The ‘Truthiness’ of Chiropractic
As a long time observer of the media war against chiropractors, the recent Katie May episode in the press that went viral is just another chapter in the endless story of double-standards impugning our profession with the “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” mindset—that is, one accident indicts our entire profession.
We could argue the relative safety of medical vs. chiropractic spine care—the rate of iatrogenic problems—and the clinical effectiveness for spine-related disorders—but these are not sexy enough to make the news.
We could argue the redeeming scientific consensus there was probably a preexisting condition to her stroke (holding her neck in prolonged extension during a photo shoot), but the media isn’t interested.
All that is good information to know, but what we’ve overlooked is the “truthiness” of the matter, not to be confused with the truth of the matter.
For those who are unfamiliar with this term, it was the guiding light in the satirical comedy of The Colbert Report for years as Stephen Colbert mentioned on the NPR program Fresh Air with Terry Gross:
“The idea of ‘truthiness’ — that was the thesis statement for the entire show – is that how you feel is more important than what the facts are, and that the truth that you feel is more important than anything that the facts could support.”
The same issue of ‘truthiness’ was at play Down Under when a pediatric chiropractor was falsely accused of abusing babies with his adjustments despite the complete lack of proof of harm in this victim-less non-crime. In the end, the supportive facts for pediatric chiropractic care for colic were subordinate to the ‘truthiness’ of the case sparked by the emotions stirred of a crying baby in the hands of a chiropractor.
Now we see another case of ‘truthiness’ with the death of Katie May, a former Playboy model. Despite the obligatory well-constructed 4-paragraph news releases from the ACA and F4CP, these evidentiary facts about dissection/CVA and SMT were ignored because the emotions of the death of a sexy Playgirl far outweighed the precursory opinion of a pre-existing “prolong pose” that may have torn her vertebral arteries long before seeing a DC.
Nevertheless, the case was litigated in the court of public media and the verdict was rendered—“Chiropractor Killed Katie May”—and every chiropractor was guilty by association in the minds of millions.
The legend of Katie May will not be that of a Playboy model since there are plenty of them, but her legend will be that of a Playboy model killed by a chiropractor—now she’s a martyr for the medical profession to showcase the dangers of chiropractic care.
And I daresay if the victim was a plumber from Pawtucket, there would be no story—certainly that ‘truthiness’ would be much less appealing than a Playboy model. You must admit placing a picture of her in this article increases the ‘truthiness’ of her death.
The Committee on Quackery at the AMA and the Institute of Science in Medicine medical haters are smiling today. Who needs to pay for anti-chiropractic propaganda when the lay media character assassinates chiropractors for free?
I fear what a new Gallup poll would say now about the public’s perception of our image today. A 2003 Gallup poll found “Americans see chiropractors as the least honest and least ethical health professionals. Only 31% of Americans considered chiropractors ethical and honest.”
Considering other cases of fraud and sex abuse, our image continues to be raked over the coals.
The 2015 Gallup-Palmer survey discovered one in four people will think we’re downright dangerous. And this poll was taken long before the infant case Down Under and death of Katie May.
I have to admit these two horrible PR impressions along with the recent stress from the unprecedented presidential election have made for the worst month of business I have ever experienced. People just stop buying when stressed out and, when combined with the Katie May death, people are now afraid of both the incoming populist president and chiropractors.
After the viral smear campaign in the press, people then voted with their feet by not walking into our offices. Indeed, we’ve badly lost the image election in the court of public opinion despite the good work we do.
In my last article, Media Muckraking, I showed other examples of “damage control” worth repeating by Chipotle, BP, and Wells Fargo because it’s our time to do the same.
Here are a few videos you and the foundation board members need to see:
Chipotle developed a PR program to regain its reputation.
British Petroleum (BP) also took a nasty hit on its image after the Gulf Coast oil spill and implemented a similar campaign.
Wells Fargo has developed a mea culpa advertising campaign to restore its image after the revelation of fake accounts. You may have seen recently the TV spot featuring a stagecoach in slow motion as the firm tries to convince customers it’s putting their interests first.
Rarely is the ‘truthiness’ of medical mistakes on the front pages so the public is not disturbed by the many victims. Where are the names and faces of the victims of doctors performing thousands of unnecessary surgeries? Where are pictures of the 2,507 people per million who are seriously injured or die from medical spine treatments?
Social Media Overstated
As I ask in my upcoming book, “To Kill a Chiropractor: the media war against chiropractors,” when was the last time you’ve seen an in-depth, ‘fair and balanced’ article about the benefits chiropractors bring to a world suffering from back pain, the #1 disability in the nation, workplace, military and among veterans? In fact, chronic pain affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer combined.
I think most everyone will agree with my premise: the key is the best mechanism to use to make the public aware of this situation.
Today many believe we have a powerful tool in social media but, according to Jonah Berger, author of “Contagious: Why Things Catch On,” only 7 percent of word of mouth happens online, which includes social media, blogs, email, and chat rooms.
Yes, you read that correctly. Obviously some people are putting more importance in social media than it deserves; plus, much of what is posted are bumper sticker slogans that may entertain our core followers, but unlikely to reposition anyone concerning the ‘truthiness’.
