not making rash judgments about people of any faith. I pointed out that the Atlanta Olympic bomber —  as well as Timothy McVeigh and the people who protest against gay rights at military funerals — are Christians but we journalists don’t identify them by their religion.

And I made it clear that all Americans have to be careful not to let fears lead to violation of anyone’s constitutional rights, be it to build a mosque, carry the Koran or drive a New York cab without fear having your throat slashed. Bill and I argued after I said he has to take care in the way he talks about the 9/11 attacks so as not to provoke bigotry.

This was an honest, sensitive debate hosted by O’Reilly. At the start of the debate Bill invited me, challenged me to tell him where he was wrong for stating the fact that “Muslims killed us there,” in the 9/11 attacks. He made that initial statement on the ABC program, “The View,” which caused some of the co-hosts to walk off the set. They did not return until O’Reilly apologized for not being clear that he did not mean the country was attacked by all Muslims but by extremist radical Muslims.

I’m frightened that political correctness is a runaway train that will one day be our undoing. Will we experience the consequences  of someone being too scared to raise a warranted red flag for fear of being targeted by the PC police and the repercussions that follow? 

Whoppi Goldberg and that blow-hard Joy Behar walked off the set of “The View” merely because Bill O’Reilly said 9/11 was caused by “the Muslims.”    They claimed he apologized when he clarified that it was only some of Muslims and not every Muslim on earth. (How else could they save face when they were probably ordered backstage to return to the set.) I doubt they would walk off the set if someone said “the Germans” killed the Jews during World War II.  It’s said all the time and no one bats an eye. It wasn’t ALL the Germans.

There have been a number of times when I haven’t agreed with some news of the day but have chosen to remain silent rather than voice a mere opinion because of the vitriol of the PC police.  It’s usually not worth it. 

The Juan Williams firing has struck a nerve, however, with many concerning political correctness as did the bullying issue of gays with the suicide of the college student secretly videoed recently.  Juan Williams spoke his personal feelings of uneasiness when flying with Muslims. His statements were wrapped in additional warnings against bigotry that more than outweighed his one statement. 

What is as worrisome is that he was summarily fired from NPR, public radio supported by tax dollars, because he ” had violated NPR’s values for editorial commentary.” But he didn’t even do it on NPR!  He was fired for voicing his feelings.  Feelings that didn’t mesh with the obviously left-wing flavor of NPR. His boss accused him of bigotry, a man who has written several books on civil rights.

At the same time, Nina Totenberg, an NPR legal news correspondent, has made numerous statements of opinion on “Inside Washington,” a syndicated TV show.  She even once went so far to say about Senator Jesse Helms: “I think he ought to be worried about what’s going on in the Good Lord’s mind, because if there is retributive justice, he’ll get AIDS from a transfusion, or one of his grandchildren will get it.” 

Evidently NPR has no problem with wishing AIDS on children and doesn’t consider it editorial commentary.

My hope is that this issue has angered enough of use that we will stand up to it and refuse to continue being bullied. Because that’s exactly what it is – bullying.

As for Juan Williams – they say the best revenge is success. He was signed onto Fox News for a deal much, much better than he had at NPR.