Accuracy in Media

Headlines around the world carried the news that a syringe-injectable microchip, designed to carry an individual’s ID number, had been approved by the FDA. A front-page story in the Washington Post explained that the chip implant could be scanned, giving a doctor instant access to a patient’s records. Hundreds of similar stories ran around the world. It was the third such major media frenzy over the chip. This media frenzy was marred by shallow reporting and distortions of the facts.

Consider The Washington Post story, which affirmed that the chip implant?called the “VeriChip”?transmits a unique code to a scanner that allows doctors to confirm a patient’s identity and obtain detailed medical information from an accompanying database. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution stated: “A unique serial number makes it easy to pull up the patient’s blood type, allergies, prior treatments, and other key medical information.” It sounds easy, except for the fact that medical records are for the most part in paper form.  Only 17 percent of American primary-care physicians use electronic medical records, according to the American Medical Association. In January of this year, President Bush set a goal of an electronic medical record for every patient in America within 10 years. 

Reports on the chip implant also failed to question key elements of the company’s PR.   A television station in Seattle said the chip could prove critical if you’re ever rushed unconscious to a hospital and were “unable to communicate.” However, reporters failed to ask the following common sense questions: “If you are passed out, how would anyone know you had a chip implant?  And if you have to wear a medical bracelet just to inform emergency personnel that you have an implant, why not stick with medic-alert bracelets that already have your personal medical information?”

It’s also the type of question the media failed to ask when they ran with the company’s PR about providing the chips for Latin American countries that have kidnapping epidemics. Hundreds of articles were written, and all failed to see that since the implant can only be scanned from a few feet away, it’s useless to prevent kidnapping.  The media also failed to think critically when it reported that the company might provide its wristwatches with global positioning system, or GPS, the navigation technology, to thwart such kidnappings. The first thing stolen in a Latin American kidnapping is jewelry.

During the media frenzy, the press also reported that the company is working on a new implant that can be tracked by GPS. What they didn’t tell you is that this company, Applied Digital Solutions of Palm Beach, Florida, has been working on this GPS implant for the past 5 years.

Applied Digital won’t be complaining about the coverage, though. As with the other media frenzies, this one caused its stock to rise. Shares surged 68 percent, on a volume of 29.9 million shares?142 times the daily average. The media do the public and investors a disservice when they function as little more than an extension of a company’s public relations department. This is not media bias; it’s laziness.

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