By David Tuller, DrPH
Earlier this month, as I have reported, I sent a letter to the Reuters global editor for “ethics and standards” about my concerns relating to last month’s hit piece on ME/CFS patients and me. (I put those words in quotation marks because I have seen little in the reporting and publication of this piece that would meet any legitimate journalistic understanding of “ethics and standards.”) After reviewing the matter, Reuters agreed to add the fact that I hold a current academic position at one of the world’s great universities–a detail that Kate Kelland, the reporter, apparently felt was irrelevant and of no interest to readers.
Yet the story still describes me–falsely–as a “former reporter.” So on Friday, I sent a follow-up letter to Alix Freedman, the editor I’d contacted. As of this posting, the story continues to contain this untrue statement about my professional life.
Dear Ms Freedman–
This week, The Washington Post published a story called â€œDental care is tough to find for people with autism, other developmental disorders.â€ The byline: David Tuller. (That’s me!)
I mention this in connection with my continuing concerns about Kate Kellandâ€™s March 13th â€œspecial reportâ€ on ME/CFS. I appreciate Reutersâ€™ recognition that it was inappropriate for Kelland to omit any mention of my academic position at Berkeley in the published article. This omission was particularly difficult to understand given that Kelland learned from the university in February that I currently have an academic appointment and have had one continuously for a decade. She chose not to share that salient information, for reasons neither she nor Reuters have deigned to explain.
However, while the updated version now includes my proper academic title, it still refers to me as a â€œformer journalist.â€ As the Washington Post story indicates, that statement is categorically false. The genesis of this claim is also unclear. Kelland could have accurately called me a “former newspaper reporter/editor” or a “former lecturer at UC Berkeleyâ€™s Graduate School of Journalism,” but she didn’t. As an expert in the English language, you surely know that no amount of linguistic acrobatics can justify translating either of those descriptions of my previous positions as â€œformer journalist.â€
Perhaps Kelland and Reuters are not aware that it is possible to be a working journalist without being a full-time reporter/editor at The San Francisco Chronicle or a lecturer at Berkeleyâ€™s Graduate School of Journalism. In my case, my half-time academic appointment at Berkeley involves investigating the ME/CFS literature, and I also have an active free-lance journalism career. The idea that a person can simultaneously be both an academic and a journalist should not really be a difficult concept for Kelland and Reuters to grasp.
I wrote this weekâ€™s Washington Post piece for Kaiser Health News and was well-paid for my efforts. My previous piece for KHN, which also involved dental costs, ran in the Well section of The New York Times last September. That story also involved payment. I am just finishing up another KHN articleâ€”this one about pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV infection. I will get paid for that as well.
Beyond those pieces, I spent three days last month on assignment for the journal Health Affairs in Portland, Oregon, reporting on changes in the cityâ€™s health care system. That 3,000-word feature will be published this summer by the journal, which includes reported journalistic articles as well as peer-reviewed research in every issue. Last September, Health Affairs published my reported article about what California is doing to address the public health impacts of climate change. I was paid for the latter and will be paid for the former.
These are all works of journalism unrelated to my ME/CFS investigation. Kelland did not ask me about these or other current journalism pursuits. She did not ask if I considered myself a â€œformer journalist.â€ Of course, whether or not I currently earn part of my annual income by working as a journalist is not actually a matter of opinionâ€”and certainly not Kellandâ€™s opinion.
Since Reuters has reviewed my concerns and stands by Kellandâ€™s story, can you please explain how you determined that portraying me as a â€œformer journalistâ€ is in accordance with the documented facts? By what metric do you consider me a â€œformerâ€ journalist? Reuters clearly has the freedom and authority to make ill-informed and self-serving decisions about the merits of Kellandâ€™s piece. However, it is seriously disturbing that an entity that calls itself a news organization and touts its adherence to a revered set of “trust principles” is on record as â€œstanding byâ€ a self-evidently ridiculous statement about my work.
I have been a journalist for forty years; I have never been and am not now a â€œformer journalist.â€ I still donâ€™t understand what Kelland meant by the phrase or what inspired her to use it. I assume it was intended to be dismissive. In any event, her intentions are irrelevant here. It is a silly and untrue claim, and Reuters has an obligation to correct it. I shouldnâ€™t have to be requesting this correction a second time.
David Tuller, DrPH
Senior Fellow in Public Health and Journalism
Center for Global Public Health
University of California, Berkeley