NPR Gary Knell


April 4, 2012

Gary Knell    

NPR President and CEO

635 Massachusetts Avenue, NW,

Washington, DC 20001


RE: Boycott of Chiropractic on NPR


Dear Mr. Knell:

First let me say I’ve been a member of public radio my entire adult life and to me it remains the only intelligent radio. However, as a 33-year chiropractic practitioner, I’ve often wondered why I rarely hear any insightful commentary on NPR about my profession over all these years.

Inexplicably, my worst nightmare came true when I recently heard my profession called quackery on Morning Edition (Military Pokes Holes In Acupuncture Skeptics’ Theory, Feb. 15, 2012), which is very upsetting. In this era of diversity and tolerance, I am shocked that this kind of antiquated and prejudicial language is still openly expressed on NPR without consideration or commentary by any spokesperson from my profession to refute this slur.

Indeed, it causes one to wonder: is the Fairness Doctrine null and void at NPR? As founder of the website Chiropractors for Fair Journalism, I must protest the obviously bias journalism. After hearing this slur, I immediately sent online my complaint to your ombudsman after the show aired concerning Blake Farmer, the writer of the offensive segment. I sent another complaint on March 21, 2012 to Madhulika Sikka, Executive Director, Morning Edition. To date, I have not heard back from anyone at NPR.

I am certain you receive hundreds of comments daily, hopefully they are reviewed, and some may rise to the level of significance for you to respond.  In these days of racial and prejudicial tension this issue of medical defamation would seem to fall into that category.

  Mr. Farmer’s article on military health services featured the military’s new use of complementary and alternative (CAM) healthcare—chiropractic, acupuncture, and massage therapy—which was long overdue and pleasing to hear. Regrettably, Mr. Farmer felt compelled to seek out and quote Harriett Hall, a self-professed “quack buster” and a renowned medical bigot to the chiropractic profession, who took a malicious swipe at these CAM 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 confidently say she has seriously misread the science. As an author myself, her “quack” comment is wrong on many levels and misleading in light of the recent research. A simple review of the literature would have revealed, for example, that the 2007 American College of Physicians/American Back Pain Society Guidelines on the Diagnosis and Treatment of Back Pain endorses acupuncture, spinal manipulation, and other CAM treatments for low back pain, a point she failed to mention, of course.[1]

While it is easy for me to illustrate Dr. Hall’s ignorance, the public is unaware of this research, so her biased opinion goes unchallenged and, sadly, believed by many listeners. I would have thought old slurs against chiropractors were deemed politically-incorrect at NPR and would never be aired, but obviously I am wrong.

Furthermore, I am disappointed my complaint has gotten no response from either Mr. Farmer or Ms. Sikka. Hopefully, Mr. Knell, you will be more responsive to my plea for equal time and fair journalism as the CEO and the final arbiter.

However, I discovered this boycott of the chiropractic profession on NPR is more pervasive than I could have ever imagined. When I researched the frequency of chiropractic as a topic on my favorite NPR programs, I was further startled by the findings:

•    All Things Considered:                                    8 of 87,252 segments from 1990 =            0.009%
•    Morning Edition:                                             4 of 79,782 articles =                               0.005%
•    Talk of the Nation Science Friday:                     0 of 1,918 articles =                                 0.0%
•    Weekend All Things Considered:                      0 of 5,346 articles  =                                0.0%
•    Fresh Air:                                                      0 of 1,286 articles  =                                0.0%
•    Talk of the Nation:                                          1 of 9,485 articles since 1997 =                 0.01054%

This accounting shows only 13 articles on chiropractic in 185,069 segments on these NPR programs which equates to a frequency rate of only 0.0070091%.[2] Considering the fact that the chiropractic is the third-largest physician-level profession in the world, the scarcity of accurate news coverage is appalling.

Perhaps your reporters are unaware of the many newsworthy issues about chiropractic care that the public should know. Just consider these major issues:

  • the epidemic of back pain that strikes 80% of adults with costs approaching $100 billion annually,  
  • the recent research condemning the medical treatments consisting primarily of addictive opioid drugs, ineffective epidural shots, and costly spine surgery in American healthcare,  
  • the research showing the basis of spine fusion—the disc theory—is outdated since abnormal discs occur in asymptomatic patients, and
  • chiropractic care is now recommended by all international spine guidelines as a primary treatment (ironically, including the guideline of the North American Spine Society itself).

In light of the changing paradigm in spine care, I find it odd that your NPR journalists do not find chiropractic a newsworthy item.

