I have a close friend who was an investigative reporter for the Wall Street Journal for 13 years, during which time he broke a number of large stories. He left the WSJ to start a company to help businesses deal with the media. He had seen from the inside how businesses had tried to influence him and his colleagues, and he knew the business men were going about it all wrong. For the last 15 years or so he’s helped them get it right.
A couple of times per year my friend puts on seminars for people wanting to learn about how the media work. He invited me to one a few years ago in Las Vegas, and I can tell you, it was an eye-opening experience. The program started with my friend asking the attendees to write a few sentences describing what they thought constituted ‘news.’ Before you read on, stop for a moment and come up with your own definition of news. Have you got it? At this meeting virtually everyone (including yours truly and his lovely wife) came up with something on the order of: ‘News is when something happens of sufficient importance to the readers or viewers of a particular media format in a defined local (could be local – could be national) that it requires reporting.’
My friend gathered the papers and started reading them to the group. One after the other was a variation on the theme above. After he had read a dozen or so, he looked at the crowd and said: “Let me define news for you. News is what the media wants you to know.”
In the previous post I wrote the media wanted you to know that the Atkins diet was dangerous, so that’s how they reported it. A reported went in to an oral poster presentation, a tiny sub-meeting of the larger overall meeting, and reported on non-peer reviewed data in such a way as to make a perfectly safe and sensible way of eating, practiced by literally millions of people over the last 30 years, appear to be a danger to health. That’s news because that reporter and his editors said it was.
I’m stressing this because the American Heart Association (AHA) also reports the news, which, in its case, is what it wants people to know. The AHA has an entire publicity arm that sends reports out to doctors all over the world telling them what the AHA wants them to know. And guess what? In none of these reports is the study on the Atkins diet mentioned.
I got these reports by email for every day of the conference. You can click on them by day – Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday – to see what the AHA wanted doctors interested in this conference to know. If you burrow down into all the links and follow where they lead, you’ll find that none of them (at least none that I could find) lead to the Atkins diet presentation. Probably because the study wasn’t very important relative to the others, and because any one with a modicum of scientific understanding would see right through it.
But not the public. Members of the public aren’t trained to even find the relevant study much less analyze it critically. So that’s where the reports were sent. To the public. Not to the doctors. I find it interesting to say the least.
One other thing, then we’re through with this travesty of a study. A number of people wrote comments wondering about the inflammatory markers that went up in the folks who went on the pseudo Atkins diet. Here is the full text of a study done by Jeff Volek and his group at the University of Connecticut showing that real low-carb diets bring about a decrease in inflammatory markers. And here is another demonstrating that real low-carb diets bring about improvements in atherogenic lipid profiles in subjects who do not lose weight. So, it’s the diet that does it, not the weight loss that usually accompanies such a diet.
More on the 'low-carb' study at the AHA meeting