The concept of iatrogenesis, native to medicine, describes misfortunes that would not occur but for one’s interaction with medicine itself. For example, the case of COVID you catch in the doctor’s waiting room or the elective surgery that impinges on a vein, which throws a clot, causing a stroke. Shockingly, medical iatrogenesis is the fifth leading cause of death worldwide.
Journalism’s iatrogenic damage may be less dramatic, but it is surely more pervasive because there is no escape from exposure. Avoid consuming news and you still will be passively subject to the media’s effect on your environment. Even for a long-time media whistleblower like Bernard Goldberg, such epiphanies can take a while to crystalize. Here’s the operative passage of a recent column:
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my profession. I always knew that journalism was fundamentally a pursuit of the negative, that we mainly report about bad things that happen, but I never gave much thought to how all that negativity affects us—it affects how we see things, especially how we see the country we live in.
It’s not just that most news is bad news and that bad news is inherently more compelling. It’s that the news frequently misrepresents reality, setting in motion a cascade of tangible and intangible harms. For journalism is not the passive entity many think it is—it alters life by observing it. While neither Goldberg nor any other media denizen is likely to allege that journalism does more harm than good, it surely does too much harm, and that harm is increasing.