Persuasion in Print vs TV

Richard Besser is a medical correspondent for ABC News who is an MD.  He knows a lot about a lot.  He knows, for example, that bone density drugs actually cause rather than prevent severe bone fractures.  He says so, right here.

Gina Kolata is a science journalist with the New York Times who has a master’s degree in mathematics.  Her article on this same problem concludes there is no established cause-and-effect relationship between these drugs and the severe bone fractures.  She quotes other medical experts in the article.  She does not quote Dr. Richard Besser, MD.

Who do you believe and why?  Which position are you more likely to even know about?

This is an interesting persuasion situation that looks at the “same” problem, yet provides opposite conclusions.  Besser’s work will reach several million people from his broadcast position with ABC News, while Kolata’s article may be read by just a few thousand, perhaps not even one hundred thousand people.  Viewers of Besser’s report will be different compared to the readers of Kolata’s report.  Compared to print readers, TV viewers tend to be older, less educated, more likely to be female, and from a minority ethnicity.

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to realize that if you are delivering information on TV compared to print, appearance makes a difference.  Here’s Dr. Besser and Ms. Kolata (and even that “Dr.” vs “Ms.” figures in here, doesn’t it?) with standard head and shoulder portraits.

Kolata Besser

It’s also interesting to note that Besser worked with my old crew, the CDC, in a variety of tasks before joining ABC News.  Most importantly he handled some public affairs duties along with his work in epidemiology.

What’s most intriguing to me is that Besser ran an epi research group at the CDC, yet he seems either unable or unwilling to read the basic research on these bone density drugs to see that these fractures are no more likely in women who take the drug versus those who don’t.  According to the balance of expert analysis from Kolata’s article, the rate of fracture is extremely low anyway and there’s no difference between users and nonusers.  Makes one wonder how Besser ran a government health statistics research group.  That must have been interesting for the Counters in that unit.

Yet, Besser knows the Truth, speaks the Truth, and honestly, looks pretty good doing It.  He just can’t count the Truth, it seems.

Not that that matters.  What matters is that he will reach a larger audience that tends to process TV news in a Low WATT fashion compared to Kolata who will reach a smaller audience that tends to process newspaper news in a High WATT fashion.  An attractive expert on TV says a drug is bad while a faceless writer in print quotes experts who say it appears the drug has no effect here.

Why wasn’t this addressed in the health care reform legislation?  Not that I’m saying . . . I’m just saying.