Respectful Insolence

That didn’t take long.

Earlier today I wrote about how Colorado Public TV (channel 12) has betrayed its public trust by airing movies promoting quackery and/or pseudoscience. The most recent example is its upcoming airing of the first Burzynski movie, a propaganda piece so blatantly one-sided and full of cherry picked information and conspiracy mongering that it’s painful for anyone with two neurons to rub together to watch.

Well, Colorado PBS, Channel 12 has responded (click to embiggen):

Response


Indeed. Colorado PBS must have incredible contempt for its viewers to think that such a transparent bit of self-serving PR-speak that is so at odds with the obvious reality would fly. The bottom line is that CPT is using a movie promoting an unproven cancer cure to raise money for its pledge drive. It is also featuring the film’s producer and a PR flack representing the subject of the film, all the while posting a “poll” whose very premise is false. (Oncologists are already trying to research less toxic therapies and have been for decades, while Burzynski’s antineoplastons are anything but “nontoxic.”) Then, when criticized, a PR flack for the station tries to feed critics a line of bull about being “neutral” and “telling both sides,” when the film certainly doesn’t do anything of the sort and CPT’s own actions belie its claim to be “neutral.”

Disagreement I can handle; contempt for my intelligence kind of ticks me off. If you used to support Colorado Public TV, Channel 12, tell them you’re not giving them money this year and tell them why. The answer to my previous question (Has Colorado PBS become a wretched hive of scum and quackery?) has been answered.

Comments

  1. #1 APC
    Missouri
    March 5, 2013

    CPT also aired the latest bit of docugarbage out of the 9/11 Truth camp, so at least they’re consistent.

  2. #2 Johanna
    San Francisco
    March 5, 2013

    …and I just got spammed by the same PR flack with the same canned response. *eyeroll*

    I wonder if it’s worth the effort of replying to it…

  3. #3 Beamup
    March 5, 2013

    Translation:

    We don’t care one whit whether the “documentaries” we air have even a nodding relationship with reality. We will happily promote fraud that’s likely to kill people, so long as we get paid for it.

  4. #4 Edith Prickly
    March 5, 2013

    Everybody gotsta get paid…http://zdoggmd.com/2012/01/big-pharma/

  5. #5 Todd W.
    http://www.harpocratesspeaks.com
    March 5, 2013

    Orac,

    I sent a tweet about this to Phil Plait, who lives in Colorado and has a small readership. Maybe he can help spread the word about CPT12′s irresponsibility.

  6. #6 AdamG
    March 5, 2013

    Isn’t hosting a post-film Q&A with only the perspectives of the film’s director and a Burzynski PR guy exactly the opposite of ‘serving a neutral role?’

  7. #7 Narad
    March 5, 2013

    I sent a tweet about this to Phil Plait, who lives in Colorado and has a small readership. Maybe he can help spread the word about CPT12′s irresponsibility.

    I similarly posted an FB message to the timeline of a friend of mine who’s at University of Colorado Boulder. He’s something of a globe-trotter, but I’m guessing it might help spread some local attention.

  8. #8 Narad
    March 5, 2013

    ^ Sorry, University of Colorado Denver.

  9. #9 lkr
    March 5, 2013

    Years ago, the Oregon Public Broadcasting TV people lost me for a good while by putting on James Dobson “Focus on the Family” during their fundraiser. Never heard of the guy or organization, but there they were going after gays, atheists, divorced people.. No thanks.

    Lesson seems to be that public-media fundraisers will grab almost anything that they think might bring in a new demographic. AND often kill their base audience.

  10. #10 Damien
    March 5, 2013

    If I might recommend calling instead? I called in a few minutes ago and very politely tried to make the case that Colorado Public Television isn’t the right place for outright propaganda to be broadcast.

    They offered to try to get me to Skype in to address Merola directly, and I’m not exactly a cancer expert. Perhaps with enough gentle phone calls we can work some magic?

