Sexism in Healthcare Reporting

NBC should consider re-branding as the “anti-woman” network.  Our culture needs to change so women feel valued and respected, comfortable and safe in the workplace, and are provided ample opportunities for leadership and growth.  NBC actions show they care little about gender equality in the workplace, prioritizing the comfort of males over that of females.  During a recent interview, former “Today Show” anchor Anne Curry asked a poignant question after “not being surprised by the allegations” against “golden boy” Matt Lauer.  “What are we gonna do to make sure these women work and are not sidelined and prevented from contributing to the greater good?”  My answer is we must continue to call attention when major networks push women aside. 

Morgan Radford is an NBC correspondent who reported on parents who were concerned about their children playing football due to risks of long-term neurologic damage.  She interviewed two physicians for her segment — a pediatrician by the name of Dyan Hes, MD and Lee Goldstein, MD, PhD, an internal medicine physician.  One would think both physicians were interviewed as experts in their fields; however, at some networks there appears to be “a power imbalance where women are not valued as much as men” according to Anne Curry.  Dr. Hes is a physician and a mother to a teenage son, whom she understandably, will not allow to play football.  Dr. Goldstein is a researcher and recently completed a study about the risk of brain injury resulting from even mild head trauma. 

The segment is posted here, for some unknown reason only one physician had his education properly credited.  Is it because he “looks like” a physician according to the stereotype of being older, white, and male?  Why was the fact that Dr. Hes is a physician strategically omitted?  Morgan Radfords’ mother is a Ph.D-level psychologist according to an article published by the American Psychological Association.   It states, “Psychologist Lily Kelly-Radford is proof positive that a high-powered career and family life can co-exist.”  How can her daughter, Morgan, be so dismissive of another woman’s’ significant educational accomplishments?   An email received by Dr. Hes’ press agent stated a senior producer purposefully edited out the fact that “Dyan” was actually a physician.  An M-D degree cannot be explained away, regardless of gender.  Her educational background qualifies her as a “subject matter expert” in a court of law, why not the mass media? 

NBC aired their strategically edited segment and the outcry from physicians across the country was deafening.  Without thinking, Ms. Radford and a senior producer contacted Dr. Hes directly to reassure her they did not “source” her as a mother and physician because it was considered “unethical” to have dual roles.  When she responded that ABC News, CBS This Morning, and even FOX news had no such problem, they coldly stated “It’s not all about you.”  Anne Curry recently said, a culture “that enables the diminishing of women” will persist until there is a balance of power between both genders.  It is becoming more and more evident NBC is failing women. 

Last year, courageous correspondents Ronan Farrow and Rich McHugh, wanted to publicize an investigative report on credible allegations of sexual harassment against Harvey Weinstein.  Reportedly, a senior producer declined the story because “it was not ready.”   Not to be deterred, Mr. Farrow took the story elsewhere and the rest has become history by launching #MeToo, the movement which ultimately may have contributed to derailing Matt Lauer’s career.  Andrew Lack, NBC News Chairman sent a memo to staff admitting, “While it is the first complaint about his behavior in the over 20 years he’s been at NBC News, we were also presented with reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident.” 

Longtime co-anchor Katie Couric has said Matt Lauer pinched her bottom when they were co-workers without reprimand.  Anne Curry, acknowledged “there was a climate of verbal sexual harassment” which was pervasive at NBC.   Is NBC a blatantly sexist organization?  Why else would they conceal the fact Dr. Hes, an accomplished pediatrician, is indeed a physician?  Is this how they “sideline” women and maintain the power imbalance?  It is time to hold NBC accountable for being committed to reporting honest news.  #ShameonNBC for their hatred of educated and powerful women.  Maybe we should boycott NBC until they apologize to Dr. Hes and women physicians across the nation for their stand against us. 

#Shame on NBC

Niran Al Agba, MD is a pediatrician in Washington state.

12 replies »

  1. To be fair I only watch soccer and the olympics on NBC but I’m amazed to be saying that Narin is correct

  2. Barry, that is what makes this story so infuriating. Dr. Hes has a press agent. She has been involved in other media stories. This is the very first time a network has “edited out” the fact she has the education of a Medical Doctor and practices as a pediatrician. What is the purpose of doing this? Is it to make Dr. Hes information less credible as a “mom” and not a physician? Was her stance made less credible to keep the NFL happy with the network? There is no legal risk to putting a pediatrician mother on TV, having her say she will not allow her son to play football due to neurologic risk, and then finding a non-pediatric expert to be a “mom.” Why did they ask her what she advises her patients? Why is Dr. Goldstein identified as a physician? If legal struck her credentials, (when they were essentially saying the exact same thing), then why did they not “strategically edit” his out?

