Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Extreme Idiocy in the Media

Katherine Stone writes a terrific blog, PostPartum Progress, which is undeniably the best source of information on postpartum mental illness anywhere, online or off. The other day, she referred me to a Vanity Fair piece that Todd Purdun wrote about Sarah Palin. Here's Katherine's take:

I just LOVE it when pundits and politicians talk about postpartum depression. In the latest issue of the magazine Vanity Fair, Todd Purdum writes this in his article on former Vice Presidential candidate Governor Sarah Palin and the 2008 Presidential campaign:

"Some top aides worried about her mental state: was it possible that she was experiencing postpartum depression? (Palin's youngest son was less than six months old.)"

Purdum doesn't go into why Palin's aides would have thought that. In the paragraph in which he refers to postpartum depression, his only explanation is that Palin was doing what she wanted to, rather than following the campaign's direction, and was "maintaining only the barest level of civil discourse" with certain handlers. ...

Katherine points out that PPD is NOT about being able to get along with others. (Otherwise, I hasten to add, men would qualify for PPD, as well.) As Katherine notes, the article would have been believable had Gov Palin, among other things, been "wondering how on earth she could get through the next five minutes and even possibly considering suicide."

In which case, we might expect a show of sympathy and concern from the author (Ha!). Instead, Purdun piles it on by recklessly applying the diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder to the epithets "erratic" and "whack job."

Unfortunately, Vanity Fair is to journalism what Caspian beluga is to caviar.

It turns out that Katherine caught me at a time when I'm less than upbeat about my own profession. Seven months ago, I took out membership in the Association of Health Care Journalists. A few months ago, I also made a donation. My general belief is that journalists "get" mental illness, but something happened last month that strongly challenged that notion:

The AHCJ maintains a listserve, which is mostly devoted to inquiries by reporters looking for leads on various stories, but which is also used for dialogues on issues germane to our profession. In response to a Newsweek cover story that was highly critical of Oprah and the irresponsible "wacky cures" she featured on her show (see my blog post), I posted this question to the list:

"Opinions, anyone?"

A first gatekeeper to the list, Jeff, responded that I needed to be more specific. Okay:

Two years ago, Oprah had devoted an entire show to "Did Bipolar Drive a Mother to Kill Her Child?" The show was as appalling as the title.

My opinion: Oprah is an unmitigated idiot, a menace to society, and the antithesis of everything we stand for as health journalists. I'm delighted a major news outlet finally had the guts to call her out. I would be very interested in your take on the Newsweek article, your own Oprah experiences and impressions, and your views in general.

Also: Should AHCJ take a position?

A second gatekeeper, Ivan, dressed me down for my ad hominem remarks. Fair enough. Out they went. Then Ivan responded that he would "mull" over whether he would post the piece. Apparently, I was not being specific enough.

This is a small sample of my response:

"Ivan, this is your listserve and your rules, but as a member of the AHCJ and a donor I take strong objection to your officious attitude regarding my posts. ..."

Following, in part, was Ivan's reply:

"I have shared your rewritten posts with board colleagues, and we continue to have concerns. ... Your post remains vague and does not include any specifics about what you found objectionable about the Oprah episode you cite, nor about the Newsweek piece."

Okay, let me see if I got this right. I wrote: "Two years ago, Oprah had devoted an entire show to 'Did Bipolar Drive a Mother to Kill Her Child?' The show was as appalling as the title."

That wasn't specific enough to Ivan and AHCJ board members. Hmm. "The show was as appalling as the title." Could it be that they found nothing appalling about the title? That Oprah making our population out to be baby-killers was somehow - okay?

Let's just change one word so we get: "Did being African-American Drive a Mother to Kill Her Child?"

Or perhaps this: "Did being Lesbian Drive a Mother to Kill Her Child?"

Would that have been specific enough for Ivan and the AHCJ board members?

I was going to reply to that effect, then I decided I would be wasting my time. I will be allowing my membership in the ACHJ to lapse and won't be making any more donations. I have a very low tolerance for idiots, especially ones that practice my profession.

Katherine Stone apparently feels the same way. This is how she ends her blog piece:

"Despite my complete lack of psychiatric training, I feel very confident in giving Purdum and his editors at Vanity Fair this diagnosis: They are a bunch of idiots."


Aspergers Parallel Planet said...

The lack of knowledge and understanding of autism spectrum differences in the media as bad if not worst and feel if they took the time to listen to those of us with lived experiences, maybe they would not try to cram us into tick boxes may never fit and/or label everyone with a mentally illness if slightly different, when often just extreme, complexly, interesting individuals, who push boundaries and make real differences often leaving much of the media years behind!

Elizabeth said...

Suggesting that someone has PPD when you feel she is unreasonable is just filling in another term for menopausal. And Oprah's episode fuels people's belief that we BPs are the bogymen. The reality of mental illness is impossible for the mentally well to fathom, so they lapse into thinking about our illnesses as they're described in horror movies. We're seen as scary, and adding to that the fact that we're largely powerless as a community, we make the perfect scapegoats. I think you should reply to the AHCJ--your analogies are quite to the point.

Anonymous said...

With all the abuse in her background, the constant yo-yo dieting and probable resulting nutrient imbalances combined with her current lifestyle as well as stress brought in years past by meida attention to every aspect of her life ... Oprah is damned lucky that she did not develop bipolar. She should thank God - er, or whichever Guru she is fawning over this week.

There but for the grace of God ... goes Oprah.