    Ask for Sherry.
    Station: (303) 296-1212
    Toll-Free: 1-800-727-8812

  11. #11 S
    March 5, 2013

    NBC’s Dateline did a special called “A Dose of Controversy”. It exposes some of the areas of controversy. It is still online at the following link, http://www.nbcnews.com/id/3032600/vp/41718740#41718740

    The special also uncovered some bogus diagnostic methods in use by Dr. Nicholas Gonzales, such as the use of a Delawar diagnostic instrument to analyze hair samples. The woman doing the hair analyses runs a spa in LA. The instrument is like a Quiji board. Anyone seeing it should realize it is a scam.

    I wonder if NBC would re-run the Dateline episode concurrent to the PBS Burzynski movie showings.

  12. #12 Dangerous Bacon
    March 5, 2013

    Being “neutral” and having a supposed goal to just “present the information” means Channel 12 should think about expanding beyond health quackery and allowing (for starters) racist and anti-gay organizations to present their own infomercials during fundraising drives.

    I mean, surely the viewers can decide for themselves if a Stormfront video is accurate or not.

  13. #13 Ken
    March 5, 2013

    I bet the Sham-Wow guy would have paid the station more to run his infomercial and they wouldn’t have lost as many of their existing subscribers. I’m not sure that other infomercial companies know the station is now open to them.

  14. #14 Heliantus
    March 5, 2013

    CPT answer is annoyingly along the line of “Teach the controversy”.

    Serving in our neutral role”

    True neutrality doesn’t exist. As Frank Herbert said, there is no way to present information without judgement.
    And anyway, the format PBS is using is not even close to neutrality.

  15. #15 LindaRosaRN
    http://www.scienceinmedicine.org
    March 5, 2013

    I recommend writing the PBS Ombudsmans, Michael Getler, demanding that CPT’s certification with PBS be cancelled because of airing this blatantly commercial film which poses a public health risk.

    http://www.pbs.org/ombudsman/

    I wonder what some of CPT’s corporate sponsors will think of the Burzynski film – sponsors such as the Cancer League and Children’s Hospital?

  16. #16 Narad
    March 5, 2013

    Lesson seems to be that public-media fundraisers will grab almost anything that they think might bring in a new demographic.

    I strongly suspect that this is CPT12′s current demographic. I do know that for commercial radio stations, there is a “book” that circulates of people who are looking to make appearances. I have an inquiry out to people who might know better about how such programming is acquired for PBS stations (e.g., “American Health Journal,” which aired an ASEA spot, FFS).

  17. #17 Narad
    March 5, 2013

    I recommend writing the PBS Ombudsmans, Michael Getler, demanding that CPT’s certification with PBS be cancelled because of airing this blatantly commercial film which poses a public health risk.

    Good luck with that.

  18. #18 Ren
    The Keystone State
    March 5, 2013

    Did I just catch a reference to “Medicine Man” with Sean Connery in that screen capture?

  19. #19 Melissa G
    March 5, 2013

    Oh. My. God.

    The thing is, they are not presenting “information,” they’re presenting propaganda AS IF it were information. That is so completely not ok as to be beyond the pale.

  20. #20 Ren
    March 5, 2013

    Looks like Merola has brought out the troops. He keeps writing this:

    “Also, aside from the plethora of peer-reviewed articles, if there has been no proof of efficacy, why is it that the National Cancer Institute is also acknowledging that it works? ”

    He then links to the entry on antineoplastons at cancer.gov. I don’t think he’s read that entry in its entirety.

  21. #21 Narad
    March 5, 2013

    Merola has chimed in on the FB comments, BTW.

  22. #22 LindaRosaRN
    h
    March 5, 2013

    Narad: You’re only too right. I doubt if PBS has ever de-certified a local station, but if they ever do, CPT appears to have long been at the top of its bad boy list of stations.

    But thoughtful letters to ombudsman Michael Getler do get published on the PBS website. And it would be kindness to Getler who must be terminally bored with all the complaints about Downton Abbey killing off Matthew.

  23. #23 Liz Ditz
    March 5, 2013

    Narad wrote,

    I do know that for commercial radio stations, there is a “book” that circulates of people who are looking to make appearances.

    How does one get in that “book”, Narad? Reply here or to me privately (myname at gmail dot com).

