According to Gary Schwitzer, there are a few TV M.D.’s who are trying to do good work. Dr. Jonathan LaPook , medical correspondent for "The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric" is one of them. He explains how he struggles to do more with less.
All Blues Hail Mary
Artist: Joe Henry
BOB GARFIELD: Dr. Jonathan LaPook is an associate clinical professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, and medical correspondent for The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric. Schwitzer singles him out as one network health reporter who at least tries hard to cleave to health journalism best practices. Jon, welcome.
JONATHAN LaPOOK: Hi, glad to be here, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: I characterized the reporting on the morning shows in general about health and medicine a disgrace. Do you, do you think I'm wrong?
JONATHAN LaPOOK: I mean, look, I can only talk for myself and I can say that, you know, to coin a phrase, the buck stops here. When I'm on, nobody can make me say something that I don't want to say, and nor is there pressure to be sensationalistic or anything else like that. In fact, I feel at CBS that I'm valued for the perspective that I bring. I mean, a perfect example is H1N1, right? For me it was all about tone. You can get up there and say, there’s an outbreak of H1N1, or you can say, there’s an outbreak of H1N1! What your expression is, what your inflection is, what your body language is, I mean, that’s all communicating to people in a way that’s, you know, in addition to the words that you’re saying.
BOB GARFIELD: Fair enough. But the kind of stories that Gary Schwitzer has been studying have nothing to do with body language and everything to do with story choice and implied promises of miracle cures, silver bullets, and so on. Just in the subcategory of obesity, I mean, it’s just astonishing how irresponsible the reporting is, suggesting that there is a breakthrough just around the corner to that extra 40 pounds that’s bedeviling your midriff. So, how do you stamp out that scourge?
JONATHAN LaPOOK: I don't think you can stamp it out, okay, because there are certain pressures to do that, but I think here is one of the examples of where being a physician really does help. As a physician, this is not just some abstract concept to me. I'm thinking of my patients with Alzheimer’s, and when I go out there to report something I'm thinking that they're listening. And, God forbid, I should give somebody false hope who is a loved one of somebody with Alzheimer’s. That is one of the cruelest things that somebody can do. So for me, I'm not thinking ratings. I'm thinking, my patients are listening, people are listening, and I have to be responsible.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, thank you so much for your time.
JONATHAN LaPOOK: That’s okay, no, I'm happy to do it, especially since Gary was so kind in saying, “But not you!” [LAUGHS]
BOB GARFIELD: Well, he didn't quite say that.
JONATHAN LaPOOK: [LAUGHS]
BOB GARFIELD: He didn't quite say that.
JONATHAN LaPOOK: All right, all right. [BOB LAUGHS] Listen, we certainly got our share of criticism, but I -- and I have to say, you know, he’s bright. I hooked up onto his website very early, and he has been in the back of my head for three years. He has. And there have been times when I've cut a piece and then I've thought to myself, ah, I'm cutting in because for time I have to cut out, you know, how much it costs, and I know Gary’s [LAUGHING] going to be upset about this. And, and that’s good. That’s – you know, there should be standards. And at times you realize, okay, I'm having to cut something and that’s not perfect, but at least I know what perfect should look like.
BOB GARFIELD: Well Jon, thank you.
JONATHAN LaPOOK: You’re welcome.
BOB GARFIELD: Jonathan LaPook is the medical correspondent for The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric and an associate clinical professor of medicine at the Columbia University Medical Center.
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