If science does not interest them, perhaps they might consider the human-interest story of the century-long and illegal medical war against chiropractors during which 12,000 chiropractors were arrested in the first half of the 20th century for bringing a non-drug, non-surgical healing art to the public that eventually led to an antitrust trial filed in 1976.[3]

This battle took on a new face after a landmark study by Dr. David Eisenberg from Harvard’s Osher Institute that revealed Americans made more visits to complementary and alternative (CAM) providers than MDs. Apparently the threat to the monolithic medical profession was bigger than anyone had imagined.

Baby Boomers made 427 million office visits to non-MDs in 1990 compared to 388 million visits to MDs; the follow-up survey in 1997 revealed that the numbers to non-MDs rose to 629 million while the numbers to MDs went down to 386 million.[4]

These two studies stunned the medical world, shocked that Americans would choose alternative “quacks” over “modern medicine” as Harriett Hall might say. Upon seeing the huge number of Americans using CAM practitioners, Dr. Eisenberg concluded, “Maybe ‘alternative’ isn’t so alternative anymore.”[5]

As luck would have it, an interview with guest Patrick Ball broadcast on “On the Media” (March 18, 2012) inadvertently alluded to what I believe is the underlying problem of bias we chiropractors ostensibly face in the media—that is, a phenomenon he called “citation laundering” of erroneous facts that are passed on as “perceived wisdom” reported by other newscasters.  (

The negative perceived wisdom about chiropractic was fomented by propaganda from the AMA’s Committee on Quackery in the early 1960s. This citation laundering was challenged by attorneys at both the Wilk v. AMA federal antitrust trial and the New Zealand Commission’s Inquiry into Chiropractic when the medical leaders’ feet were held to the fire in the witness box after they spewed their misconceptions that chiropractic care was “dangerous quackery” and “pseudo-science.” When asked to prove these allegations, the AMA leaders could not prove anything. In fact, trial evidence showed that chiropractic care was more effective for back pain than medical care resulting in both trials finding in chiropractic’s favor.

Indeed, the AMA had repeated their own lies so often that they began to believe them, thereby creating a veiled “perceived wisdom” that had no element of truth whatsoever. Sadly, this unabashed medical hearsay, such as the comments by Dr. Hall, continues to poison our image despite the new-found research supporting chiropractic care.

Another example of insidious media bias is deemed “professional amnesia.”[6] A perfect example is another NPR broadcast, “Surgery May Not Be the Answer to an Aching Back,” by Joanne Silberner, (April 6, 2010) when she failed to mention chiropractic as the most viable alternative to surgery. Indeed, how can anyone write an article on back pain and exclude chiropractic care unless there exists a strong bias (oftentimes unknown to the writer) or a severe case of professional amnesia when writers forget to mention the role of chiropractic in the treatment of back pain patients?

As the author of The Medical War Against Chiropractors: the untold story from persecution to vindication, I understand this issue of citation laundering, mistaken perceived wisdom, and professional amnesia better than most journalists. My 262-page book with 755 citations supports with irrefutable evidence this epic paradigm shift in spine care.

However, I’ve sent my new book to All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Talk of the Nation Science Friday, and Fresh Air without a response from anyone. It is unbelievable that not one journalist at NPR is keen on this issue considering its importance in healthcare costing nearly $100 billion annually and will affect 80% of Americans sometime in their lives.

In fact, if NPR were current with the research on this issue, it would begin a new program on CAM treatments inasmuch as the Eisenberg surveys have revealed a ready-made audience of Americans who use CAM more often than medical treatments. Indeed, there is more to healthcare than simply more drugs and more surgeries.

I suggest that there be an iterative process with invitations to authorities in chiropractic research to appear on these programs to outline what has really taken place rather than airing the sole opinion of a medical critic like Dr. Hall who is uninformed, outdated, and biased.

Lastly, Mr. Knell, as much as I love NPR, I am deeply disappointed in your network’s obvious boycott of my profession. I call upon your sense of journalistic fairness to correct this ignorance of chiropractic care at NPR. I urge you to contact the leaders at the American Chiropractic Association headquartered in Arlington to learn the benefits of our brand of spinal care for the myriad of health problems that respond to our natural care.



JC Smith

[1] Chou et al., Annals of Internal Med., 2007, vol. 147 no. 7


[3] United Sates District Court, Chicago, Illinois, Wilk et al. v. AMA et al., (June 26, 1987)

[4] DM Eisenberg, RC Kessler, C Foster, FE Norlock, DR Calkins, TL Delbanco, “Unconventional  Medicine In The United States–Prevalence, Costs, And Patterns Of Use,” N Engl J Med 328 (1993):246-252.

[5] DM Eisenberg, “Practicing within Mainstream Healthcare,” seminar held at the Massachusetts Medical Society headquarters, Boston, Nov. 18, 2006.

[6] A Rosner, “Evidence or Eminence-Based Medicine? Leveling the Playing Field Instead of the Patient,” Dynamic Chiropractic, 20/25 (November 30, 2002)