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Jewish World Review March 13, 2000 /6 Adar II, 5760

Michelle Malkin

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Consumer Reports



Katie and the
politics of disease -- SHE IS PRO-CLINTON, pro-abortion, anti-gun, and unbearably smirky-perky, but for once, I'm going to say something nice about Katie Couric. The NBC morning talk show host's new educational awareness campaign against colon cancer is a praiseworthy public service.

At first glance, Couric's effort may look like just another typically self-serving, left-wing media crusade. But unlike red- and pink-ribbon-clad gay activists and feminists who exploit illnesses to increase their political clout and hog a disproportionate amount of federal research dollars, Couric has embraced an unglamorous pet cause without an ideological agenda.

After her 42-year-old husband succumbed unexpectedly to colon cancer in 1998, Couric established a non-profit foundation to promote preventative screening. This week, she graced the cover of Time magazine, appeared before Congress, and anchored a five-part health series on the Today Show. Couric opened herself up to viewers literally -- by undergoing a colonoscopy on camera.

The televised exam invited ridicule from some insensitive snobs, but it helped break a longstanding and unhealthy silence about the disease. "Colons. Rectums. Bowels. Not exactly the stuff of cocktail party conversation," Couric joked during her congressional testimony. On a serious note, she added, such embarrassment can be deadly.

Roughly 140,000 new colon and rectal cancer cases are diagnosed in the United States every year; an estimated 56,000 Americans will die of colorectal cancer in 2000 -- making it the second leading cause of death due to cancer, after lung cancer, even though it is one of the most treatable and survivable of all cancers if detected in time.

Couric did not have to exaggerate statistics. Nor did she lobby for increased public funding and government research. She simply wants to lessen stigmas and call public attention to proven, cost-effective screening tests for colon cancer that can save tens of thousands of lives.

In the world of celebrity disease lobbyists, alas, Couric is the exception to the rule.

Entertainment heavyweights such as Elizabeth Taylor, Elton John, and Sharon Stone have succeeded in manipulating federal health policy to snag research and treatment funding for their politically correct diseases du jour: AIDS and breast cancer. In 1998, these illnesses received $2,400 per patient and $230 per patient in research tax dollars respectively, compared with $28 per patient for diabetes even though that unsung disease killed more people last year than AIDS and breast cancer combined.

To pay for recent increases in AIDS and breast cancer spending, federal science officials were forced to cut basic research funding for leukemia, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and cancers of the colon, bladder, kidney, and brain, as well as for public information and chemoprevention. The budgeting process for medical research is a zero-sum game, with PC diseases siphoning off the most money at the expense of others' lives.

Every death from disease is a tragedy. But a research funding system driven by public relations, rather than public health priorities and sound cost-effectiveness criteria, is a faulty cure. And as the GOP's presumptive presidential nominee George W. Bush proved in recent weeks with ads touting his support for ever more government breast cancer funding, conservatives are no more immune to the politics of affliction than liberals.

The ultimate remedy may be to get the government completely out of the business of disease research. Until then, Katie's colon cancer campaign is a model for what the media can do to counterbalance the overpoliticized disease wars. Instead of hyping the risks of fashionable illnesses embraced by Hollywood, report on the realities of the world's mundane health threats.

An estimated 1million children, for example, die of diarrhea every year. In the U.S. - here in this wealthy, industrialized nation - some 55,000 kids are hospitalized annually by the virus. Yet there's no brown ribbon campaign for these victims. No National Diarrhea Month.

Perhaps this could be Katie's next crusade?

JWR contributor Michelle Malkin can be reached by clicking here.


03/10/00: Maria H, Granny D, and the media Z's
03/07/00: Bubba Van Winkle wakes up
03/03/00: Double standard for day traders?
02/28/00: Sluts and nuts --- and our daughters
02/24/00: Zoning out religious freedom
02/15/00: The Baby Brain Boondoggle
02/10/00: Buddhist temple untouchables
02/08/00: CDC: Caught Devouring Cash
02/04/00: Hillary's poisoned poster child
02/01/00: Corporate welfare on ice
01/28/00: The silly sound of silence
01/26/00: The Old Media meltdown
01/20/00: The pied pipers of KidCare
01/18/00: Our imperious judiciary
01/14/00: Tune out Columbine chorus
01/12/00: Dying to be an American
01/10/00: Time for smokers' revolt?
12/30/99: Reading, writing, PlayStation?
12/27/99: Fight money-grubbing mallrats
12/23/99: Christmas for Cornilous Pixley
12/20/99: Who will help the Hmong?
12/16/99: Shame on corn-fed politicians
12/13/99: EPA vs. the American Dream
12/09/99: Look behind the Pokemon curtain
12/06/99: Amateur hour in Seattle
11/30/99: Stop the Ritalin racketeers
11/23/99: Welfare for a sports fatcat
11/19/99: Jeb Bush's political ploy of the week
11/16/99: Ben & Jerry serve up junk science
11/12/99: A monumental waste of our veterans' resources
11/10/99: Tax-and-spend schizophrenia
11/05/99: Spooky Guy Haunts the Capital
11/02/99: Mourning the loss of the last Liberty Tree
10/27/99: AOL goes AWOL on parents
10/22/99: The persecution of Harry Potter
10/20/99: Don't doctor the law
10/14/99: The trouble with kids today
10/12/99: Pro-animal, pro-abortion, anti-speech?
10/07/99: Beltway press corps needs more skunks
09/30/99: ESPN overlooks athlete of faith, grace, and guts
09/27/99: Personal freedom going up in smoke
09/15/99: Farewell, "Miss" America
09/10/99: Will George W. work for a color-blind America?
09/03/99: Feminization of gun debate drowns out sober analysis
08/27/99: America is abundant land of equal-opportunity insult
08/10/99: Protect the next generation from diversity do-goodism
08/04/99: Sweepstakes vs. state lottery: double standards on gambling
07/21/99: "True-life tales from the Thin Red Line" (or "Honor those who sacrificed their lives for peace")
07/21/99: Reading, 'Riting, and Raunchiness?
07/14/99: Journalists' group-think is not unity
06/30/99: July Fourth programming for the Springer generation
06/25/99: Speechless in Seattle
06/15/99: Making a biblical argument against federal death taxes

© 2000, Creators Syndicate