'60 Minutes' on Health: Picks and Pans

By ACSH Staff — Jan 01, 2000
By William M. London Credit: William M. London Credit: William M. London Every day a 135-year-old woman smokes two packs of cigarettes, plus at least a pipeful of tobacco. Colored glasses permit dyslectics to read normally. In a quiet little Pennsylvania town where radioactive waste is buried, mounds of dirt glow at night as bubbling pools change color.

By William M. London

Credit: William M. London Credit: William M. London

Every day a 135-year-old woman smokes two packs of cigarettes, plus at least a pipeful of tobacco.

Colored glasses permit dyslectics to read normally.

In a quiet little Pennsylvania town where radioactive waste is buried, mounds of dirt glow at night as bubbling pools change color.

Wonder water sells for $3.00 an ounce.

The United States government has plotted to snatch parts of the autopsied bodies of persons who worked near plutonium and uranium.

Are these the gists of stories in supermarket tabloids? Of episodes of The X-Files or The Outer Limits? Perhaps some are I haven't checked. But all of these contentions and other crock have figured in segments of "60 Minutes," in programs broadcast between early 1978 and the end of November 1995.

A-Rated Show Gets a "C"

Recently the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) completed a study in which each of 97 transcripts of health-related "60 Minutes" segments had been evaluated by at least three of 65 experts in medicine and/or science. These experts had responded to questions about such considerations as scientific accuracy, the scientific plausibility of claims made, and the public health significance of the issues addressed, and they had thus graded the segments. Over-all, on a scale of 0 ("failure") to 4 ("excellent"), the 97 segments were rated 2.0 ("fair"). Reviewers specified numerous instances of imprudence in the transcripts, and of inattention to scientific evidence. The reviewers' comments collectively suggest that the segments range from egregiously misleading pieces to excellent, accurate reportage. The second year-2000 issue of Technology includes a summary of the consensus of the experts who participated in the ACSH study.

Reviewers specified numerous instances of imprudence in the transcripts, and of inattention to scientific evidence.

Having read all of their study comments and having pored through each of the 97 transcripts, I offer, below, a personal list of what I consider the best and worst health-related segments of each of eight "60 Minutes" reporters.

Ed Bradley


By interviewing appropriate experts and citing science-based public health organizations (1986), Ed Bradley showed in "Going Smokeless" that using smokeless tobacco products as designed increases the risk of losing teeth and of developing oral cancer and other diseases of the mouth. The rationalizations and denials of promoters of such products whom he interviewed were transparently preposterous.

Honorable Mention

* In "Tempest in a Test Tube" (1986) Bradley presented discussion of the need for human embyro research, which could lead to improvement in the uterine implantation of embryos from in vitro fertilization and to a decrease in the incidence of genetic diseases. The segment showed that in vitro fertilization involves collecting more than one egg, and that implantation of too many embryos increases the risk of a problem multiple pregnancy.

* "Acceptable Risks" (1992) acknowledged (a) the need to conduct clinical trials of AIDS treatments to learn whether or not they are effective, and (b) terminal AIDS patients' need to take risks with promising drugs that have not been officially approved.
* "Rx Drugs" (1992) covered the British National Health Service's endorsement of providing prescriptions for heroin or

cocaine, and of other modes of "harm minimization," to help persons intractably addicted to drugs stay alive and out of legal trouble. A drug counselor Bradley interviewed noted, correctly, that impurities in street heroin make injecting it more dangerous than injecting unadulterated heroin; and a pharmacist de-scribed smoking heroin-laced cigarettes as less dangerous than sharing hypodermic needles. Bradley said that when the British government had attempted to do away with drug abuse in that country, drug addiction and the availability of nonpharmaceutical heroin had increased there.

* The downside of the segment is that it did not offer ample evidence for the effectiveness of "harm minimization" techniques. Followup is in order.
* "Just What the Doctor Ordered" (1984) dealt with the use of heroin to relieve pain in hospice patients in Britain. Bradley noted that these patients' main heroin-related problem was constipation rather than addiction. One of his interviewees, a British physician who ran a hospice, stated that American doctors are too timid in applying morphine for pain.


