I suppose it was just too good to be true. In my previous post, I praised New York Times reporter Duff Wilson, and by implication NYT reporting, for writing a story that was objective and factual about a politicized health issue. Specifically, he wrote about a US court injunction blocking FDA from requiring large gruesome graphic labels on cigarette packages, and did so without spinning it as a defeat for what any right-thinking person should want (he accurately presented the labels as representing the goal of a particular government faction, nothing more or less). He emphasized a basis for the decision, that these labels, while often inaccurately described as “warning labels”, had no factual content and did not communicate information. Thus, they re not warnings), but are merely intended to emotionally manipulate.
Alas, the NYT could not allow objective and accurate reporting to stand when the topic involved one of its pet causes. So yesterday they published an editorial condemning the judge’s ruling. They completely ignored the bases for the decision, that the labels violated free speech rights in pursuit of government advocacy of a particular behavior, did not fulfill some compelling responsibility of the government (like issuing genuine warnings), were not the minimal way to intervene in free speech in support of some competing goal (like genuine warnings would be), and perhaps most importantly that there was really no evidence the labels would change behavior. The editorial concluded:
The Obama administration should appeal Judge Leon’s preliminary injunction, which would put off the labeling changes for months, if not years. A delay on the labels would lead to more needless deaths.
So a bunch of write-about-anything, mostly political-beat journalists who have risen to the level of editor claim to know that these labels would reduce needless deaths. Hmmm, now how exactly do they know that? Are they privy to evidence that was not presented in the court case and that has not appeared in the scientific literature? Or are they simply relying on the deep insight that comes from having a strong belief in a subject one lacks technical expertise in?
The editors also asserted:
If his ruling stands, the government will not be able to warn against the hazards of smoking in a way that’s actually noticed.
Really. So by being limited to forcing cigarette manufacturers to print only those warnings that are, well, warnings, instead of adding images worthy of a slasher movie, the government has lost its ability to advertise, publish, pontificate, dictate “news” stories to the NYT and other papers that will be dutifully transcribed, and otherwise condemn smoking and smokers. Gee, this will probably mean that a whole generation will grow up without ever learning that smoking is bad for you. It is a good thing we have the NYT editors to warn us against this dire future.
It is no wonder that health reporting is usually so bad: The editors apparently demand that it be bad.