Letter to NPR


March 21, 2012


Madhulika Sikka

Executive Director

Morning Edition

635 Massachusetts Avenue, NW,

Washington, DC 20001


Dear Ms. Sikka:


I read an enlightening article in the recent Newsweek, “Where Women Are on Top: How Stuffy Old NPR Became a Hotbed for Female Journalists,” (3/12/2012) that mentioned you as the executive director of Morning Edition.


As a long-time supporter of NPR, I tell my friends and patients it is the only “intelligent radio” on the air. However, recently I was disappointed with Morning Edition on February 15th by article by Blake Farmer on military health services featuring the military’s new use of complementary and alternative healthcare—chiropractic, acupuncture, and massage therapy.  Military Pokes Holes In Acupuncture Skeptics’ Theory WPLN

(http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2012/02/15/istock_000013276253small_sq.jpg?t=1329345897&s=1  )


In this article, former flight surgeon Harriett Hall took a malicious swipe at these professions, which isn’t her first time I might add. Here’s the offensive excerpt:


But Harriet Hall, a former Air Force flight surgeon, shares the skepticism found in many corners of the medical community.

“We call that ‘quack-ademic’ medicine when it gets into medical schools,” she says.

The way she reads the science, acupuncture does no more than a sugar pill. To offer a placebo, she says, is unethical.


I can adamantly say she has misread the science. As an author myself, her “quack” comment is wrong on many levels; it is unethical and misleading in light of the recent research supporting CAM methods. For example, the 2007 American College of Physicians/American Back Pain Society Guidelines on the Diagnosis and Treatment of Back Pain endorsed acupuncture, manipulation, and other CAM treatments for low back pain. (Chou et al., Annals of Internal Med., 2007, vol. 147 no. 7)


I had hoped the days of calling chiropractors and other non-MDs pejoratives were behind us. Moreover, I was saddened it occurred on my favorite radio network, NPR.


Furthermore, I sent a complaint to your Ombudsman on the same day this article was broadcast stating it lacked fairness and balance considering there was no equal time for any chiropractor, acupuncturist or massage therapist for a more accurate and evidence-based characterization of the benefits of these therapeutic approaches. However, I have not gotten a response from your Ombudsman or Blake Farmer.


Of course, this is not the first nor will it be the last time the medical profession has unfairly attacked its competition. Just as women and minorities still face bias, so do chiropractors. As a woman who may have been affected by prejudice, I hope you will be sensitive to this situation.


When I read the recent Newsweek article about the struggle of women broadcasters, it reminded me of the same struggle we chiropractors have had fighting the medical profession. Just as there are glass ceilings in many corporations for women and people of color, there remains an invisible barrier for positive chiropractic articles in the media. Despite the fact that chiropractic is the third-largest physician-level health profession in the world—and highly popular with patients—it receives next to no airtime to teach viewers the benefits of our brand of spinal care due to the prevailing medical bias in the media.


Recently a serendipitous event also occurred on NPR that explained this entrenched media bias. In a March 18, 2012, interview broadcast during “On the Media,” guest Patrick Ball alluded to the problem we chiropractors face in the media, a phenomenon he called “citation laundering” of erroneous facts that are passed on as “perceived wisdom” by other newscasters. I believe this is the case in the continuing media bias against chiropractors.



It is well documented in federal court records (Wilk v. AMA), that the AMA’s Committee on Quackery since the 1960s promoted the idea that “everybody knows chiropractic is an unscientific cult.” At trial the medical leaders could not prove this allegation; the court found they were simply repeating lies from their own propaganda.


While this “citation laundering” is unethical and misleading, it remains unchallenged as the prevailing “perceived wisdom” that continues to discount accurate reporting of chiropractic in the media. The fact that Blake Farmer failed to do his research on the effectiveness of CAM and allowed Dr. Hall’s comments to go unchallenged indicates to me this bias is very much entrenched, even at NPR.


Just when will your show call out this obvious medical bigotry or has medical bigotry become an “acceptable prejudice” as coined on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show? This is no different than other inaccurate stereotypes in the media that women and people of color have long faced, too. While racism and sexism have been rejected as “perceived wisdom,” to date no one in the media has challenged the medical prejudice against chiropractors.


Not only is chiropractic misrepresented or omitted by the medical media, it also a fascinating human interest story that has been ignored by the lay media. Few people realize that chiropractors were among the first civil right activists in our nation who also paid a brutal price for their demands for equality in healthcare.


In the first half of the 20th century, over 12,000 chiropractors were arrested over 15,000 times simply for bringing a new health profession to the public. Many were also beaten, ran out of town, and publicly humiliated in their local communities by Jim Crow MDs who were powerful bigots against any alternative practitioners, and remain so today.


Just as blacks still feel the bias of racism, chiropractors still face barriers by MDs who control the media health programming—those medical writers suffering from “citation laundering” or by those journalists suffering from “professional amnesia” as Anthony Rosner, PhD, described those journalists who inexcusably forget to inform patients that chiropractic care is a recommended option to the often-ineffective medical methods.   


For instance, lately there have been many articles critical of spine fusions by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Bloomberg News, NPR and MSNBC, but none mentioned chiropractic care as the most viable alternative to opioid drugs, epidural shots, and disc surgery despite the many international guidelines that recommend chiropractic care as the first avenue of treatment. Even the North American Spine Society recommends spinal manipulation before spine surgery, a fact omitted in all these articles.


Actually, this is not new criticism of spine surgery. On June 9, 2006 the CBS Evening News aired a segment, “Attacking Rising Health Costs,” stating 30-40% of surgeries are unnecessary, mainly spinal fusions, angioplasty, hip replacement, and knee replacement. The problem, according to Dr. Elliott Fisher of The Dartmouth Institute of Health Policy, is that patients are not given good information to make an “informed consent” decision as to alternatives like chiropractic  care or the inherent risks of medical procedures.


The public also needs to hear that for the epidemic of back pain, the medical methods of opioid drugs are often addictive and cause 15,000 deaths per year; epidural steroid injections are shown to be no better than placebo; and spine surgeries are now deemed to be based on an outdated disc theory, as well as risky, costly, and should only be used as a last resort.



My new book, The Medical War Against Chiropractors, brings to light the history of the medical persecution of chiropractors, a story the AMA would prefer left in its closet. I also explain the new research that vindicates chiropractic care as more effective for the majority of back pain problems than anything the medical world offers for the epidemic of back pain, a costly $100 billion problem that 90% of Americans will face sometime in their lives.


On my website, www.medicalwaraginstchiropractors.com, is a 10-minute radio interview that will give you a short overview of this issue as well as give you insight into the continuing medical war against chiropractors.


I hope, Ms. Sikka, that you can see the parallels that chiropractors and women share in common and that you will help to expose these inequities. I do hope your Morning Edition program will finally present my profession in a balanced manner instead of one-sided as Blake Farmer’s report did.






JC Smith, MA, DC

Warner Robins, GA