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How bad can health reporting get?

A couple of years ago, a number of us raised concerns about an “investigative reporter” at a Detroit television station.  At the time I noted that investigative reporters serve an important role in a democracy, but that they can also do great harm, as when Channel 7′s Steve Wilson parroted the talking points of the anti-vaccine movement.  Wilson has since been canned but apparently, not much has changed.  While performing my evening ablutions, I stumbled upon the latest abomination.

The story is about a surgeon turned faith healer.  I can think of about a half-dozen different ways to make an interesting story out of this.  But Channel 7, rather than doing the harder but more interesting story about the chicanery of faith healers, presented an infomercial.

Dr. Issam Nemeh claims to be a surgeon and anesthesiologist.  I don’t know how much he charges for that sort of work, but he charges twenty dollars a ticket for his faith healing services.  The deceptions used by faith healers have been well-documented elsewhere but one of their methods, like all altmed folks, is to claim to have cured a self-limited condition.  One of the conditions whose improvement the reporter credited to Nemeh was optic neuritis.  The report incorrectly calls optic neuritis a form of multiple sclerosis.  Optic neuritis is a common manifestation of MS, but it is also common in isolation.  In either case, it often improves spontaneously or with medication.  Like many alternative medicine gurus, Nemeh can take advantage of the natural history of a disease by taking credit for its natural remission.

And he is an altmed guru, not some conventional doc with a religious streak.  In addition to his faith-healing business, Issam runs a medical practice.  The news report calls him a “certified” surgeon, anesthesiologist, and acupuncturist.  I’m not sure what that means.  He is licensed to practice medicine by the state of Ohio.  He is not, however, certified by any board listed by the American Board of Medical Specialties.  But a medical license lets you treat  just about anything, and according to the first hit on google, that’s just what he does, offering treatment to “all patients with any type of physical, mental or emotional disorder.”  This includes children.  Dr. Nemeh offers two types of treatments: “meridian regulatory acupuncture” (tranlation:  ”some impossible, lucrative needle thing that suckers will pay out of pocket for”) and faith healing (translation: “some impossible, lucrative talky thing that suckers will pay out of pocket for”).  He may be licensed to practice medicine, and Ohio may recognize acupuncture as something “medical”, but in the educated opinion of this internist, what he does has nothing to do with the practice of medicine.

Nemeh is a shaman.  He uses the smoke and mirrors of some sort of acupuncture machine on any condition in any patient.  This is a hallmark of quackery—claiming that one modality can treat anything, when really, it’s most efficient effect is to remove money from the pockets of its victims.  But Nemeh is pretty damned cleaver.   Some folks like modern-sounding shamanism, with its needles hooked up to bells, whistles, and pretty lights.  But others prefer that old time religion, and Nemeh’s got that covered with his faith heeling business.

I have rarely seen such an efficient combination of modern and ancient healthcare thievery (in, of course, my humble opinion).   And despite the execrable nature of TV health reporting, I have never seen such a credulous infomercial presented as news.

Shame on you Dr. Nemeh, and shame on you Channel 7.

Posted in: Science and Medicine

Leave a Comment (37) ↓

37 thoughts on “How bad can health reporting get?

  1. cervantes says:

    One of the most commonly encountered characteristics of reporters is plain old fashioned laziness. It’s just easier to take dictation than it is to be a journalist. They do it all the time, no matter what the subject matter, be it Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction™ and ties to al Qaeda; global warming denialism; you name it.

  2. Ed Whitney says:

    I can tell you one thing: he is not certified by ACCSOS (The American College of Charlatans and Snake Oil Salesmen). We at ACCSOS are very strict in our certification procedures. Unless you submit proper documentation (a minimum of 10,000 crisp new documents is generally requires) you do not get any kind of endorsement from us.

  3. lizditz says:

    The infomercial, as you correctly call it, was an unsigned piece so it’s hard to know who to complain about.

    The station’s general manager is Bob Sliva.

    E-Mail:

    wxyzdesk@wxyz.com.

    When e-mailing, please include your telephone number and do not send any attachments.

    Mailing Address
    WXYZ-TV
    20777 West Ten Mile Road
    Southfield, MI 48037

  4. Draal says:

    I saw this on the news too. The church in Belleville is only 5 miles from me. (And only 30 miles from downtown Detroit; flying distance for Orac.)

    You may want to consider your own faith healing practice. $20 for a 1 minute “consult”- not bad.

  5. Rogue Medic says:

    offering treatment to “all patients with any type of physical, mental or emotional disorder.” This includes children.

    I have never considered children to be physical , mental or emotional disorders. That does not mean that they do not exacerbate these conditions in people with little ability to cope with stress.

    You could title this, A Quack for All Seasons.

    He will skin you alive, sell, the body parts, and grind up the bones to make more quack sauce. He leaves nothing of monetary value untouched.

  6. TimonT says:

    @ Ed Whitney

    ACCSOS? That’s for me! I’ve got the 10,000 crisp new documents (I hope 1′s are OK). Where do I sign up?

