The USA Today series on ECT

This series by USA Today took four months to complete. The author read hundreds of journal articles and interviewed scores of people from both sides of the issue, doctors, patients and statisticians.

I am always amazed at the lack of understanding by those who have no concept what newspapers are all about. I worked many years in newspapers as reporter and editor, and it never failed to amaze me when I got irate calls from people who wanted a story told from their point of view, rather than simply telling the facts best we could.

When someone loves what is said by a newspaper, they yell hooray. But more often the case is that they don't like what a newspaper article says...so they attack the messenger. I've seen that over and over regarding this series on electroconvulsive therapy, published by USA Today in December 1995.

A handful of ECT zealots have cried that USA Today is a lousy paper, equivalent of the tabloid gossip sheets. They've charged that the series is sloppy journalism and someone should SUE! If it wasn't so tragic, it would be hysterically funny. Ironically, many of these same people lauded different articles from USA Today, when it said what they wanted to hear.

Those same people constantly accuse myself and other psychiatric rights advocates of being Scientologists. In fact, Richard Abrams, author of the text "Convulsive Therapy," devotes several pages to these charges.

For the record, those of us who work together in psychiatric rights are NOT Scientologists. It's a shame we constantly have to defend ourselves from this charge...apparently it's easier to diffuse the issue than to face it down and discuss it like intelligent adults. But think about it...where there's smoke, there's fire.

There are reasons that we work in psychiatric rights. Life would be a lot more fun if we could just save the whales.

To this day, the ECT advocates (mostly comprised of doctors/researchers in the ECT field, psychiatric patients who have never had ECT, a couple of people who *have* had ECT or with relatives who have had it, and officials from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill) deny that ECT patients even have any permanent complications such as memory loss. This completely ignores the thousands and thousands of people who claim the contrary.

USA Today made a huge commitment when it assigned its reporter, Dennis Cauchon, to investigate ECT. It was such a huge, complex issue that USA Today turned it into a 12-part series.

And those critics who have, instead of arguing that ECT is a good thing, blasted that USA Today is a crappy paper anyway haven't even thoroughly read the series. If they had, they would have noticed that the series is NOT anti-ECT. Of the 12 articles, two tell success stories, and two tell the stories of people who had bad results. That's pretty fair, in my opinion. And the rest of the articles quote experts from both sides of the issue throughout. If the series was unbalanced, no one would hear from the ECT advocates.

Anyone who claims this is shoddy reporting is simply on the defensive about ECT. This is some of the best reporting I've seen. (and I worked as an editor for years...I know good reporting and bad reporting)

USA Today and Dennis Cauchon should be applauded for their efforts. It's a rare thing for any media to devote four months on a subject like ECT. With the relatively small number that ECT affects annually (approximately 100,000), that kind of commitment was not a money maker for them. It was extensive and in depth, and is an example of what journalism *should* be.

In today's climate of 10-second sound bites, USA Today has produced a masterpiece.

On to the series