Top 10 Public Health and Social Justice Media Bites of 2022
- Saneeha Mirza
Media Advocacy & Communications
Berkeley Media Studies Group
At the end of every year, PHI’s Berkeley Media Studies Group has made it a tradition to compile a top 10 list of media bites. As our staff reads thousands of news articles, tweets, and other forms of media throughout the year, we occasionally come across snippets that are too good to forget. These media bites make their place in our hearts and minds and serve as a reminder to communicate about complex public health issues in creative ways that are easy for general audiences to understand.
2022 has inspired no shortage of captivating media bites, as a year of difficulty led to widespread action: The overturn of Roe v. Wade has prompted many activists to increase the fervor of their work to protect reproductive rights that are no longer federally recognized. As gun violence, mass shootings, and hate crimes returned to the headlines, we reexamined how the media covers these events by revisiting old conversations about what works, and what doesn’t. Meanwhile, the field of public health has seen no respite, as an earlier and stronger-than-usual uptick in flu and RSV cases, and the recently renamed Mpox compounded the impact of the COVID pandemic, rather than replacing it. In the wake of these and other major issues, journalists, advocates, and even athletes have used their voices and platforms to help us understand persistent problems and problematic norms in new ways.
Without further ado, here are our top 10 media bites for 2022, and why we like them so much. Did you find a great media bite this year that we haven’t included? We’d love to hear from you! Send your favorite media bites to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s easier to get a gun than baby formula.Damion Lee
Professional basketball player. Aired on May 24, 2022 during a post-game press conference. Also appeared on CNN.
Why we like it: The Warriors’ post-game news conference on May 24, the day of the mass shooting at a school in Uvalde, TX, provided no shortage of compelling comments, including from Coach Steve Kerr who lost his father to gun violence in 1984. We’re highlighting NBA player Damion Lee’s quote, in particular, because he was able to sum up two of the major ways our nation has failed American children in one fell swoop. Gun violence is the leading cause of death among children in the U.S., a statement that cannot be made for any other country on the planet. And, systemic barriers persistently make breastfeeding difficult if not impossible for some mothers (especially mothers of color). Lee’s comments use a powerful juxtaposition to efficiently communicate the deep irony behind our nation’s skewed priorities.
Electrical activity in a microscopic group of organizing cells at 6 weeks is not a “heartbeat.” Know who has a heart beat?Randi Mayem Singer
Kids cowering in classrooms
Women who are raped
People with pre-existing conditions
Unarmed black men
They have heartbeats. “Pro-life” them. #RoeVWade
Screenwriter. Appeared May 2, 2022 on Twitter.
Why we like it: 2022 was already chock full of letdowns by May, and eroding reproductive rights was simply the nail in the coffin. We’re featuring Singer’s tweet here because she exposes the hypocrisy of anti-choice politics, which does not support life beyond birth, and provides a crucial reframe: When we say pro-life, whose lives are we talking about?
I think we all expect public health to work like Amazon Prime, we’re going to get our package in two days and everything will be fixed. Unfortunately, public health has been underfunded for decades.Lauren Weber
In Last Week Tonight by John Oliver, on August 7, 2022.
Why we like it: In this episode of Last Week Tonight, host John Oliver highlighted the disappointment many people were facing when they observed the slow response of public health departments to Mpox. People, particularly of disproportionately impacted communities, wanted COVID funding and resources to simply be rerouted to the Mpox response, a common notion that was addressed in this episode. In her segment, Weber shows that public health often can’t move as fast as we need it to, due to a history of underfunding that has pushed public health workers to react in real time rather than prepare ahead of time for pandemics, natural disasters, and other issues we know occur on a regular basis. Learn more about why a fully funded public health infrastructure is so important and how you can champion public health using strategic communication.
When you are poor, the Sun finds you faster.Edgar Sandoval
“In San Antonio, the Poor Live on Their Own Islands of Heat,” Appeared July 26, 2022, in The New York Times.
Why we like it: As we lived through record-high temperatures this summer, this media bite reminded us that climate change doesn’t harm everyone equally. One way this manifests is in lower-income neighborhoods. With their histories of racist policies such as redlining, these communities often lack green spaces, health-promoting tree cover, and well thought-out infrastructure, creating “heat islands” that harm residents because they have no way to beat the heat.