  7. micheleinmichigan says:

    Oh dear, this is one reason I can’t watch TV news anymore. Must have been a slow news night in the “things that will kill you, missing children, hating the mayor or city council and caught on camara” departments.

    I really miss Walter Cronkite.

  8. I find it fascinating that so many people, against their own interests, fetishize alternative medicine. Especially the ancient or non-western modalities. Why not fetishize vaccines? Or antibiotics?

    Fleecing adults is one thing, but perpetrating this woo on children is an order of magnitude more evil, IMO.

  9. DREads says:

    Channel 7 broadcasts over the RF spectrum, which are owned by the public. Shows like Oprah are entertainment but TV news is in a separate category, requiring some minimum standards for accuracy in reporting.

    http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/journalism.html

    Most of the emphasis of the document is on a news program’s responsibility to avoid bias/slant-free reporting. I imagine the rules were mostly written to keep political reporting under control. Sometimes bias can be a good thing, like having a bias towards science, critical thinking, and evidence.

  10. mfryer says:

    This one is a little dated, but check out this doozy.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=–Gq6k2PnYE&fmt=18

  11. Mark P says:

    Why not fetishize vaccines? Or antibiotics?

    People do.

    Patients often insist on them even when assured the illness is viral.

  12. windriven says:

    We do a mediocre job teaching Johnny to read and a lesser job teaching him simple ciphers. We don’t bother to make an effort to teach him critical thinking. But man, we’ve taught him how to watch TV, the medium that takes willing suspension of disbelief right down to the bare metal.

    For what reason would one expect quality, thoughtful reportage from a local television news organization? Newspapers tried that thoughtful thing and it hasn’t worked out too well for them lately. To paraphrase Mozart’a rival Salieri: too many words.

    TV news keeps items short, emotional impact high, and strives never to be boring. Unfortunately, the truth about quacks is boring until one of them gets caught with a prostitute on Airline Highway. The story of a surgeon throwing down his scalpel in favor of (insert your favorite woo here) is far more interesting than a piece on handwashing reducing flu transmission.

    The take home: it is as pointless to look to television for news as it is to look to Issam Nemeh for the cure for what ails you.

  13. micheleinmichigan says:

    windriven – having read your comment and having rethought my immediate inclination to lock myself in the garage and leave the car running, :) I must add some sort of positive note.

    I have to recall a trip to Kazakhstan a number of years ago. Once I was discussing an unfortunate incident of corruption that we saw on the local level with our young locale translator, who was a little bit of a firebrand. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said “Yes, well it’s not the same as it is in the U.S. You can not write the paper here. No one can put this in a paper or on T.V. (yeah, I said sort of positive)

    So, while the condition of news in the U.S. does indeed suck. We have rights, we have a good foundation there. It is something to be grateful for and not take for granted.

    Which is not saying you were taking anything for granted, Just a reminder to myself I thought I’d share.

  14. windriven says:

    @micheleinmichigan

    I admit to a certain cynicism when it comes to news reporting, especially on television. But you are, of course, right about the incomparable importance of the First Amendment. Part of the price we pay for that delicious freedom is listening to the inanities of those who squander that right.

    As an aside, I’m jealous of your visit to Kazakhstan; it’s one of the places I’ve never been.

  15. micheleinmichigan says:

    Outside of North America, it is one of the few places I have been. :)

  16. micheleinmichigan says:

    windriven – I did not mean to say that I thought your assessment of the media was cynical. In fact I think it is damn straight. I only wanted to say that I find some hope that we have the capacity to change and that at some point the pendulum will swing.

    I am happy I had the opportunity to go to Kazakhstan, since it changed my perspective in ways that visiting other countries on vacations didn’t. Just as an aside the same translator from my story was known to remark. ‘Well, sure we have a few problems here, but Uzbekistan is really frightening’ about her travel to other countries. That was in 2004, I do not know how it is now.

  17. weing says:

    micheleinmichigan – In the 70s, I spent a number of years in Eastern Europe. I was naive and thought we in the US wouldn’t stand for anything like it. I’ve become more cynical and I see the corruption here is just as bad, if not worse, despite our “free” press.

  18. micheleinmichigan says:

    Oh jeesh, do I have to go back to the garage. Can’t I have a bit of hope, please?

  19. micheleinmichigan says:

    But actually weing, I can not speak for the 70′s in eastern europe. I can speak only for my comparison and I think that it is better here. For instance, I was upset by the number of people (non-citizens) who were picked up after 9/11 and held on very questionable grounds for extended periods. Not only Guantanamo’s supposed enemy combatants, but people living in the States as well. That is very bad in my book. But, we did hear about it on the radio or read about it in papers. Some other countries we would not have. (Sorry for getting political on that one. Easiest example.)

    Likewise, I believe a blogger here can post under their own name that they think the current administration, or state government or city government is doing something wrong or illegal. Yes, they might face professional consequences or legal consequences (sued) so it would be a difficult thing to do. But, it is really unlikely that they will get thrown in jail or disappeared. So, I do think it is better than in some countries.