  24. #24 Narad
    March 5, 2013

    How does one get in that “book”, Narad? Reply here or to me privately (myname at gmail dot com).

    I’ll have to check with a producer I used to correspond with. He might still be a tad ticked off with me, though, but I’ll try. I’ll E-mail if anything comes through. There seem to be a lot of people offering similar services, but I got the impression that this was an industry standard; I just can’t remember the name.

  25. #25 Art Tricque
    Ontario, Canada
    March 5, 2013

    Writing to the PBS ombudsman may still be useful, but I suspect writing directly to major sponsors of CPT may be even more effective

  26. #26 Militant Agnostic
    Where it is always better with cows around
    March 5, 2013

    @Ren

    He then links to the entry on antineoplastons at cancer.gov. I don’t think he’s read that entry in its entirety.

    Or he may be counting on the people who are impressed by his link not reading it in its entirety.

  27. #27 Alexis
    March 5, 2013

    The after lunch slot on my PBS station (WITF, for the record) is being occupied by woo-fomercials all week. (Normally it’s cooking/crafts/the first half hour of the PBS Kids block.)

    I turned it on yesterday and was assaulted by Daniel Amen screeching about my delicate female brain and why girls (not children, just girls) should not do headers in soccer. Today was something about an “immunity solution” and later this week, “protect your brain.”

    A friend told me this station loves the woo as filler. It’s Pledge Month or something so they’ve packed the schedule full of it.

  28. #28 Narad
    March 6, 2013

    The hilarity continues. DJT has shown up on the FB comments.

  29. #29 Narad
    March 6, 2013

    (His lone “like” is “Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura”; similarly, the one remark is his only comment ever.)

  30. #30 Rokujolady
    March 6, 2013

    The Northern California PBS lost it long ago. Now they pretty much constantly fund-raise and when I tun it on its usually the “heal yourself with a positive attitude” guy. I used to think their usual ” reunion concert of oxygen tank-toting ex fifties boyband members” fundraising schtick was lame. They lost me when they canned Dr Who in favour of some lady with a Pilates studio in Marin giving Pilates coaching. Way to secure the Silicon Valley dollar, guys.
    Anyway, the infiltration of woo into PBS fundraising is not new, but it seems to be getting a lot worse.

  31. #31 Adam
    March 6, 2013

    Wow it’s hard to see how viewers can be the “best judge” when they’re presented with a one sided promotional piece for a quack.

  32. #32 Grant
    http://sciblogs.co.nz/code-for-life/2013/03/06/codebreakers-wellcome-traces-the-origins-of-modern-genetics/
    March 6, 2013

    Off-topic, but in similar general vein: in New Zealand Radio Rhema, a Christian broadcasting channel, put up a long “interview” with a “spokesperson” for the local anti-vaccine group. I write “interview” in scare quotes as like the PBS show there’s no attempt to prod the interviewee as to what they are offering, just gifting them have a platform to blather on!

  33. #33 flip
    March 6, 2013

    Once again, false balance in journalism strikes out. And why does the subtext of that comment sound awfully like: “people bring us content to fill our airwaves with, and we don’t want to turn them down because well, it’s all about supporting the community cheap/easy content for us!” Alternatively: “we’re more interested in pleasing our audience or creating controversy than presenting accurate information”.

    @Adam G

    Isn’t hosting a post-film Q&A with only the perspectives of the film’s director and a Burzynski PR guy exactly the opposite of ‘serving a neutral role?’

    My guess is they see the Q&A an opportunity to have ‘both sides’ ask questions and clear the air. They’d see it more as opening a discussion than closing one.

    Oh and I’ll gloat here: our local government-funded and community stations are not great. But my goodness they sound 10 times better than yours… Unless you count late-night/early morning evangelists.

  34. #34 flip
    March 6, 2013

    Speaking of which… quite literally just flipped over to watch “Cold Chain Mission” with Ewan McGregor. Mmmm, pro-vax TV.

