Media Fail on Water Safety Coverage

We’re headed into Memorial Day weekend and I hope The Enquirer resists any inclination to repeat the pratfall when the newspaper tried to give holiday water safety advice. It was a beaut: How to use the Heimlich Maneuver to resuscitate a standing victim

We’re headed into Memorial Day weekend and I hope The Enquirer resists any inclination to repeat the pratfall when the newspaper tried to give holiday water safety advice. 

It was a beaut: How to use the Heimlich Maneuver to resuscitate a standing victim pulled from the water. Think about it. Your “patient” is standing. How close to drowning is that? Moreover, in recent years, the American Red Cross has retreated quietly from the Heimlich as first response to near-drowning. Also, the Red Cross now calls the Heimlich Maneuver “abdominal thrusts” for reasons the Red Cross hasn’t made clear.

Then there is unthinking news media habit of saying someone drowned while swimming. Nope. You drown when you quit swimming.

Also, drowned means dead. “Near drowning” describes the undead pulled from the water who need help.

Finally, too many news media aid and abet the potentially fatal practice of paddling a canoe or kayak without wearing a life jacket or Personal Flotation Device as its now called. It’s no big deal to refuse to run photos of happy people paddling without wearing PFDs.

Writing in the American Association for Respiratory Care’s Transport Team Bulletin, Kathleen Adams estimated that Americans suffer 15,000-70,000 near-drownings each year. (Her estimate reflects weaknesses in reporting incidents.) Half of the reported near-drownings are less than four years old, she wrote, and teenage boys — risk-taking behavior, drugs and alcohol — also are among frequent victims. She wrote 10-15 percent of drowning and near-drowning victims inhale no water. That’s called “dry drowning.” Others inhale some water.

Deborah Patten, a registered respiratory therapist and clinical coordinator/faculty in NKU’s Respiratory Care Program, says that while the lungs will absorb some of the water inhaled, that is really not what kills every drowning victim. The primary reason death occurs is from low oxygen in the blood, hypoxemia, from various causes.

She says lethally low oxygen typically is caused by one or more of the following and these are what the news media should be telling us in addition to the potentially deadly effect of mixing alcohol and/or drugs and swimming:

• Hyperventilating before jumping in the water (the teen trying to see how far underwater he can swim) and subsequent loss of consciousness or “shallow water black out syndrome.”

• The larynx, voice box area, goes into a spasm, laryngospasm, which effectively blocks water from getting into the lungs. The problem, of course, is that no air gets in and death occurs due to suffocation.

• If fresh water enters the lungs, the fluid that lines the air sacs of the lungs gets diluted. The fluid can’t hold open the airsacs where the blood picks up oxygen. The airsacs collapse. Again, no oxygen.

Then, of course, heart attack occurs from no oxygen to the heart and brain cells begin to die from no oxygen to the brain.

The best response once the near-drowning victim is safe is CPR, Patten said, “since it really isn't known what the damage is to the lung air sacs at the point of rescue. Ventilation along with compressions — CPR — will help until emergency medical help arrives with oxygen and advanced care.”

That’s what we should be told by other news media.

Curmudgeon notes:

• Interviews on NPR raised two questions that seem to have escaped other news media I’ve heard or read: Why did the SEALs execute bin Laden when even captured Nazi and Japanese war criminals had trials? Why did the White House identify the SEAL unit and put them and their families at risk?

By the time the White House decided what its story would be, bin Laden was not armed and was shot anyhow. The NPR guest — I wish I caught his name — raised the question of summary execution of an unarmed man as a moment of triumph. Nazi and Japanese civilian and military war criminals killed millions more people than bin Laden’s followers on 9/11.

Another NPR guest said the SEAL unit is small and lives in a Virginia community where the men’s occupation is no secret. Worse, anyone who took their photos in a public place could use face-recognition software available online (and maybe on Facebook) to nail down the identification.

