Friday, September 26, 2008

Brain cancer in the news

Kathi Goertzen, from

On the off chance that your giant headache today isn't caused by the economic meltdown or presidential politics -- more about both in a minute -- I want to pause briefly to consider brain cancer in the news.

I always flinch when I see stories on this topic. Too much of it is the maudlin, over-the-top "Gloria"-style coverage I can't stand. But even when it's straight-ahead, brain cancer news feels like it's hitting too close for comfort. A couple of months ago, when conservative pundit Robert Novak announced that he had a brain tumor -- and said it explained why he ran over a pedestrian the week before -- a friend wrote to me, full of outrage on my behalf: Doesn't it piss you off that this idiot gets all this coverage and you get nothing, my friend said.

Well, no, not really, but I do get tired of seeing brain cancer everywhere. Is it just me, or is this disease more in the news than it used to be? And often with a kicker that makes me feel bad, one way or the other.

First there was the University of Washington football player who was diagnosed about the same time I was. That killed his football career, but by the following spring, hey, he had recovered and made the UW baseball team! The M&M Pie in the Sky tour hit the East Coast about the same time Sen. Ted Kennedy was found to have a brain tumor, and that news was inescapable for a few days, along with opinions of his "grim prognosis." At Barnes & Noble one day I noticed that Bobby Murcer, the longtime Yankee player and broadcaster, had written a book and I couldn't help rolling my eyes as I read about his brain cancer being a blessing in disguise, or the best thing that could have happened, or some such nonsense. He died in July.

Anyway, this week, the popular Seattle news anchor Kathi Goertzen, pictured above, underwent her fourth (!) brain surgery in the past decade, partially resecting, again, a tumor that keeps growing back. This P-I report says the surgery lasted eight hours. God. For some reason, though, this ongoing story hasn't make me wince like cancer coverage usually does. Maybe it's that I've met Goertzen several times and like her. It's true what they've been saying in the local reports about her warmth and dedication to her craft. She strikes me as a good and brave person, and I'm wishing her well. That's all.

In economic cancer news, I loved these two news-ish takes on the Wall Street meltdown.

First, with typical editing aplomb Jon Stewart compared President Bush's speech on the economy the other night with his strikingly similar warnings years ago about terrorist attacks.

Then, CNN's Campbell Brown dropped all pretense of objectivity in ripping Bush and Treasury Secretary Paulson a new one. Again, the juxtaposition of old and new clips is what makes the case.

Planning to watch the big debate tonight? Now that John McCain has backed back in everyone's back to preparing their debate preview pieces. I've scanned a few of them, and for my money the best guide is this piece by Judd Legum at Huffington Post.

Legum, whose old job was monitoring post-debate punditry for Hillary Clinton's campaign, said the main thing he learned was that pundits are full of it (duh). Turn off the post-game analysis, he advises, and figure it out for yourself. He offers a few useful rules for doing so, with examples from previous debates.

Finally, could any morning news meeting be complete without a little dig at one or the other of my former local employers?

Try this local-front taste test and tell me which lede makes you want to read the story.

Newspaper A:
BLAINE -- The second gubernatorial debate of the Gregoire-Rossi rematch proved to be another bare-knuckles slug fest, this time before a pro-business crowd that gave Republican challenger Dino Rossi a home field advantage.

But while several of Gov. Chris Gregoire's positions received icy receptions -- her support of Washington's estate tax, for example -- she touted her accomplishments with optimism and confidence.

Newspaper B:
BLAINE — Gov. Christine Gregoire and challenger Dino Rossi both pledged Thursday not to raises taxes to make up for the state's projected $3.2 billion budget shortfall.

But even on that point of apparent agreement, the rivals found plenty of room for dispute during a heated hourlong debate sponsored by a business group.

To my eye, the second story, by the Times, gets quicker to the point -- breaking some news with the tax pledge -- and tells what happened instead of characterizing it, as the P-I does with its it cliched "slug fest" take.

My lesson here: Write the news plain, people.

Even blessed with a brain tumor, I can see that much.


kateco said...

I'm supposed to be researching where to go tomorrow, but I'm reading m&m instead. Briefly.

1) I, too, have felt that there is lots of brain cancer in the news.

2) I am watching the rerun of the debate now. I missed the first run because Val and I went to see Coriolanus at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

3) Whoa! I am in complete agreement with you in the Battle of the Ledes.

Off to do what I am supposed to be doing ...

TR @ WSB said...

Almost as important, the Times did NOT use "gubernatorial" in the lead. There are some clunky news-ese-and-nobody-in-the-real-world-terms that shoud be excised from newswriting. Gubernatorial is high on the list. (One that did manage to go away is "solon" for legislator ... I remember seeing that in headlines when I was a cub reporter on a tiny daily and resolving I would NEVER use it! Haven't really seen it since.)