• Belle Gibson’s publishers have agreed to place a “buyer beware” statement on the cover of all natural health books. (AAP)Source: AAP
Before Australian media call for the book to be thrown at Belle Gibson for spinning lies, they should own up to their role in allowing her to tell them in the first place, writes Helen Razer.
By
Helen Razer

14 Sep 2016 - 2:54 PM  UPDATED 14 Sep 2016 - 2:54 PM

Today, it is likely that former “wellness” entrepreneur Belle Gibson will again fail to show up for the civil hearing held to examine the very strange, very profitable claims she made about her miracle cancer “cure”. But, heck, whether Gibson fronts to Federal Court or not, Australian media has already made its judgement: she’s a macrobiotic witch; burn her.

They say she should be tried as a criminal. They say that she should be pelted with all the books of law. They say, on both traditional and social media, that she is conniving or, at best, quite bonkers. They declare that all that Gibson told were lies. What they won’t own up to is their role in allowing her to tell them. So, before we light a fire under that witch, maybe we should think about how complicit we were in her spells.  

Look. I know there’s no point asking anyone to keep their pants on these days, so I won’t. And, I certainly won’t defend Gibson, whose advice about overcoming ten kinds of diseases with, I don’t know, a rat-infused smoothie was always absurd. But what I will say to you in particular is that if you despise Belle Gibson, then you’d better be pretty clear about despising all unfounded health claims. And I will say to Australian media in general: please give me an effing break. For months, you gave Gibson airtime, admiration and awards. And now you want me to believe that you have learned a lesson?

If a lesson had been learned, then there would now be restraint. Australian media would have put its pants on, decided on a code of ethics when reporting “miracles” and never talked to some twit in a hemp pinafore about bee-sting therapies again. But, across all media, single studies that prove nothing are still cherry-picked by lazy journalists, television networks still use the empty term “nutritionist” as a credential for reprehensible Paleo nuts and, for goodness’ sake, even ABC TV “science” program Catalyst has acquired some questionable habits.

Gibson is a product of the market, which continues to deliver false hope to sick people. 

Gibson, a former media darling, is just one of a rotten organic bunch who feed the wide appetite for miracles. And, yes, it might feel marvellous to punish this young, possibly delusional purveyor of biodynamic poop. But, if there is a call just to incinerate one wooden witch, not the media complex who built her, then the fires of irrationalism continue to rage.

Of course, it’s entirely fathomable why particular patients might have a thing or two to say to Gibson. When you’re sick, you’re vulnerable. It doesn’t matter how reasonable you might be when well, when you’re staring down the barrel of a dreadful diagnosis, you’ll fumble for hope. If Steve Jobs, one of Silicon Valley’s rational architects, can turn in a desperation he would later regret to natural remedies, I guess I, a person always banging on about the sanctity of science, probably could, too.

But, Gibson is just one of many providers who serve up dazzling manure. The problem here is, surely, the great mounds of BS, and not one of a great herd fouling the field of trade. Gibson is a product of the market, which continues to deliver false hope to sick people. A good result here would be the one pursued by Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV), which is to bring the market to heel.

CAV has already done great work. Thanks to them, Gibson’s publishers have agreed to place a “buyer beware” statement on the cover of all natural health books and always substantiate claims made by authors who say that they are ill. This, for mine, is a fantastic result, but it’s one that went largely unreported because BURN THE WITCH. Don’t burn the arrogance of media eager to sell anything.

Even if Gibson had faced that awful diagnosis, what then? It wouldn’t change the fact that remission is never the result of eating chia seeds.

The problem media commentators have with Belle Gibson is not that she is one of many selling snake oil. The problem seemed to be that was not, apparently, ever a cancer patient. Gibson’s great wickedness is to never have had cancer.  

But, even if Gibson had faced that awful diagnosis, what then? It wouldn’t change the fact that remission is never the result of eating chia seeds. Whether it is Gibson claiming a false cure from ill health or Pete Evans claiming that his ongoing good health is the result of eating grass-fed puppies, or whatever it is, the point is: media and publishing organisations are negligent in giving credence to these claims.

I get that people don’t like storytellers. But it’s awfully frustrating that they don’t seem to have so much of a problem with the fables themselves.  

This is a great opportunity for Australian media to find its trousers and pop them back on. This is a moment in which journalists can agree that a fearless, responsible approach to both medical claims and those made by “natural” medicine is well past due.

But. I guess it’s easier to just incinerate the witch than go to all the trouble of serving the Australian people well with sound scientific reporting. Let’s never burn the media complex down; just one or two of the unfortunate characters it once, so very recently, embraced. 

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