• Obama administration efforts to emasculate bin Laden as a role model and mythic figure have no trouble finding voice in the news media. First, there was the apparently false story that bin Laden hid behind a woman when cornered by SEALs. That didn’t last as the White House changed its story for the first time. Now, we’re told bin Laden had a stash of porn. It’s unclear whether that will harm him in communities where millions of Arab and Muslim young men can’t afford marriage and premarital sex is unacceptable. More likely, the story will inspire jokes: “A man with many wives walks into a porn shop . . .”

• A New Yorker article on the growing North Dakota energy industry reminded me of a prairie encounter more than 50 years ago. I quote: “Around noon on April 4, 1951, Andrew (Blackie) Davidson, the drilling superintendent on a wildcat well east of Williston, set fire to a rag and flung it into the air. He watched as its trajectory met an invisible stream of natural gas that emanated from the ground, sending a flare thirty feet into the sky; by nightfall, it could be seen 10 miles away. There was oil in North Dakota. This was the state’s first

producing well, the Clarence Iverson No. 1 (named for the landowner) . . . The Clarence Iverson No. 1 recovered nearly 600,000 barrels in the next three decades and enabled Clarence Iverson himself, the wheat farmer who owned the land and the drilling rights beneath the well, to ‘pretty much retire’ at the age of 44 . . . “

Not long after that well began to flow, a friend and I decided to drive to Alaska from our Twin Cities homes. Better sense prevailed in northern Alberta and we were returning when his engine failed in Stanley, N.D.

It was an almost-ghost town. As I recall, the almost-closed hotel made up a room for us but we had trouble reaching an operator to tell our families what was happening. My friend stayed while his car was repaired — bearings or crankshaft, I think — and I stuck out my thumb.

A new Caddy two-door hardtop pulled over. Over the rear seat was a bar from which a lot of new “Hollywood” clothes hung. Behind the wheel was a big man who introduced himself as Clarence Iverson. He said he owned the land on which oil had been discovered and it sort of messed up his wheat farming. Iverson was going to Minnesota to see family and intended to stop at every bar that his oil money helped a buddy buy. He also wanted me to meet one or more daughters, I recall. It was a lively ride. He was good company. We stopped at the bars and he almost drove off the driveway at my folks’ Minneapolis home.We never saw each other again. I never met his daughter(s).

Fusion, the Campus Progress-sponsored LGBT magazine at Kent State University, had trouble finding a printer for a recent edition that showed, among other things, men cross-dressing. Jim Romenesko at reported the problem and the $2,200 rush-job fee a fourth but willing printer charged. Printers also objected to “Gender Fuck’d” headline, according to Journalism Network. Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, told the Network that it was “unbelievable” that so many companies refused to publish the issue on profanity grounds. Printers “are allowed to have any policies or standards they want to have, but that would be a very anomalous policy in the publishing business,” LoMonte says. “Many great works of literature have profanity in them.”

Yeah, but they weren’t printed in Northeastern Ohio.

• Nebraska journalism professor Barney McCoy pleads online with reporters and anchors to quit wading in the “chemical and waste contaminated, snake infested floodwaters” that they advise viewers to avoid. Not only could such mucking about be hazardous to the broadcasters’ health but the “I’m standing here in the Mississippi floodwaters” stand-ups could also be hazardous to your journalistic credibility. Here’s why, McCoy says:

** They make many reporters/anchors look amateurish and foolish.

** Stand-ups are gratuitous. They lack good reason and reflect a creative deficit among many who do them.

** Stand-ups have been done so many times they’ve become cliche. I say that now, but only time will tell.

** They send a mixed message to your viewers; “Just because I’m doing this doesn’t mean you should be doing what I’m telling you not to do.”

** Contrary to popular belief, the “standing in water” stand-ups are not a form of journalistic baptism.

The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart also mocked broadcasters who insist on getting into the water for their reports. “All of these reporters bravely waded into the surging Mississippi to give us absolutely no idea how high the flood waters were, or the extent of damage. You know, guys, I’m glad you’re down there; I’m glad you’re bringing attention to the story, but you could have done the exact same stories on dry land.”

• Northwestern University’s Medill journalism school has a Project Innocence class on investigative journalism that has freed a dozen men from prison, including five from death row. Questions about the investigative methods advocated by Professor David Protess and used by students may cost Protess his job. He’s on leave this spring and is not scheduled to teach the course this fall.

