In this post, written in February 2014, I threw out a challenge to the media to dig a bit deeper and report on the actual story of Jessica Ainscough and her story of vegetable juices, coffee enemas and cancer survival. I wrote:
“And media. When is someone going to call her out and report on this situation for what it is instead of fawning over the beautiful young girl who drinks green smoothies? It is time someone in the media took a close look at this situation and exposed the cold hard facts.”
It would only have taken a scratch on the surface to reveal that all was not as it seemed, but no one bothered. The media reported her story, as told to them by Jess, without question. Until she died, then there was quite a few articles examining the futility of the treatments she chose to undertake. Too little too late though, that same media had already made into a minor celebrity as “the girl who cured her cancer”.
Over the past few weeks another ‘amazing cancer survivor’ Bell Gibson is taking a fall from grace with revelations that her cancer story appears to have been a lie. At the time of writing Ms Gibson is yet to provide evidence that she ever had brain cancer, and has suggested that the other four types of cancer that she claimed to have developed were ‘misdiagnosed’.
Penguin Books has pulled her “The Whole Pantry” recipe book off the shelves in Australia, and the app with the same name has been quietly removed from the app store.
I like what Media Watch had to say on the issue:
“Now what’s remarkable about Belle’s remarkable story is that no one who swallowed it apparently bothered to check it was true.
Not the publishers at Penguin. Nor the chaps at Apple. Nor a parade of media admirers at The Sunday Telegraph, News.com.au, Cosmopolitan, Australian Women’s Health, Marie Claire, Elle, and Channel Seven’s Sunrise among others.
So when you see a story like this in future, whether you’re a journalist or a reader, it’s worth remembering this tip from the ABC’s health expert Dr Norman Swan, who told Media Watch: “The general rule in health and medical journalism is the same as any other form of journalism, if it sounds too good to be true, it is.”
I couldn’t have put it any better myself. I hope that media take stock and learn from this embarrasing situation. The consumers of Australian media deserve better. They deserve due dilligence in health reporting.