"The Spraying of L.A." (1990), which concerned the use of the organic compound malathion in Los Angeles to halt a medfly infestation, was inexcusably alarmist. The toxicology experts who reviewed the transcript of this segment for ACSH objected to misdescriptions therein of malathion as a carcinogen, as a neural poison that affects every human organ system, and as a detriment to vision. Several interviewees in the segment condemned mala-thion, while only one expert on the subject interviewed said the compound was safe and this lone defender of malathion was an employee of the government that had sanctioned the spraying.

Natural Foods Merchandiser featured this ad shortly after the airing of the '60 Minutes' program that included the segment 'Sharks Don't Get Cancer.'

Dishonorable Mention

* "What About Apples?" (1989) was a followup to "'A' Is for Apples," a segment in another "60 Minutes" broadcast of that year. Because the transcript of "'A' Is for Apple" was on legal hold during the ACSH "60 Minutes" study, the study did not deal with it. In this earlier segment, Bradley behind him a graphic of a skull and crossbones superimposed on an apple had said of Alar, a plant-growth regulator whose active ingredient is daminozide: "The most potent cancer-causing agent in our food supply is a substance sprayed on apples to keep them on the trees longer to make them look better." This claim had been based on "Intolerable Risk: Pes-ticides in Our Children's Food," a publication of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). In "'A' Is for Apple," Bradley had incorrectly described this work as the "most careful study yet on the effect of daminozide on the food children eat."

When in the followup "What About Apples?" Bradley interviewed two scientists who had been criticizing the NRDC document and the earlier segment, he broached the subject of their funders and thus questioned their motives. He did not, however, so much as mention funding when he interviewed an NRDC representative even though "Intolerable Risk" was the hub of a financially rewarding public relations campaign. Moreover, the broadcast did not include any of the specific criticisms of the document that had been made in on-camera interviews for the segment (see the ACSH special report "An Unhappy Anniversary: The Alar 'Scare' Ten Years Later").

* In "No MSG" (1991) Bradley suggested that "millions are suffering a host of symptoms and some get violently sick" because of consuming monosodium glutamate (MSG), which is used as food additive to intensify flavor. The segment was unreasonably dismissive toward the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA's) position on MSG, which is that there is no good reason to alarm the public. In-cidently, the segment left unmentioned that MSG occurs naturally in some foodstuffs, and that it is the sodium salt of an amino acid whose ingestion would be unavoidable on a healthy diet unavoidable even with the kind of labeling that Bradley advocated to help consumers avoid MSG consumption.
* "Halcion" (1991) was an alarmist segment emphasizing the allegation that taking the prescription drug Halcion a benzodiazepine used as a "sleep aid" had serious side effects. Six years later the Institute of Medicine, of the National Academy of Sciences, concluded that Halcion is safe and effective when it is used according to its FDA-ap-proved label instructions.

. . . [F]requently, reporters communicate the latest research findings as if these findings invalidated all relevant previous scientific findings.

Steve Kroft


In "Women at Risk?" (1995), Steve Kroft asked: "Did the manufacturers of silicone breast implants put the health of one million American women at risk by selling them a hazardous product with potentially crippling side effects?" He answered this question correctly: "If you read the latest scientific reports and talk to some of the nation's top doctors, the answer would seem to be no." This segment was exceptional because it distinguished junk science from science.

Honorable Mention

In "Acid Rain" (1990) Kroft presented cogent evidence that, in the U.S., acid rain was not a particularly large problem and was far from an "ecological catastrophe." He noted that human health effects of acid rain "simply haven't been seen yet."