Meanwhile, Protess and his former students are at odds with the university over demands by a local prosecutor for information about the class. In The Daily Northwestern, reporter Brian Rosenthal said his sources told him that “Protess encouraged his students to mislead interview subjects about their identities and intentions, party with potential sources, work closely with defense attorneys and attempt to convince eyewitnesses their original testimony may have been wrong.”

Rosenthal said his sources included former Protess students who used the dubious methods. In one 2009 incident, Rosenthal wrote, a student posed as a ConEd employee to obtain basic information about a witness. In a 2010 case, he wrote, students used six similar-looking mug shots to suggest to a witness that his identification of a murderer may have been inaccurate.

Rosenthal continued: “For students like Christine Wachter (Medill '01), things are less black and white. The former Investigative Journalism student said the class ‘raised a lot of ethical issues’ for her and the other students investigating the 1997 ‘Girl X’ rape case against Patrick Sykes. She pointed to the practice of ‘playing up’ their status as ‘just students,’ as opposed to professionals who can impact the legal process. ‘I think people were a little more likely to talk to us because (we said), Oh, we're just some students working on a project for a class, said Wachter, a former Daily staffer, before adding ‘but that was 100 percent true’."

Rosenthal added, “In some cases, the violations were more severe than in Wachter's example. It was ‘routine’ for students to misrepresent their identities to get basic information or during initial conversations with subjects, said a source familiar with the situation. Over the past decade, students have pretended to be a ConEd employee, a U.S. Census worker and, most commonly, attorneys, multiple sources said . . . The Medill Integrity Code ‘requires’ students ‘be honest’ and ‘not misrepresent’ themselves, Medill Dean John Lavine wrote in an email.”

Traditional ethics requires reporters to identify ourselves as such or at least to avoid actively deceiving people about who we are. That’s vital in interviews. If we go to an open event, however, and we don’t interview anyone, we don’t have to identify ourselves as reporters. We can still write what we saw and heard without an ethical breach.

•` Writing online for London’s Guardian, Juliette Garside describes how a prominent public relations company violated whatever ethics that trade has in client Facebook’s anonymous attack on Google. What I love is that Burson-Marsteller leaves the impression two new employees undertook this campaign with no permission or oversight. You believe that, and I’ll sell you a Kenyan birth certificate. Almost as crazy is the company’s assurance the dirt-dishers won’t be fired but given further training in “The Burson-Marsteller Way.” After you buy the Kenyan birth certificate, this assurance ought to add to your belly laughs. Here’s some of what Garside wrote:

“Burson-Marsteller's former U.K. chairman has described the smear tactics employed against Google as ‘furtive and creepy’ and the PR executives involved in the campaign were ‘shadowy, backstreet spin merchants.’ Terence Fane-Saunders, who worked for Burson-Marsteller in the 1980s and now runs his own PR firm, Chelgate, criticised his former employer on his company blog today, asking ‘What on earth has happened to Burson-Marsteller?’ "If senior B-M professionals are now seen to be operating like shadowy, backstreet spin merchants, you have to wonder about the continuing value of that example.’"

Burson-Marsteller confirmed “it was secretly hired by Facebook to run an anonymous campaign against Google by planting negative stories in the U.S. media. The agency's employees approached journalists in the U.S. offering to ghost write critical pieces asserting Google's Social Circle product was a privacy threat, but repeatedly refused to disclose the client they were working for.

"’In this grubby little attempt to seed negative stories without disclosing their source, they were denying the media (and that means the public, and that means you and me) the opportunity to assess the value of those stories,’ (Fane-Saunders) said. ‘If you don't know the source, you can't judge motive’.”

The Guardian quoted a spokesman for Burson-Marsteller , who said: "Whatever the rationale, this was not at all standard operating procedure and is against our policies, and the assignment on those terms should have been declined. When talking to the media, we need to adhere to strict standards of transparency about clients, and this incident underscores the absolute importance of that principle."

Now, that’s spin worthy of Burson-Marsteller.

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