March 11, 2006

Venturing Out onto an Unpopular Limb

If you’ve read my last few posts from this week, you probably think I’ve lost my mind to be so upset about what hopefully is just a little bit of tummy trouble. So I planned to blog an explanation this morning of why it is that I seem to be making a clichéd mountain out of a molehill.

But before I could get going on that subject, I was reading Fisher Queen and found the firestorm about Newsweek’s recent Q & A sesssion with Resolve President Joe Isaacs.

This will probably qualify as at least a finalist for The World’s Longest Post Award, but I hope you will stick it out and read it all the way through.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will state up front that I am a Resolve member and am active on the board of a local chapter. I attended last year's national convention, and having met most of the people in Resolve's national office (including Joe Isaacs), I honestly believe they are hard-working people who are doing their best to support and advocate for those of us struggling with infertility.

I agree wholeheartedly that the article did not do a good job of explaining all of infertility’s medical causes, most of which are beyond a woman’s (or man’s) control. However, it’s clear from the tone of the questions, and from Resolve’s response to all the feedback they have received, that Newsweek’s intention for the story was never to discuss infertility’s medical causes, but to discuss lifestyle habits that young people should be aware of that could possibly impact their fertility.

It is obvious that the article did not turn out the way Resolve – and the infertility community as a whole – would have liked it to. Certainly it is everyone’s right to express how they feel about this, to Joe Isaacs and Resolve, to Newsweek, to their best friend’s sister’s cousin, to the world.

But I’m going to go out on what I am sure will be a very unpopular limb here and say that I don’t think castigating Joe Isaacs (or withholding support from Resolve) is the best response to this situation. Resolve IS trying to help the infertile community. This one article didn’t turn out well, but it’s one article in the overall scheme of the work that the national offices and local chapters across the country do every day. There is no other similar organization out there that I am aware of that is offering support and advocacy on a national level (although by all means please correct me if I’m wrong on that, because there certainly may be, and I’m just not aware of it.)

Instead, I think it would be an incredible, amazing thing if the energy that is being used to express outrage at Resolve would instead be used to get involved and help make Resolve a stronger, better, louder and more effective voice for the infertility community. Please, please consider joining your local chapter, get involved in the board, get involved in Resolve’s advocacy efforts to promote mandatory insurance coverage for infertility and to extend the adoption tax credit (which is set to expire in a few years).

And I know that this is already a ridiculously long post, but I hope you’ll stick with me for a few more minutes. I’ve read a lot of posts and comments about the article, and there are a few things that stood out to me that I’d like to comment on.

There have been several comments about “how could Resolve ‘let’ this happen?”, Resolve should have “managed” the reporter better and that Resolve is “responsible” for ensuring that what they say is presented accurately in the media.

I’ve worked professionally on both sides of the media coin, as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers for five years and then in media spokesperson/public relations roles for the past 6 1/2 years. The idea that anyone, ANYONE – even the most well-seasoned, professional media handler – can ultimately control the media or how it presents information is a rolling-on-the-ground, holding-my-sides, laughing-so-hard-that-tears-have-been-streaming-down-my-face-for-10-minutes joke.

There are many honest, ethical reporters out there who do their best and do their jobs well. Sometimes even those reporters unintentionally slant stories or make mistakes. There are many, many more overworked, burned out, getting through the daily grind until they can find a new job or retire reporters who don’t necessarily intend to slant stories or get them wrong but are too tired or disillusioned to really care. Then there are others who write the story in the way they think it should be written, facts be damned, simply because they think it will position them for a better story assignment next time, will curry favor with their editor, will win them award or some other such reason.

Other times, it is the editor (who the interviewee will never meet, speak with or even know the name of) who has an idea in their head of what angle the article should take. And even if the reporter writes it from an unbiased, accurate viewpoint, the editor can change it. When I was a reporter, there was more than one occasion where I woke up the next morning to find a story with my byline on it and thought "who the heck wrote that??" because the story had taken on an entirely different tone and slant as it passed through many other people's hands during the editing process. You can imagine what fun it was explaining that to the sources who felt that I had screwed them over.

I agree that it would have been ideal to have a medical professional handle the interview. However, that’s not always realistic. When reporters call to ask for an interview, you’re at the mercy of their timetable, and 9 times out of 10, they want to do the interview within an hour. I’m not exaggerating this – I work in the healthcare industry now, and this very scenario happens to us at least once a week.

You can be as prepared as possible by having a list of media-trained physicians who are willing to speak publicly, but it’s not realistic to expect them to always be available on a moment’s notice. (Can you imagine: “Um, excuse me Dr. RE, I know you’re in the middle of an egg retrieval and have an embryo transfer waiting in the next room, but can you please step out for half an hour or so to do a news interview? I’m sure the patient won’t mind hanging out under anesthesia a little bit longer…”)

Sadly, the way the media works is if you can’t produce someone for them to interview right at the moment they want it, they’ll find another organization that can. And the next time they want to do a story on a related subject, they won’t call you.

Another comment I saw several people make was in regard to wanting to see transcripts or hear a tape of the full interview. Reporters don’t write up transcripts of their interviews to give to their sources (nor do they give the source a copy of the article before it is published), and they will usually fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in order to not be required to turn their notes or tapes over to anyone.

Most reporters also balk at the idea of an interviewee recording the interview and will find another source to interview if the interviewee makes it a condition of the interview. It gets back to a freedom of the press issue, in that the law may protect reporters from having to turn over their notes/tapes, but it doesn’t protect interviewees from the same thing. So an interviewee taping the interview could be forced to turn the tape over, thereby putting out there the information that was protected under freedom of the press and therefore negating that very freedom. The Newsweek article with Joe Isaacs certainly doesn’t seem like it would have freedom of the press implications, but if you allow one interviewee to tape the interview, you’ve set a precedent and opened yourself up to having to allow all the others to do it, even on politically or legally sensitive subjects. So most reporters won’t go there at all, with anyone.

For those of you who are wondering about covert taping, slipping a tape recorder into your jacket pocket (or attaching a recording device to your phone) and turning it on unbeknownst to all others in the room/on the phone is sometimes legal or sometimes not, depending on what state(s) you and the others are in.

The sad reality of journalism is that very very often, reporters and editors are not all that interested in the truth, because to them the truth is usually ordinary and boring. We as an infertility community care deeply about things like high FSH, endometriosis, structural uterine abnormalities, unexplained infertility, etc. But to the reporter, those subjects aren't exciting. A headline that reads "Smoking Increases Your Risk of Infertility" will grab readers' attention. “There’s No Good Explanation for the Bad Luck of Having Endometriosis” does not.

Please don't let Newsweek's article discourage you from supporting Resolve or becoming involved with it. In fact, Resolve always needs more people who are passionate about this cause and about helping others make their way through. My husband and I have not had success yet, but I've gained strength, support and friendships through my involvement with Resolve. I hope that you will too.

Ok, let the castigating of me begin. But please, remember, I have a very tender tummy at the moment, so please aim for other body parts instead. Thank you.


Thalia said...

Rebecca, what a thoughtful article, thank you. I did read the interview and was fairly outraged, but it did cross my mind that he might have been misquoted. Of course, he did go on and on being misquoted then, which made me slightly less sympthetic.

Anyway, your perspective is really valuable. Of course, Resolve isn't supporting me in any way since it's a US thing only, so I haven't got involved. But your points are all well taken.

fisher queen said...

I understand what you are saying too (and am a member of my local chapter). I do think they are trying and am grateful for it, however, I still believe he got hoodwinked. However it came about, it did happen. I left a response over at my place, so I won't take up any more of your space!