"Another Karen Silkwood?" (1992) concerned a former painting supervisor at a nuclear power plant under construction who blamed exposure to asbestos-containing paint dust at the facility e.g., during a "test" her bosses allegedly had imposed on her for a tumor she'd had and for other health problems. Kroft stated that she and thousands of her former coworkers were suing on this account, and that her bosses "insist workers were protected from health hazards." The segment rested on testimonials rather than on scientific evidence. In it, the type of asbestos in the dust was unstated, the respective health effects of types of asbestos were untouched, and the testing of dust masks for effectiveness was not discussed.

Dan Rather


"Arthritis" (1981) provided information on the importance and scope of arthritis, featured a discussion of the susceptibility to quackery of persons with arthritis, and presented several important treatment options. The health advantages of well established drug treatments over quack methods, however, was inadequately clarified.


In the introduction to "P.T.S.D." (1988) an advocacy piece for a chain of counseling centers for veterans Dan Rather described post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as "a psychological illness that, some say, plagues more than a million veterans of the Vietnam War." But he did not say in this segment how that estimate might have been arrived at. Rather likewise did not specify the source of his claim that "one in three homeless men is a Vietnam veteran," nor of his claim that "the rate of suicide among Vietnam veterans is abnormally high." In two carefully executed studies published in 1990, researchers found that the incidence of suicide among Vietnam veterans was not high.

The segment disregarded PTSD's intricacy and its relation to other forms of mental illness. As one reviewer in the ACSH "60 Minutes" study noted, "One key question is whether the patients [interviewed by Rather] were emotionally disturbed prior to the 'trauma' and are incorrectly blaming their military service for their maladjustment."

Another reviewer noted:

This segment was part of a larger documentary on Vietnam vets and PTSD. It turned out that the angry vets they showed who were living in the woods, etc., were men who greatly exaggerated their stories. Some had never even been in Vietnam. The documentary is now part of the CBS series on Vietnam . . . [and thus] continues to influence our mistaken views of war.

Dishonorable Mention

In "Water, Water Everywhere . . ." (1981), Rather exaggerated the problem of the contamination of American well water with industrial chemicals. One reviewer in the ACSH "60 Minutes" study said the segment placed "too much emphasis on politicians' descriptions of groundwater contamination, its sources, health effects, and its remediation. Ajanitor would know more."

One of Rather's interviewees whose water Rather said had tested at 10 times the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's maximum for the petrochemical solvent trichlo-roethane asserted that her children's pediatrician had told her the chemical is retained in the body. A reviewer for ACSH, however, stated: "Metabolism studies show . . . [that trichloroethane is] metabolized and 70 to 85 percent of the compound is excreted in 48 hours; only 1-2 percent remained in mice or rats 2 to 5 days after treatment." The expert also wrote that nothing in the scientific literature served as proof for Rather's assertion that trichloroethane is a known cause of genetic mutations and of central nervous system damage.

Consumer advocate Stephen Barrett, M.D., called 'Is There Poison in Your Mouth?' (1990) 'one of the most irresponsible programs ever aired on a health topic.'

Harry Reasoner


In "To Your Health" (1984) Harry Reasoner (1923-1991) warned the public about sulfites preservatives (e.g., for fruits, vegetables, and wines) that elicit potentially deadly reactions in some asthmatics. Since that program aired, the FDA adjusted its labeling re- quirements for sulfite-containing foods to make avoiding their ingestion easier for sulfite-sensitive individuals.

Honorable Mention

* In "Check the Water" (1983) Reasoner presented several informed views of the problem of well-water contamination due

to gasoline leakage from service stations.
* "400,000 New Cases Every Year" (1981) was an informative segment that ad-dressed the mechanism of transmission, symptoms, complications, recurrence, and permanence of genital herpes. It concluded with a good discussion of herpes- related quackery. Regrettably, preventing transmission of the disease was not discussed.
* "Patient Zero" (1988) focused on a gay male flight attendant's spreading of the AIDS virus early in the epidemic through frequent sexual encounters. Although much of the segment dealt with political questions regarding AIDS, Reasoner also presented information on how the AIDS virus spreads and on the significance of AIDS as a public health problem.


