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Mauled by '60 Minutes.' (January 24, 1993 misleading 'animal rights' segment)

On January 24, 1993, I joined an exclusive club--the small but growing number of people who know what it's like to stand by and watch the truth get mauled by 60 Minutes.

"You must understand that programs like 60 Minutes are not news, they are theater," one journalist told me when I explained how the show had misrepresented an issue in which I was deeply involved. "A lot of good reporters go into the television-news business, but they are corrupted by the process and end up becoming little more than theater producers." The 60 Minutes segment that left me reeling concerned $2.1 million in Army-funded cat-shooting experiments at Louisiana State University. I was the lead investigator for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in the inquiry into the scientific merit of these experiments. The inquiry, which began in 1988, led three years later to the cancellation of the Army contract that funded the work.

I circulated Dr. Michael Carey's head-trauma research protocols to more than a dozen neurosurgeons, neurologists, trauma physicians, and other medical experts in the area of head trauma. Their unanimous opinion was that the research was seriously flawed, wasteful of tax dollars, and cruel to animals.

"The study under question is superfluous and extraordinarily expensive. It does not justify the effort or animal sacrifice on the basis of potential yield," wrote Dr. Michael Sukoff in his evaluation of Carey's research protocols. Sukoff, a neurosurgeon, treated brain-injured soldiers as a military doctor during the Vietnam war.

Carey's major "finding," that head-wounded individuals should be given respiratory support, has been an applied medical fact for nearly a century.

These medical critiques and letters from hundreds of concerned constituents prompted Representative Bob Livingston, Republican of Louisiana, to request a General Accounting Office investigation of the project. After a two-year probe, the GAO found serious problems with the research. Among the shortcomings cited in the GAO's December 1990 report on Army brain-wound research were: reporting data that was "beyond the realm of possibility"; excluding data from large numbers of cats; utilizing an unreliable model for head trauma with a high

failure rate; poor record-keeping, and imprecisely controlling and improperly administering anesthesia, calling into question the validity of experimental results.

"The Army has done a slipshod job of monitoring this research project," Larry Thompson, assistant comptroller-general for the GAO, told the Washington Times.

Despite GAO and Congressional documentation, 60 Minutes chose to portray Carey's research as "life-saving" and to attribute its cancellation to animal-rights activists who, in Mike Wallace's editorial comment, believe "a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy." A producer for 60 Minutes repeatedly called me for footage of demonstrations against Carey. None existed; there were no protests since this was not an animal-rights-driven issue. Nonetheless, 60 Minutes plugged in stock footage of demonstrations unrelated to this case.

The show did not accurately report GAO findings. Rather, it aired extensive comments by Carey's principal defenders, who included the American Medical Association. Less than one minute of the thirteen-minute segment was devoted to criticism of the experiments.

The 60 Minutes report further aggravated this journalistic contrivance when Mike Wallace stated that Representative Livingston had been "had" and that the Congressman refused to appear on camera. Livingston had, in fact, agreed to appear on camera live, but was unwilling to be taped because of the program's penchant for selectively editing interviews. In a November 1992 Washington Post article, TV Producers Say Journalistic Ends Justify Deceprive Means, 60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace admitted that he deceives interview subjects about the nature of some stories and uses staging to get better footage.

"You don't like to baldly lie, but I have," Wallace stated. "It really depends on your motive."

The low esteem in which Wallace holds the truth was never more evident than in his segment on Carey's cat-shooting experiments.

This kind of theater-as-news journalism does the public a grave disservice, and it discourages whistle-blowers from risking their careers to challenge government-funded boondoggles.
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Author:Roy, Suzanne E.
Publication:The Progressive
Date:Apr 1, 1993
Words:663
Previous Article:Television and democracy.
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