  35. #35 Narad
    March 6, 2013

    This is hilarious. DJT has now switched back into
    .
    I will separate
    .
    “SENTENCES”
    .
    with
    .
    “PERIODS.”
    .
    mode.
    .
    For ease of reading on mobile devices, no doubt.

  36. #36 Orac
    March 6, 2013

    Oh, geez. First Merola and his minions flooded the comments. Now DJT? I don’t think I can stand to go back…

  37. #37 Narad
    March 6, 2013

    I don’t think I can stand to go back…

    The SNR is already heading straight into the ground.

  38. #38 Ren
    Snowed-in at the Keystone State
    March 6, 2013

    I tried. I really did. Then it just got stupid. At this point, I’m just shaking my head.

  39. #39 NJ case
    March 6, 2013

    http://www.brookehealey.com/Donations.php

    I know you have covered cases like this in the past on your blog. This little girl is from New Providence, NJ and I see her parents are fundraising for possible future alternative treatments costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. I hope they are not duped into some fantasy cure wasting the short time they have with their daughter.

  40. #40 AlisonM
    March 6, 2013

    If the viewers could be trusted to judge content, we wouldn’t be having this discussion in the first place. Sheesh.

  41. #41 Marc Stephens Is Insane
    March 6, 2013

    Cookie please.

  42. #42 Narad
    March 6, 2013

    I tried. I really did. Then it just got stupid. At this point, I’m just shaking my head.

    Merola seems to have gone silent.

  43. #43 Karin
    Fort Lauderdale
    March 6, 2013

    @LindaRosaRN – thanks a bunch for the Downton Abbey spoiler.

  44. #44 S. Williams
    March 6, 2013

    This makes me think. KQED is all up on Dr. Rudy Tanzi and his “Super Brain” during this pledge season. This all seems somewhat new-agey, and a bit of googling around seems to tie him to Deepak Chopra, which gives one pause. Could it be that PBS in general (and not just CPT) has gone over to the New Age deep end?

  45. #45 H.H.
    March 7, 2013

    “…we believe that viewers can be the best judge of content.”

    I love this victim blaming. “We don’t have an obligation to verify the veracity of the programs we air. It’s the viewers’ responsibility to fact-check our content.”

  46. #46 Marc Stephens Is Insane
    March 7, 2013

    Another cookie please.

  47. #47 Politicalguineapig
    March 7, 2013

    S Williams: I think it’s more likely that they’re running stuff they think their demographic will like and be willing to support. There’s a lot of crunchy granola warriors who watch PBS.

  48. #48 Marc Stephens Is Insane
    March 7, 2013

    Wow, it looks like the station’s director of development has replaced the water in all the coolers with Count Stan’s Kool-Aid. Here’s her response to a critical e-mail on the station’s website:

    CPT12 Response:
    Thank you for your comments. CPT12 would never jeopardize its FCC standing, especially because of just one program. The station has a history of airing content not widely accessible in mainstream media and often seen as controversial. In addition, a strong platform of support has been built on this mission for over 30 years and financially supported by individuals in the community who think that CPT12 is not only a unique, but truly valuable community resource. Our viewers and supporters have let us know that they like to think for themselves and make their own decisions. We respect this as we do your opinions.

    I first learned about this documentary from a longtime member who mailed me a DVD and asked that the station consider it. After screening it and doing some research I contacted Eric Merola of Merola Productions the film’s Producer/Director.

    The production was fully funded by Merola Productions and personally by Producer/Director Eric Merola himself. Merola spent years researching the story of Dr. Burzynski, an MD with a PhD in biochemistry who invented a proprietary gene-targeted alternative cancer therapy called Antineoplastons.

    Dr. Burzynski has worked in tandem under strict supervision of the FDA and their protocols, procedures and publication mandates. And he has operated within the full extent of the law in all clinical trials and treatments. This therapy has been through successful Phase I and fourteen Phase II FDA approved clinical trials which were just completed in July 2012 and has now has been approved for Phase III trials. Clinical trials are also going on in the UK and Japan. The fascination around this story and part of the reason we decided to air it is that at the same time antineoplaston therapy was going through clinical trials, the FDA tried to indict Dr. Burzynski five times and was successful the 5th time in indicting him specifically for Interstate Commerce – he was treating people beyond Texas state lines who were coming to him from all over the world – and all at their own free will. The case went to court and Dr. Burzynski won. All charges have been dropped and there are no outstanding charges against him.