Laden with conspiracy theorizing, "Danger" (1991) emphasized anecdotes and word-of-mouth stories to persuade the public that working around uranium and plutonium in two plants caused cancers and other serious health problems. Although the segment offered no evidence that radiation exposures at the facilities were excessive, Reasoner suggested that risks to workers had been downplayed.

Dishonorable Mention

* In "The Establishment Vs. Dr. Burton" (1980), Reasoner suggested that, as an "outsider," zoologist Lawrence Burton, Ph.D., could not get a fair hearing from "the medical establishment" regarding his non- FDA-approved cancer treatment, Immuno-Augmentative Therapy (IAT). In 1990 the Office of Technology Assess-ment noted that IAT which Burton offered at his clinic, in Freeport, Grand Bahamas "has not been provided according to a formal study protocol, and clinical data have not been collected systematically, beyond patient history and encounter records."

* Reasoner said of one patient treated at Burton's clinic: "Miraculously, he seems to be living with his cancer." A prominent physician Reasoner interviewed called what Reasoner had remarked on "a most incredible thing." The patient died within two weeks of the broadcast. "60 Minutes" has not informed its audience of this.
* "The Sobell Experiment" (1983) covered an independent followup study of an experiment (conducted by Linda Sobell, Ph.D., and Mark Sobell, Ph.D.) in which alcoholics had received behavioral treatment intended to make them "controlled drinkers." Both Reasoner and those he interviewed who had been subjects in the followup portrayed the treatment as ineffective. The trouble with the followup study, and with this "60 Minutes" segment, was that the questioners had not taken into account how the members of the Sobell experiment's control group, who had received standard abstinence-oriented hospital treatment, had turned out at its close. Reasoner stated that four of the 20 subjects in the experiment who had undergone its "controlled drinking treatment" had died. That six of the 20 subjects who had received the standard treatment had died within the same time went unmentioned in the segment.

* "Doc Willard's Wonder Water" (1981) concerned supposedly therapeutic water water whose structure was purportedly special because of alleged alteration with catalysts selling for several dollars an ounce. In a manner more like that of an infomercial than that of broadcast journalism, Reasoner presented testimonials of ostensible satisfied users of the product which continues to be marketed, often with a pitch citing "60 Minutes."

Morley Safer


With cogent scientific evidence, "Less Than a Miracle" (1994) debunked the claim that so-called facilitated communication (FC) lets autists and other persons with severe communication-related disabilities express themselves through a typewriter or computer keyboard. The segment showed that the "facilitators" select, probably unknowingly, which keys the subject will push.

Honorable Mention

* "To Your Health" (1995) was a followup to Morley Safer's 1991 "60 Minutes" segment "The French Paradox." The subject of the 1991 segment had been that, while diets in France were higher in fat than American diets, the incidence of heart disease there was lower than that in the U.S. Safer's followup suggested, correctly, that the epidemiologic evidence had become stronger for the hypothesis that moderate wine consumption tends to retard heart disease.

But "To Your Health" overemphasized a lone study. It also overemphasized antioxidants in wine as contributors to the prevention of cardiovascular disease. Epi-demiologic findings suggesting that all alcoholic beverages are potentially useful against heart disease went unmentioned in the segment which also omitted uncertainties concerning benefits and risks of light or moderate drinking for various subpopulations.

In the introduction to "To Your Health," Safer said: "You can't pick up a paper without reading that this food or that medicine is good for you; then a few weeks later they tell you it's bad for you. Medical science changes its mind almost weekly about what we should or should not be doing." But medical science does not often undergo nor does it often officially precipitate public health turnarounds. The trouble here is that, frequently, reporters communicate the latest research findings as if these findings invalidated all relevant previous scientific findings.