I know every webmasters and blog proponents will adamantly disagree with Berger, but where is the evidence to disprove his remark? Certainly every DC is prideful of their wonderful web pages, but these cyber advertorials don’t overcome the damage to our national image done by articles gone viral as we’ve witnessed Down Under and with Katie May.
F4CP to the Rescue???
“We want your money, not your ideas” Kent Greenawalt initially said when the foundation was formed in 2003.
Nonetheless, 13 years later, methinks it’s time to talk about a few new ideas. It’s time for the Foundation for Chiropractic Progress to turn a new leaf in its PR strategy.
Since the foundation is a tax-exempt organization supported by 15,000 DCs, vendors, chiropractic colleges, and state associations, it may be time to shine the light of transparency on this group.
According to the 990 IRS form for tax-exempt organizations, the F4CP in 2015 had contributions of $1,236,480, which is down from the $1,401,262 from the prior year. Perhaps this drop of $164,782 in donations is a clue the profession is losing interest in this effort; as a former ACA chairman told me, he just hasn’t seen the needle move.
In 2015 the foundation spent $714,144 for “advertising and promotion” to achieve its stated goal: “Generate press for the chiropractic profession and increase public awareness to the benefits of chiropractic care.”
The foundation spent $119,915 on compensation of the 20 “current officers, directors, trustees, and key employees.” It also spent $122,773 on “other salaries and wages.” Remuneration was $242,688, plus “other compensation” and “employee benefits” totaled $263,981.
Plus the accountant was paid $55,162 while transportation expenses reached $54,354 and information technology was $28,971. All tolled these expenses were $402,468 just to run the foundation.
My point revealing the business expenses of the foundation is to show there is still ample budget to begin a new phase in the foundation’s goal.
Certainly the F4CP’s past program of print materials, radio clips, TV and videos, press releases, industry news, media responses and e-newsletters were all elements of an essential starting point; now it’s time to enter the next phase of “earned media.”
Without a doubt, $714,144 for “advertising and promotion” would go a long way to pay for a PR Workshop to develop speakers, writers, pay consultants to teach the tricks of the trade, and then hire a publicist to connect speakers with programs and media people.
To use a football analogy, after years perfecting a ground game with printed materials, it’s now time to take to the air with a good QB and passing attack. But it will take trained players to make this pitch to the next level of PR who can discuss the ‘truthiness” issues in the earned media.
Rx: Cognitive Dissonance
The truthiness about chiropractic is an untold story that reminds me of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the great American novel by Harper Lee describing the lynch mob mentality we now see in a situation Down Under and with the Katie May case. Just as Harper Lee’s character, Tom Robinson, was unjustly accused and convicted by a prejudiced jury in the South, for the past century every chiropractor faced bias in the healthcare system and in the chirophobic media.
We must put emotions into our defense to gain the attention of people. Perhaps if the public understood our struggle—12,000+ chiropractors arrested in the first half of the 20th century; the AMA’s defamation campaign and illegal medical boycott also forced millions of patients into opioid addiction and failed back surgeries.
The proof is positive and research studies cannot be clearer that chiropractic stands at the top of spinal treatments as Anthony Rosner, PhD, testified before The Institute of Medicine: “Today, we can argue that chiropractic care, at least for back pain, appears to have vaulted from last to first place as a treatment option.”
This is the ‘truthiness’ about chiropractic the public has never been told—they simply do not understand our story and our heroes who fought to bring our effective nondrug, nonsurgical brand of health care. Nor do they know the wake of disability left behind drugs, shots, and spine surgery—the collateral damage among patients.
With the growing supportive arsenal of evidence-based guidelines in mind, the chiropractic profession’s media strategy needs to create a cognitive dissonance in the public’s mind to make them uncomfortable about medical spine care instead of the old medical stigma that makes patients uncomfortable about chiropractic care.
But that requires evoking emotions and ‘truthiness” as well as citing references and quoting expert opinions. It is more than a WOM comment from a celebrity such as Jerry Rice. It is more than a bumper sticker slogan on social media. This dilemma cannot be told in a newspaper ad or a 3-minute sound byte in a TV interview on Dr. Oz. Nor can it be explained in a 140-character tweet.
It does require knowledgeable spokes-people who can explain the current chaos in spine care and the human element so often ignored.
This is a cultural paradigm shift in the public’s mind that challenges their medical core beliefs. Just as explaining the impact of racism or sexism on people’s lives, it requires a convincing argument to speak about chirophobia—the medical prejudice against chiropractors—that includes the history, people, events, and politics of the war against chiropractors.
Realistically, how many DCs are prepared to do this?
Until we have more voices in the earned media, we will continue to be on the defensive with weak damage control efforts as we now see with Katie May’s case. We will continue to take a spoon to a knife fight.
Isn’t it time to start with a PR Workshop as I discussed in Media Muckraking?
 Smith, JS et al. Rates and causes of mortality associated with spine surgery based on 108,419 procedures: a review of the Scoliosis Research Society Morbidity and Mortality Database. Spine 2012, Nov 1;37(23):1975-82
 Jonah Berger, Contagious: Why Things Catch On, Simon and Schuster, 2013, p. 11.
 Testimony before The Institute of Medicine: Committee on Use of CAM by the American Public on Feb. 27, 2003.