    Antineoplaston therapy has had significant success rates with terminal brain cancer patients and especially in children. For one example, you can see Skype interviews with Dustin Kunnari and his mom and dad at the CPT12 landing page http://www.cpt12.org/burzynski. Dustin is one person who was treated by Dr. Burzynski as a toddler and is now a healthy, young man of 21 years. His mother’s testimony at the 1996 Congressional Sub-Committee Hearings can be seen in the film.

    Dr. Burzynski states himself that antineoplaston therapy is not a one-size-fits-all treatment. Every case, and every individual’s treatment is different.

    In the eyes of the station this documentary is just that – a documentary. If you have not yet seen the film I recommend that you watch it. It was licensed to the Documentary Channel and just became available. The film contains archival footage from Congressional Sub-Committee Hearings, news media outlets, testimonies from patients and their families, comments from MD’s, PhD’s, clips and documents from the National Cancer Institute and FDA as well as video clips of interviews with former heads of these very agencies.

    Thank you for participating in the conversation.

    Sincerely,
    Shari Bernson
    Director of Development / Executive Producer, Colorado Public Television

    So we learn the Phase II trials wrapped up in July. Interesting.

    There are about 35 comments here:

    http://www.cpt12.org/community/viewer_buzz.cfm?s=745&ta=1

  49. #49 Marc Stephens Is Insane
    March 7, 2013

    Make sure you don’t miss the response from Joan at the station defending acupuncture:

    Gee. One person states he’s better after receiving treatment from Burzynski. Where are your thinking skills? Maybe he’s better for another reason and in spite of Burzynski? If the staff at the station were skeptics who know how to research and how to avoid or at least recognize logical fallacies you would not be airing this infomercial about a fraud and a quack. Guess what? Acupuncture does not work either! Didn’t know that? Just shows how you don’t know how to research science related anything.

    CPT12 Response:
    Thank you for your email.
    Are you telling me 1 billion Chinese are wrong?
    Please click on the link to find the list of Medical Organizations that endorse Acupuncture.
    Thanks for your input.
    We invite you to join the conversation on CPT12 Facebook and Twitter pages (#burzynski) where the discussion continues.
    All the Best,
    Joan
    CPT12 Staff

  50. #50 Jon H
    March 7, 2013

    “Lesson seems to be that public-media fundraisers will grab almost anything that they think might bring in a new demographic.”

    It seems as though public *television* is *all* fundraising with this sort of dreck.

    Public radio is still pretty good, but public TV is all woo and “Celtic Thunder”.

    Public radio fundraising largely happens during their normal programming, so listeners can support their favorite shows that way. Public TV fundraising seems to mostly happen during “special programming” like this, so it’s self-reinforcing. They raise money with these shows, which encourages them to show more dreck. They aren’t raising money with Nova and Nature and the Newshour, even though those (plus Sesame Street) are the shows they use to justify their existence.

  51. #51 Narad
    March 7, 2013

    Public radio fundraising largely happens during their normal programming, so listeners can support their favorite shows that way.

    Generally, no. The money goes into the general fund. Any pretense at being given a “vote” is merely that. WBEZ in Chicago is a famous example of this, silently taking $1 million (one-third) from pledge contributions to try to start up a failed spin-off that was supposed to represent the future of public radio.

  52. #52 marcus volke
    australia
    March 8, 2013

    All this dr.burzynski bashing is just noise and clamour. The only thing that really matters i what the clinical studies show –
    Here is a link to 38 published, peer reviewed clinical studies demonstrating the efficacy of antineoplasteons – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=burzynski%20antineoplaston
    Considering that many of these studies were done on brains stem cancer, and that the survival rate for these patients under the standard of care is 0% i’d say those results are impressive.
    Here are some studies in which his results have been reproduced by independent scientists in japan afte 27 years of research – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17695534 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16012735 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12768372 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11748457 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9538158 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9769368 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8755117 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7474850 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8667595

    Contrary to grand claims about dr.burzynski charging exorbitant prices the initial upfront cost of Antineoplaston treatment is around $20,000 for the first month, and $7,500 per month after the first month. Furthermore the Burzynski Clinic gives away the medicine itself for free. The medicine costs the Burzynski Clinic $12,000 per month per patient to give it away for free.