* In "Smoking to Live" (1991), Safer described the medical uses of marijuana and the difficulties of obtaining marijuana legally for such use. According to the segment, the advantages of using marijuana over other drugs to treat nausea include

inexpensiveness and ease of administration. Regrettably, the testimonial evidence Safer presented exceeded the scientific- research evidence he offered. Further, the segment lacked a discussion of adverse pulmonary effects of marijuana.


Consumer advocate Stephen Barrett, M.D., called "Is There Poison in Your Mouth?" (1990) "one of the most irresponsible programs ever aired on a health topic." This segment wrongly implied that amalgam (mercury-alloy) dental fillings are risky because they emit mercury vapor. It apparently was responsible for many consumers' seeking re-placement of their amalgam fillings with other types of fillings (which are more expensive and/or less durable).

The segment's most forceful scene featured a patient's claiming that her multiple-sclerosis symptoms had disappeared overnight after the removal of her amalgam fillings. That such symptoms normally have ups and downs was not mentioned in the segment. Likewise omitted was that the removal of such fillings temporarily raises the body's mercury load to levels above those of persons whose amalgam fillings are intact.

Furthermore, Safer completely neglected important research evidence for the position that amalgam fillings are safe (information that Robert Baratz, D.D.S., Ph.D., M.D., of Boston University Medical School, has said he previously sent to "60 Minutes"). For example, although the bodily mercury loads of dentists (most of whom regularly work with amalgam) exceed those of nondentists, dentists do not have a higher disease risk.

The broadcast showed an anti-amalgam dentist using an industrial mercury counter, ostensibly to measure the mercury in a patient's mouth. Alas, the device was not characterized in the segment. More to the point, it was not explained that such application of the device is about as sensible as using an oven thermometer to measure human body temperature.

Dishonorable Mention

* Experts on radiation and toxic waste identified numerous errors in "Mrs. Dunn's Backyard" (1986), which centered on Pennsylvanians claiming that radioactive waste buried in their community was causing cancer among them. The segment did not make clear that the question most worth considering was whether the community had a particularly bad radon problem. The need to learn whether the cancer incidence in the community differed from that in similar populations was not mentioned in the segment, nor was cigarette smoking among the residents.

* "How to Live to Be 100" (1981) concerned an allegedly 135-year-old resident of Abkhasia, in southern Russia, who reportedly smoked two packs of cigarettes per day. Safer acknowledged that "deep controversy" surrounded claims of Abkhasian longevity yet added: "But if you were an Abkhasian and you were, say, 65 or 70 years old, you could count on a good 30 or 40 years ahead of you 30 or 40 years of drinking a flagon of strong white wine every day, of smoking as much as you want, and chasing the ladies like a 25-year-old."

* In "Reading by the Colors" (1989) Safer popularized the work of a clinic providing individualized prescriptions for colored lenses that, allegedly, treated "scotopic sensitivity syndrome" and thereby improved dyslectics' ability to read. The segment rested entirely on anecdotes. It led to a proliferation of franchised clinics purporting to treat this alleged syndrome. Whether or not the treatment is effective has not been ascertained; the research data on the treatment are insufficient for recommending it.

* "Just Say Yes" (1993) was an unbalanced segment that portrayed methadone-maintenance treatment of heroin addicts as corrupt, ineffective, and dangerous. None of the scientists who had evaluated such programs appeared in it. Moreover, the segment lacked a discussion of data on crime reduction and on the low risk of death from methadone overdose. As one expert who reviewed the transcript for ACSH noted: "There is a problem with the 'for-profit' programs and possibly a conflict of interest, but there is overwhelming evidence that properly prescribed methadone is extremely effective."

* "Deadly Medicine" (1978) concerned the treatment of various conditions in infants and children with radiation in the '30s, '40s, and '50s. It focused on efforts to find such patients and have them tested for thyroid cancer. The segment omitted that thyroid cancer usually is not deadly.
* "Zapped!" (1992) emphasized police officers' anecdotal claims scientifically unconfirmed that the use of hand-held radar guns and proximity to police-vehicle radar antennas caused various cancers in their ranks. Safer's interviewees included only one scientist whose comments had been trivialized.