  3. You are right… it is integrated, but not necessarily the way it should be. We need to identify the issue and solve it. Women and men have equal numbers in medical school, yet are more often in primary care and less often in academic medicine. The numbers in leadership in academic medicine are miniscule compared to men. Policy making roles for women are next to zero, unless you are NOT a physician (but that is a post for next week.) Why did they ask Dr. Hes what she tells her patients? Her answer about her son and her patients is what you see on camera. They filmed her washing dishes in her kitchen and Dr. Goldstein in a white coat. Where are his dishes to wash?….

  4. “(who does not have an axe to grind)”

    She was fired from the Today Show and Matt Lauer supposedly called her “Bambi”. I think there’s a little get even satisfaction.

  5. In the news business, you can’t put just anything on the air. Stories go through considerable vetting by the network’s legal department before they air. I would be very surprised if there is any deliberate or systematic anti-women reporting bias here. Liberal vs. conservative bias is a different matter.

  6. Important to keep in mind the distinction between the on camera “talent” (the industry’s word, not mine) and sources. How sourcing is handled is a big deal. Who do you quote? How do you quote them? Why do you put them on?

    It’s easy to forget that media coverage generally reflects the world the camera is pointed at. What does all of this say about the gender lines in medicine? About academic medicine? Primary care? Policy making?

    Medicine is unusual in my opinion, in that the profession is highly integrated yet .. somehow not quite integrated in the way it should be. This is something we need to think about

  7. I hear what you are saying, Barry. Why doesn’t the network commit to being honest about credentials without trying to stratify by gender? It’s a clean way to put together stories. Putting two women as anchors of the today show doesn’t mean very much if they are being managed by producers who hold stories back that benefit women in general. ie Morgan Radford was clearly raised by a strong mother, yet put together a very shoddy piece and strategically edited out the fact she was an MD. Who is in control over there exactly?

  8. I don’t know,Niran. I watch NBC Nightly News just about every night. For years, the network had Dr. Nancy Snyderman as its medical correspondent. Now it’s Dr. John Torres. Every medical story I’ve seen them air, most recently concerning the difficult flu season, ALWAYS identifies every female MD interviewed as a doctor.

    Regarding the Today show, I note that Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb are now the co-anchors of the first two hours with Megyn Kelly recently brought in from Fox News to host the 9:00 AM hour. There’s plenty of highly paid female talent on air at NBC. Whether they stay on air or not depends on garnering satisfactory ratings vs. their competitors.

    With respect to kids playing football, a female colleague of mine has a son who played high school football and is now a freshman at a Division 3 college and is playing football there too. When I asked her what she thought about the concussion risk, her response was “let him play.” I probably would have had a different view if he were my son.

  9. Based on the conversation with the senior producer, it was absolutely not a glitch. I do understand your thought about needing a “mom” for the story, but it is disingenuous on to quote this “mom” who has additional knowledge on which to base her decision. Should other “mothers” feel guilty letting their sons play football? How do we place the comments in context if we do not know someone’s background? Why refer only to the white male as doctor? Why pick him over her?

    As to your question about pattern… NBC turned around and did it again with two urgent care physicians not 24 hours later. They quoted the male as an MD and the female was not identified as a physician AGAIN. The only reason NBC followed up with Dr. Hes is due to the fact the NBC facebook page was littered with hundreds of comments from women physicians upset by this “oversight.”

    Based on Anne Curry’s comments in particular (who does not have an axe to grind) as well as others over there, discrimination is a regular undercurrent in the NBC workplace. It was “acceptable” and movements like #metoo are changing that slowly. Hopefully over time, NBC will reach a place of gender-balance, 🙂 just like THCB has done.

  10. I’d like to know more about this story …

    I can see both sides. Thinking like a producer, I think I can see how this might have happened innocently enough. In my brain, I can almost see how the news value of adding a “mom” to my story might outweigh adding another “doctor.” Human interest, the mom factor, .. But then it’s not my call to make when somebody has a credential. Was this an oversight? Was it an editing glitch? Is it part of a larger pattern?

    I’m legitimately curious.

    I think you’re probably right to be suspicious .. I think you — or somebody else – might want to follow up on this story with a look at how NBC has handled similar stories over the last few years.

    Has anybody done a study – even an informal qualitative study – comparing the treatment male and female doctors are given?

    My guess is that we’ll find the numbers are shocking.

  11. In 2011, a summary of world-wide progress for reducing maternal mortality appeared in a nationally prominent medical journal. There was “not one word” about the unequaled dismal status of maternal mortality occurring within the United States. In addition, there was no editorial comment as well. I have always wondered about what the authors of the report thought about this. One was on the faculty of a prominent medical school College of Public Health and the other author worked for UNICEF.
    There can be no excuse for the omissions other than an editorial bias. This bias is broadly represented throughout our nation’s health care. I have been closed out of four national healthcare Blogs after bringing it up, two of them no longer pursue their mission.
    There were at least 500 women in 2015 who died simply because they lived in the wrong nation before their pregnancy started. Each represented a loss of at least $500,000 worth of social capital for their family. If you want the whole story, read MOTHERLESS DAUGHTERS: The Legacy of Loss” by Hope Edelman 1995. Be sure to have a dry handkerchief!