    As for the supposedly ludicrous profit that dr.burzynski makes The Company [Burzynski Reseach Inc] had net losses of approximately $5,031,000 and $4,831,000 for the fiscal years ended February 29, 2011 and 2010, respectively.”
    SOURCE: http://quote.morningstar.com/stock-filing/Annual-Report/2011/2/28/t.aspx?t=PINX:BZYR&ft=10-K&d=cfbba1a8ad836d105af0045f8219d759

  53. #53 marcus volke
    australia
    March 8, 2013

    and before you complain about there being no phase 3 clinical studies, please bear in mind that the FDA has approved numerous drugs (including chemotherapeutic drugs) after completing phase 2 clinical studies and before completing phase 3 clinical studies.
    Furthermore, as dr.burzynski has repeatedly stated that he has been unable to accrue enough patients to do a phase 3 clinical study, due to the criteria imposed on him.

  54. #54 Agashem
    With the dog
    March 8, 2013

    Ho hum, another Burzynski troll. How many pages will he spam?

  55. #55 Narad
    March 8, 2013

    The Company [Burzynski Reseach Inc] had net losses of approximately $5,031,000 and $4,831,000 for the fiscal years ended February 29, 2011 and 2010, respectively.”

    Through rather carefully engineered accounting. Show us Scamley’s balance sheet, not BRI’s.

  56. #56 Kelly M Bray
    In the kitchen. Making pickled jalapenos.
    March 9, 2013

    Orac, why don’t you or Steve Novella call or Skype in during the discussion? Rip them a new posterior exit?

  57. #57 Melissa (oddharmonic)
    March 17, 2013

    As a viewer in the Denver area, CPT12 is the “weird” PBS station that manages to keep afloat by a complicated series of levers and pulleys. Rocky Mountain PBS (KRMA in Denver) is the primary PBS network in the area.

  58. #58 Quokka
    Canberra
    March 17, 2013

    Please delete comment 22 – that’s at least two people who have had Downton Abbey season 3 half ruined by the massive spoiler this thoughtless cretin dropped in.

  59. #59 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    March 17, 2013

    Quokka,

    I don’t watch Downton Abbey, but even I had heard that elsewhere.

  60. #60 Narad
    March 17, 2013

    Please delete comment 22 – that’s at least two people who have had Downton Abbey season 3 half ruined by the massive spoiler this thoughtless cretin dropped in.

    Just wait until you get to the end of season 9 of Dallas.

  61. #61 Khani
    March 18, 2013

    If you can’t handle spoilers, please, please please please, PLEASE get off the Internet.

    On behalf of all the rest of us tired to death of whiny people who choose not to watch the show the day it airs, thank you.

    Shield your own eyeballs, they’re not our responsibility.

  62. #62 Marc Stephens Is Insane
    March 22, 2013

    A response from the PBS ombudsman, Michael Getler, on the controversy swirling around the recent airing of the Burzynski infomercial:

    http://www.pbs.org/ombudsman/index.html

    And a reaction from Guy Chapman’s blog:

    http://www.chapmancentral.co.uk/blahg/2013/03/burzynski-a-note-to-the-pbs-ombudsman/

    Incidentally, both Guy and Keir Liddle have devoted entire columns this week to our favourite Count Stan salesman DJT.

    I won’t link here because I’ll go to moderation for too many links, but will post them in a follow-up.

  63. #63 Marc Stephens Is Insane
    March 22, 2013
  64. #64 Marc Stephens Is Insane
    March 25, 2013

    Cookie pleeeeze…

  65. #65 Marc Stephens Is Insane
    March 25, 2013

    Must…have…cookies…