Diane Sawyer


"AIDS in Africa" (1987) informed Americans about the enormous scope of AIDS in central Africa. It addressed the inadequacy of available healthcare, difficulties in promoting condom use, and how nontreatment of gonorrhea was contributing to transmission of the AIDS virus among heterosexuals.

Honorable Mention

For "Drilling for Dollars" (1987) Diane Sawyer investigated a large dental clinic that marketed its services aggressively to consumers. Dentists formerly employed at the clinic discussed how pressure to work fast had kept their work inferior. The segment would have been more significant if Sawyer had interviewed experts about the prevalence of rushed "care" both in large dental clinics and in small dental facilities.


"Smile, Darn You, Smile" (1987) concerned the notion, and professors of the notion, that up-beat, positive thinking and certain kinds of visualization can strengthen the immune system and thereby "fight" cancer. Sawyer focused uncritically on optimistic anecdotes and speculations. Un- mentioned in the segment was that relevant scientific evidence made doubtful both the claim that emotions affect cancer and the "immune surveillance" theory of cancer.

Lesley Stahl


When a cholera epidemic struck Peru after the Persian Gulf War, the United States Army sought to donate its surplus cholera vaccines to that country through the World Health Organization (WHO). Why, asked Lesley Stahl in "Why?" (1994), had the WHO excluded this offer of a vaccine a Swedish scientist had described as safe and as providing "85 percent protection in all age groups and against all different kinds of cholera"? Stahl looked hard for a reasonable answer to this good question.

Honorable Mention

"What About Prozac?" (1991) focused on the Church of Scientology's campaign to have the antidepressant Prozac banned. According to Stahl, the Church maintained that Prozac "causes a violent need to kill and be killed." The segment showed that the this claim is unfounded.


In "Fountain of Youth" (1993) Stahl interviewed devotees of each of three alleged means of slowing aging or dampening its effects: the drug Deprenyl, human growth hormone, and injections of fetal sheep cells. Although the lack of scientific evidence for the claim that any of these agents is an age retardant was noted in the segment, Stahl tacitly endorsed them as such by treating them as if they were about to become breakthrough anti-aging drugs.

Mike Wallace


In "40,000 a Day" (1989) Mike Wallace addressed the horrendous mortality among children in Third World nations, where major causes of preventable death include famine, diarrhea, AIDS, diphtheria, malaria, measles, and whooping cough. The segment cited nutritional adequacy, immunization, health education, and basic sanitation as important to reducing mortality. Wallace noted that Third World problems get short shrift on American television.

Honorable Mention

* For "This Year at Murietta" (1978) Wallace conducted an undercover investigation that debunked services offered by a clinic in Murietta Hot Springs, California. "Treatment" of all the clinic's patients "whether they're suffering from cancer or constipation, arthritis or acne" consisted of a three-day fast and a subsequent light diet of vegetables with dietary supplementation. Clinic personnel advised diabetic patients to reject insulin, and a patient with arthritis to leave off her medication.

* "Life and Death in San Francisco" (1986), which focused on AIDS in that city, addressed the scope of the epidemic, complications of the disease, and veritable and fictive modes of HIV transmission.
* Although "Tobacco on Trial" (1988) focused on persons with smoking-induced diseases suing the cigarette industry, Wallace also explained the significance of smoking-induced deaths as a public health problem, and a plaintiff's attorney he interviewed stated: "Nicotine has been recognized by the National Institute of Drug Abuse as a dependence-producing substance."

* In "RU-486" (1991) Wallace and physicians he interviewed provided an adequate rebuttal to alarmist claims that it was dangerous to use the drug RU-486 to initiate an abortion. Regretta-bly, there was no presentation of information on the frequent need for additional, surgical measures, nor discussion of other potential uses of the drug.


