News Vs. Shock Media — Or, Don’t Get Me Started

Disclaimer:  I am not a mental health professional.  The views expressed in this post are based on personal observations and printed matter for the general reader.

A separate post on this topic appears on Facebook.

If you keep track of current events, I hope you’ve given some thought to the distinction between journalism and gossip that just panders to the public’s voyeurism.

Last night I was in a supermarket checkout line, thinking maybe I should have chosen a different checkstand.  Clearly, the retail grocery counterpart to Inspector Clouseau was failing at his attempt to pull up totals on the cash register, bag groceries and replace the paper receipt roll.

To pass the time, I let my eyes wander.  After seeing photos of Matt Lauer and his wife on the cover of a magazine, I stopped the visual wandering.

Claims about public figures’ personal lives do not constitute journalism.  Yes, we should be informed that sexual harassment and sexual assault are more common than most of us think, and we should gain wisdom on how to respond to it.  However, when reporting on a sensitive topic crosses a line and ventures into the trash genre, we must take offense, not buy magazines.

Many media outlets feed on public curiosity.  It’s a business, and it won’t change as long as the public remains curious about the wrong things.

A mental illness called Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy is subject to media sensationalism whenever a personal tragedy with it becomes public.

First, we should note the distinction between two similar mental illnesses with similar names.  Munchausen Syndrome motivates a person to fake or self-inflict illnesses and injuries for the purpose of obtaining medical care, nurturing or some other type of attention.

Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSBP) motivates a caregiver to target a vulnerable person that way, for some sort of self-gratification.  Some, but not all, people with that mental illness are parents who harm or make up false medical conditions for their own children, and then take their kids to doctors — often repeatedly.  MSBP sufferers enjoy hearing praise from doctors who say things such as, “Thank God you noticed this when you did.  You saved your child’s life by being vigilant.”

It’s my understanding that not all mental health professionals agree on what’s going on inside the head of someone who will put another person through that hell, but there are theories on narcissism.

About ten years ago, I read a magazine article which noted that MSBP research was being conducted at a particular pediatric hospital.  I found the claim jaw-dropping because the hospital in question was in the habit of holding news conferences about patients whose treatment should have been kept confidential.  Uncomfortable-looking parents sat in front of microphones, answering questions from reporters that they shouldn’t have been expected to answer.  It seemed likely those media shit shows made an impression on depressed mothers who were sitting at home and watching television, feeling bitter that no one was promoting their own fifteen minutes of fame.  The hospital news conferences seemed irresponsible, besides cruel.  Could they have acted as a catalyst for a disturbed person to begin obsessing on taking her child to doctors?

Although we don’t know how common it is, we should know that Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy exists.  Responsible people need guidelines on how to identify suspicious behavior (such as a mother who begins every conversation by describing her child’s latest, unlikely-sounding medical crisis), and how to report it.  However, we must also be alert to the way some news outlets exploit MSBP and other human pain.  We learn nothing from Live, Up-to-the-Minute horseshit that does no more than entertain people who have shut down their capacity for empathy.

This morning, I was looking at a mainstream media news site and found a link which I didn’t click.  Apparently, it was about an extreme MSBP tragedy which had been exposed as such.

A child who has been subjected to hundreds of bogus hospital visits needs privacy and respect as well as intervention.  This horrible teaser is totally inappropriate, and if we don’t recognize it as inappropriate we’re raging assholes (yellow text mine).

Raging A2



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