A Letter to the New England Journal of Medicine's Dr. Lisa Rosenbaum
Mar 19, 2016 — March 19, 2016
By now, I trust you've read the most recent issue of The Cancer letter:
I also trust you've read today's WSJ article:
You have received my critique on the ethical content of your writing. And you are aware of our allegation of improper access to medical records or, at best, your very poor journalistic practice in this article:
However, so as to inform you of the broader view Dr. Reed and I have of journalistic practice, we believe there are two categories of Journalism:
Type 1) Journalists with an agenda (financial, professional or political) and defined world-view, who attempt to pick and choose straws to create straw-men. This type of journalist attempts to create the world in his/her or her own image. And often it matters very little what the facts are, what existing bodies of past work have demonstrated and what the codified principles of journalistic and professional ethics are. This type of journalist is the creator of propaganda, hype and sensationalized drama - supermarket newspapers stands and fascist empires' and nations' propaganda machineries are (and were) populated by an abundant supply of such so-called "journalists"
Type 2) Journalists who see facts relevant to cutting edge social and professional topics, and who are in the business of reporting these facts. This type of journalist is committed to understanding the contemporary issues of importance and controversy. He/she is committed to identifying, verifying and reporting the facts and the diversity of professional opinions around these facts, in a manner amenable to access by the public. This journalist is a member of the free-press - not a propaganda machinery. Such journalists are scholars and linguists who simply shed light onto darkness. They go nowhere near wanting to create the world in the image of their own opinions and world-view. And by reporting as they do, they catalyze social and professional evolution and progress.
Your style of reporting has demonstrated itself to fit neatly into the first category. You are the creator of medical straw-men made in the image of your own world-view and that of your Harvard and NEJM masters/mentors. Your opinions are based on loosely vetted facts. Your analyses are incomplete and use a collage of fancy words and concepts of irrelevance or incomplete relevance. And your historic references demonstrate a poignant commitment to framing an argument with a preconceived purpose. This is the worst kind of journalism - because it is not journalism at all. It is propaganda.
So the real question for your editors at NEJM, now, is what they view their purpose, and yours, as. Is NEJM a propaganda machine designed to protect professional interests and promote a club of decorated academics who defend financial and institutional interests? Or is NEJM one of the most prominent, powerful and objective academic medical journals in the world?
For now it appears that an absence of good journalism and a deviation from medical ethical ideas populates NEJM.
Again we look forward to your immediate retraction and an apology for the inaccurate statements you've made about Dr. Reed's cancer staging at the time of her morcellation and regarding my "abandonment" of my surgical career. This is an absolute requirement we will take legal action to enforce, if necessary. So please do not take it lightly and drive us to escalate another unnecessary conflict with the institution.
We also trust that your editors will understand the importance of publishing the Letter of response we submitted to the Journal, as a matter of principle - and the critical importance of the erratum or retraction we are requesting.
But, truth be told, and colleague-to-colleague, it will likely be in your own best long term professional interest to retract this piece entirely - as it is being widely viewed as a piece of propaganda, weak at that, not authentically written to promote progress in our profession in response to a seriously identified women's health hazard (i.e., upstaging of missed or occult uterine cancers). This article has the potential to shape your reputation as a medical writer moving forward. Perhaps you will heed my advise - I am more of a friend to you than you might imagine.