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The Truth is Out There - 04/06

By Rich Trzupek
  The anti-smoking organization “Truth” has been running a new ad recently, in which it claims that pets owned by smokers are fifty percent more likely to develop cancer than pets owned by non-smokers. I have no idea whether that claim is accurate, but it’s yet another example of how what a message doesn’t say tells us a lot about the messenger.
  Full disclosure, I am an ex-smoker. Following more than thirty years of the habit, I quit cold turkey a little over six years ago and haven’t had a puff since. I do not however consider myself a holier-than-thou ex-smoker who feels obligated to preach to all and sundry about the evils of tobacco or the benefits of quitting. It’s a personal choice and we should leave it at that. 
   Any-hoo, Truth’s assertion that a pet’s cancer risk goes up fifty percent when living with a smoker leaves a couple of relevant questions unanswered. One, what does this increased cancer risk translate to in terms of reduced life expectancy? Mammals are less resistant to diseases of all sort the older they get. Presumably this is true of cats and dogs. Ergo one would expect most of these additional cancers affect older pets, not younger, healthier ones. This in turn suggests that the reduction in life expectancy associated with these cancers are may be relatively small.
  Two, how great is a typical pet’s cancer risk to begin with? I don’t know the numbers, but if the chances of a cat getting cancer is 1 in 1,000,000, then increasing that risk by fifty per cent raises it to 1.5 in 1,000,000, which would hardly lead to the sort of feline apocalypse that the Truth commercial suggests will occur. On the other hand, if the risk is 10,000 in 1,000,000 than a fifty percent increase brings us to 15,000 in 1,000,000 and I would agree that 5,000 additional prematurely dead cats is quite a lot.
  But Truth doesn’t present any of that data in its blatant effort to scare the poop out of pet owners. They of course are not alone in presenting facts that support their agenda and ignoring those that don’t. It’s common among advertisers, it’s common among politicians and, as President Obama noted last week, it’s common among journalists.
  This is not the first President to bitch about the press and he won’t be the last. Our Chief Executives wish that reporters would present the messages the White House wants, in the manner the White House prefers. Even though the mainstream media has spent most of his terms in office treating Obama as sycophantically as any President in history, that kind of fawning could not last forever and more and more parts the MSM have become increasingly critical of Obama and his policies.
  Many, including the President, despair of the state of the media today. It’s fractured into a million pieces and it’s all too easy to find some media outlet that presents the news in a manner consistent with your world view, whatever that may be. 
  And to be sure, many of us do just that. But I believe that what has happened to the media is a good thing, and further that we are in the midst of transitional period that will ultimately result in a better, more honest media and better-informed public as a result.
  Many old enough to remember long for the days when the “Big 3” networks of ABC, CBS and NBC had a stranglehold on television news and a few newspapers in each city were the only other big source of information. The networks pretty much marched in a left-leaning lockstep, while there was a bit more variety among the newspapers, at least for a while.
  Today, we’ve got news coming from all directions. Cable, talk-radio and the internet have spawned legions of new outlets coming at the news from a myriad of perspectives. Add to the mix professional organizations, like Truth, promoting their own particular agenda through the selective dissemination of information.  
  That sounds like chaos and, to some extent, it is. But this chaos is a lot better for the nation than the careful messaging control that most of the media exercised not all that long ago. There’s no doubt we’ll continue to have chaos for a while longer, but eventually things will settle down as the less-reliable and less-skilled outlets fade away. That’s the way evolution works.
  E-mail: rich@examinerpublications.com



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