Pundits and wags are vigorously debating whether or not it is appropriate to televise physician-reporter hybrids in Haiti who, like CNN’s Sanjay Gupta, have made themselves part of the story by treating injured people on air (Gupta iis shown in the CNN clip to the right).
Richard Besser former acting head of the US Centers for Disease Control, and subject of a recent Nature profile is one of several such hybrids now working for the US television network, ABC. He helped out in a difficult pregnancy, and the anecdote serves as a centrepiece to a story on the earthquake’s impact on pregnant women (view the segment here).
There is some conflict between these correspondents’ dual roles. Not intervening in a story is a central tenet in journalism, but as doctors, these individuals are compelled to attend the sick and injured when they can help.
Gary Schwitzer, a health journalist and publisher of HealthNewsReview.org (a website that rates health journalism) encapsulates several sides of the argument here.
The Los Angeles Times picked up on the story here, with some quotes from Besser. “When I see a situation where there’s something I could do to help somebody, I’m going to do that,” Besser said.
Many are arguing that once intervention begins (and by all rights, in these cases it must) the reporting stops, or else the story risks becoming a tool of self promotion. Others are speculating whether the earthquake in Haiti represents a special case, or whether journalism must by necessity embrace its ability to intervene.
Rahul K. Parikh, a doctor-reporter himself, lauds the coverage of Gupta working to keep a field clinic open while the camera rolled as improving the image of both doctors and journalists at Salon.com.
Even at NASAwatch Keith Cowing baits a NASA public affairs administrator who Cowing says takes a hard line on non-interventionist journalism.
I emailed Besser who responded that these are tough issues probably worthy of future panel discussions. For him, the decision was not about parsing roles, but both to the right end “These are the types of problems in Haiti. Can you understand it better by seein ghte experience of this patient?” He’ll continue to help patients but says that it should only be on the air if it illustrates a larger story.