CNN CHS Coverage Light on Sources; Cherry Picks Data

In a September 17 article focused on cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS) CNN’s coverage uses just one source (quality and gatekeeping bias) in its narrative, falling short of basic journalism standards. Additionally, the article claims that “CHS can be life-threatening” despite no one ever dying from the condition (omission bias). The article also cherry picks data from a 2019 study when describing CHS as “a national problem.”

Presence of bias:

“Between 2005 and 2014 when only medical marijuana was legal in most states, a 2020 study found nearly one in five people hospitalized for cyclical vomiting in the US reported concurrent cannabis use,” the CNN article contends. News organizations should, at the very least, find individuals from both sides to build their narrative, and while it’s no secret that news organizations have deeply cut their science staff (CNN fired its entire science team in 2008), their reporters are still responsible for being able to communicate scientific issues and stories.  

While the study that pushes their CHS narrative does state that one in five CHS hospitalizations have concurrent cannabis use, CNN does not include any context about the study (which was limited by its inability to individually review charts), uses data from an administrative dataset (which the authors note are “susceptible to inaccurately entered or missing codes”), and is a retrospective study which risks residual confounding.

“We would also like to highlight that this perceived increase in cannabis use could at least partially be due to more established guidelines in diagnosing [CHS]. Rome criteria for [CHS] were established in 2006 and knowledge about this condition has increased since then. CHS was also first described in 2004 and awareness regarding the association of cannabis with these disorders has also increased,” the study authors wrote. “Therefore, the recognition bias could be contributing to both the observed trends in the increase in hospitalizations due to CVS, as well as, the increase in the documented cannabis use in CHS patients.”

The tone of the article is decidedly prohibitionist, and we may be able to start calling CNN out soon for structural bias – the organization itself having a bias against cannabis. The coverage includes no opposing voices or even those from other researchers which limits its ability to tell a clear and honest story. Even the story’s last heading “Concerns for the future” smacks of fear-mongering.

How to remedy:

CNN needs to include other voices in its coverage, include proper context when describing previous research, and shift to a more even tone in its cannabis coverage. It is their duty to find a cannabis researcher, rather than rely on reporters who are certainly not experts in the field. With this minor change, CNN’s narrative would be more balanced and science-oriented rather than pushing their narrative which is bereft with tone, omission, and quality bias.

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