Ombudsman: NPR mammogram story comes up short

If you pay any attention at all to the ongoing debate over whether women should be getting mammograms (and, if so, when) , there’s a pretty fair chance you’re confused.

This week, NPR reported that several politicians are again pushing to override guidance from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force that six years ago said women under 50 may not need to get routine mammograms.

Congress overrode that guidance so the task force is rewriting it. But it will essentially say the same thing, NPR reported.

“We know that there are women that will die if this recommendation goes through,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a breast cancer survivor, told NPR.

“The piece was delivered by a congressional reporter, not a health care reporter, and it sounds like it,” Gary Schwitzer, publisher of and a University of Minnesota professor, said.

Missing from the report, he noted, is any voice from the task force.

“If we once again allow news coverage of this issue to be dominated by politics – and by coverage that delivers a superficial thumbnail sketch of a scientific controversy – we will have done more harm to women and to all news consumers than anything we can do with mammograms or without them.”

“I agree,” NPR ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen writes in her latest review. “Even as a piece about politics, not science, it needed at least a summary of the task force recommendations. The online headline is also skewed toward the Congressional critics, making it sound as though Congress has no choice but to intervene in the issue.”

NPR’s editor on the story acknowledged the network could have done a better job.

Jensen noted NPR has reported on the mammogram debate four times in the last two weeks.