"Sharks Don't Get Cancer" (1993) was mistitled: Sharks do get cancer. The segment uncritically dealt with claims that ingesting shark cartilage (which itself is not impervious to cancer) could reduce tumors or arrest their growth. It highlighted a Cuban study of 29 purportedly terminal cancer patients who were receiving such preparations, several of whom it showed exercising. Wallace

stated that, having taken shark cartilage for a few weeks, most of these patients felt better. That whether or not one feels better is in no way a gauge of cancer treatment was unmentioned in the segment. Ingesting shark cartilage as medicine is not very sensible, since the potentially bioactive protein in it would decompose in the gastrointestinal tract. In any case, National Cancer Institute officials subsequently reviewed data from the Cuban study and concluded that they were "incomplete and unimpressive."

Dishonorable Mention

* The popularity of dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) a powerful solvent used as an anti-inflammatory in veterinary medicine soared shortly after "The Riddle of DMSO" (1980) had portrayed it as a "potential pain-relieving miracle drug" with "many alleged uses." Al-though Wallace noted the paucity of the evidence concerning treating humans with DMSO, the segment emphasized published reports conveying inconclusive evidence and testimonials from ostensible satisfied users of the drug. It omitted that some DMSO preparations not designed for treating humans could cause harm.

* "Swine Flu" (1979) concerned cases of the nervous-system disorder Guillan-Barre syndrome among the "4,000 Americans" who sought damages from the U.S. government on the grounds of having been induced by the government to undergo vaccination against the swine flu in 1976. Wallace said that "46 million of us" had undergone such vaccination in that year. Unmentioned in the segment was that these numbers suggest an extremely low probability of adverse side effects. Likewise unmentioned was that the incidence of adverse effects of a swine flu epidemic would dwarf that of adverse vaccination effects. The government's promotion of the swine flu vaccine may have been excessive, but Wallace's alarmist reporting of the risks of swine flu vaccination, in conjunction with the segment's under-reporting of its usefulness, may have deterred persons whose risk of flu complications was high from becoming vaccinated.
* "On Strike for Their Lives" (1981) concerned a strike attributed to worry over exposure to uranium at a munitions plant. Accord-ing to radiation experts who reviewed the transcript for ACSH, a labor-union physician's claim concerning radiation doses was implausible. Wallace asked a worker with leukemia who had said he didn't know what had caused the disease in him: "I mean, just just between you and me, what's your hunch?" The worker then attributed his disease to employment at the plant. One ACSH advisor asked: "Why is the leukemia sufferer's hunch of the source of his leukemia relevant?" Another summed up the segment: "Take a union doctor, who is not an expert, striking employees, and Mike Wallace, and you have a complete travesty of journalism."
* Various opinions about chiropractic were vented in "Chiropractors" (1979), but the segment lacked discussion of (a) the scientific status of the use of spinal manipulation therapy (SMT) for back pain, (b) the scientific status of chiropractic treatment of diseases, (c) the risks of SMT of the neck, and (d) chiropractors' overuse of diagnostic x-rays. There apparently had not been any attempt to balance patients' testimonials favorable to chiropractic with statements from patients dissatisfied by chiropractors.

The Bottom Line

In a national telephone survey of American adults that the National Health Council published in 1997, 87 percent of the respondents described television newsmagazines at least as somewhat believable sources of medical and health news. Some of the "60 Minutes" segments in the ACSH study were well-grounded in science and should serve as models of responsible health reporting. Other "60 Minutes" segments, however, have been off base concerning dubious health-related methods or regarding alleged dangers to health.

In February 1997 Don Hewitt, the only executive producer "60 Minutes" has ever had, stated on ABC News' "Viewpoint": "'60 Minutes' corrects itself all the time." He might find this article helpful.

William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H., an independent consultant, was Director of Public Health at the American Council on Science and Health when he supervised its "60 Minutes" study. He is a coauthor of the sixth edition of Consumer Health: A Guide to Intelligent Decisions.

(From Priorities, Vol. 12, No. 1)

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