Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Junk Science and Scare Stories

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Junk Science and Scare Stories

Article excerpt

A federal judge has just made it official: Connie Chung is wearing no clothes.

All right, that's not exactly what U.S. District Judge Robert Jones, who is charged with overseeing breast implant litigation in Oregon, said. But that's one inescapable inference to be drawn from his recent sweeping ruling: that plaintiffs were unable to produce any "scientifically valid" evidence linking breast implants with systemic disease.

Connie Chung, you will recall, is the reporter who pushed the breast implant scare into the headlines, terrifying millions of American women with a segment she did in 1990 on CBS's "Face to Face With Connie Chung," in which Chung profiled five women who believed breast implants had made them sick. Chung presented, as an article in the Forbes Media Critic recently pointed out, "no review of the available scientific data; no interview with medical professionals who might challenge the link." Nor did Chung mention that the two doctors who claimed breast implants were dangerous were paid medical experts for plaintiffs' lawyers. Chung's slipshod approach to this issue was more typical of reporters than not. Much of the media - especially women's magazines and tabloid TV - loves stories like these, for they nicely blend feminist with Victorian images of women, with the added bonus of a big bucks climax. You know: Brave women with debilitating illness caused by evil corporations seek justice for all, instant wealth for themselves. "Queen For a Day" has nothing on these stories for sheer entertainment value. But it turns out that the media's strangely uniform (that is, uniformly mistaken) coverage of the breast implant story was no accident: Trial lawyers with millions at stake launched a spectacularly successful PR campaign to saturate the media with stories of women injured by implants. One Houston law firm's PR campaign, according to the Forbes Media Critic, emphasized the importance of "developing target lists of medical and feature reporters in each city," and "scheduling one-on-one interviews" so "each reporter can make the story her own. …

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