    I don’t want to be naive, I do realize that there is an incredible amount of, well, government sanctioned corruption (?). But, I do think we continue to have a better framework for reform in our constitution than many other countries do. Will the reform happen? I can only hope.

    Of course, I will admit that I may be deluding myself. It is only IMO.

  20. windriven says:

    @weing-
    I too have lived in a communist country, rather farther east than Eastern Europe. I’ll take the relatively genteel corruption we have in the US. At least every transaction with a government official doesn’t need to include a ‘red envelope’ left on his or her desk.

    As you no doubt know, Poles used to say of their state employers, “we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.” In America our elected officials pretend to represent our interests and we pretend to believe them.

    But micheleinmichigan is still right; our elected officials are, by and large, scumbags. But here I can proclaim that assessment loudly and a whole bunch of us could bus to Washington and stand outside the Capitol Building and chant, “scumbags, scumbags.” In China and Russia and Saudi and Egypt and South Africa, not so much. At least not for long.

    @micheleinmichigan
    So go to the garage. But leave the car keys in the house.

  21. weing says:

    ” But here I can proclaim that assessment loudly and a whole bunch of us could bus to Washington and stand outside the Capitol Building and chant, “scumbags, scumbags.” In China and Russia and Saudi and Egypt and South Africa, not so much. At least not for long.”

    Naw. I’m pretty sure you could go to any of those countries and chant that about our elected officials.

  22. micheleinmichigan says:

    The garage is a good place. There is no T.V.

  23. Better yet, dump your TV connection entirely. That way you can use it to watch videos but you aren’t afflicted with the news.

  24. micheleinmichigan says:

    I can’t. I must admit. I am addicted to Stewart, Colbert and Chuck.

  25. windriven says:

    @weing

    “Naw. I’m pretty sure you could go to any of those countries and chant that about our elected officials.”

    That made me laugh out loud! But in truth I’m not so sure about that in Saudi. At least under the previous administration. ;-)

  26. windriven says:

    @Alison Cummins

    Hear, hear! I did it 6 years ago and I’ve never regretted it.

  27. windriven says:

    @micheleinmichigan

    I hate to be the one to break this to you but Jimmy Stewart died in 1997 and Claudette Colbert the year before that. Chuck Norris is still alive but only on the outside. You can get all their films on Netflix so who needs TV?

  28. Jim Dominic says:

    A TV personality at local TV station WEWS in Cleveland, Ohio “reported” uncritically on Nemeh for years as part of a long-term series on “spirituality”. Some of the clips can still be found on YouTube. There used to be “healing services” held at local churches–in the winter–and it was heartbreaking to see sick and elderly people lined up in the cold and snow. It wasn’t right; it still isn’t right.

  29. BillyJoe says:

    “I’m jealous of your visit to Kazakhstan;
    it’s one of the places I’ve never been.”

    “it is one of the few places I have been.”

    I’ve never been outside of Australia

  30. BillyJoe says:

    “Oh jeesh, do I have to go back to the garage. Can’t I have a bit of rope, please?”

    No, no, forget the rope, the carbon monoxide is much gentler.

  31. BillyJoe says:

    “So go to the garage. But leave the car keys in the house.”

    Yes, and the rope.

  32. micheleinmichigan says:

    BillyJoe – Hope, not Rope – And I would point out that our garage is too full of s..stuff to contemplate the rope scenario, but that would be morbid. Obviously, I’m not one to be morbid. ;)

    And I never been TO Australia or even the Southern Hemisphere. Maybe, someday…(insert fantasy sequence)

    Windriven – I don’t know whether to be appalled at the fact the you don’t appreciate the difficulties of an addiction, or the fact that you don’t watch The Daily Show, which is clearly tailored to your personality. You do watch it, don’t you, at least on hulu?

    See, this is the thing with us addicts, we always want to bring others along for the ride.

  33. windriven says:

    @micheleinmichigan

    I’ve seen The Daily Show when I travel or am at friends’ homes and always enjoy it. In fact I remember TDS from the early days when Craig ‘How-To-Kill-Your-Career’ Kilborn was the host. You didn’t loan him any rope did you?

  34. micheleinmichigan says:

    I missed the Kilborn period. I think I’ve only been watching since Bush v. Gore, but it does seem that someone gave him enough rope.

  35. BillyJoe says:

    micheleinmichigan: “BillyJoe – Hope, not Rope ”

    Oh, no, you clearly said rope. See:

    “Oh jeesh, do I have to go back to the garage. Can’t I have a bit of rope, please?”

    Should we worry at this freudian slip?

  36. micheleinmichigan says:

    BillyJoe – drat, made me look! you are incorrigible. Have you decided to give up a life of physics and start up a fine journalistic career in misquoting folks? :)

    No worries about me, barring illness or accident, I think I’m good for at least twenty years.

  37. BillyJoe says:

    Good to hear, Michele. :)

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