It’s not really necessarily my disability that I’ve had to overcome. It’s the negative attitudes and stereotypes that come with being a disabled person. That is more exhausting.Rosemary McDonnell-Horit
LaVant Consulting, a disability-focused communications firm. From “How to talk about disability sensitively and avoid ableist tropes.” Published Aug. 8, 2022 in NPR.
Why we like it: The first step to fixing a problem is to name it, and with growing rates of long COVID, disability and chronic illness are being named much more often in news coverage. Advocates have leveraged this opportunity to challenge ableist norms and negative stereotypes about people with disabilities. This quote from McDonnell-Horita does just that by emphasizing that social factors like ableism are the real scourge against society.
Candidates who care about solving a problem pay attention to what caused it. Imagine a plumber who tells you to get more absorbent flooring but does not look for the leak.Phillip Atiba Goff
Chair and a professor of African American studies and a professor of psychology at Yale University. From “The Root Cause of Violent Crime Is Not What We Think It Is,” published Dec. 12, 2022 in The New York Times.
Why we like it: This quote uses a powerful metaphor to illustrate the difference between a cause and a symptom. When it comes to violent crime, it is all too commonplace for politicians to suggest downstream punitive solutions that might provide a temporary, false sense of security rather than addressing the roots of the issue that can prevent violence in the first place. Increasing police presence, for example, has only been proven to drive up costs, not decrease crime. Goff’s metaphor shows us why “tough on crime” candidates and policies just don’t work.
We don’t need an “Emmett Till moment,” there are plenty of images of vile acts of violence & grieving families already out there. We need policy makers, legislators & regulators with the will to put safety + lives over pandering & keeping their corporate owners happy.Brandi Collins-Dexter
Researcher. Appeared May 25, 2022 on Twitter.
Why we like it: We felt so inspired by this tweet, we wrote our own blog in response. In the aftermath of the Robb Elementary School shooting, many journalists were debating the ethics of imagery surrounding mass violence. Have shootings become too sanitized? Would printing graphic aftermath images be the catalyst needed to prevent the next mass shooting? As Collins-Dexter points out, we can address the issue without retraumatizing people; we just need the political will.
Here seniors are in their golden years, and the only people seeing gold are the pharmaceutical companies.Gretchen Van Zile. 74
From “For Older Americans, Health Bill Will Bring Savings and ‘Peace of Mind’”. Published Aug. 10, 2022 in The New York Times
Why we like it: In this media bite, we get to hear from an authentic voice, who elevates corporate greed and the need for better accountability by pointing out how pharmaceutical companies take advantage of seniors. In 2022, we saw articles exposing various public health issues as they intersect with age – from a stunning report that revealed how grandfamilies face staggering rates of food insecurity, to more attention being given to the growing number of multi-generational homes and how caregivers grapple with responsibilities both inside and outside of the home. Seniors’ health needs to be supported, not preyed upon by companies for profit.
But what if managing our reproductive health and sexuality were as banal as going to the dentist? Just as technology has enabled us to maintain strong and healthy teeth late into our lives, so should a full spectrum of reproductive health care services allow us optimal health late into our lives, including the ability to determine if and when to carry a pregnancy and/or have children.Ingrid Daffner Krasnow
From “Shaping Lives”, published July 20, 2022 in Jackson Hole News and Guide.
Why we like it: With the overturn of Roe v. Wade, and ensuing legislation that places further restrictions on what ought to be deeply personal reproductive health choices, former BMSG trainer Ingrid Daffner Krasnow uses a metaphor to cut through the noise surrounding reproductive health and reframes the issue as the ordinary, every day matter it should be.
Stories are where people have always gone to find meaning. We need to tell a different story; the current one is killing us.Elliot Ackerman
Former marine. From “Our Narrative of Mass Shootings Is Killing Us,” published June 2, 2022 in The Atlantic.
Why we like it: Words matter. They have the power to influence public opinion and shape our ideas about the world around us. Whether we think an issue is intractable or preventable depends at least partly on how the news media characterizes it. This quote from Ackerman underscores the relationship between news narratives and real-life outcomes, which, in the case of gun violence, have become increasingly deadly. Although journalists didn’t create this issue, they can help us see it more clearly.
Indeed, when it comes to language, the field of addiction medicine largely stands alone. Cancer patients are not referred to as cancers. People who experience strokes or heart attacks aren’t referred to by the name of their disease, either. The same is true even in the highly stigmatized world of mental health: People with depression are not depressives, and people with schizophrenia are no longer commonly referred to as schizophrenics.Lev Facher
Even terms as simple as “substance abuse,” advocates say, imply that people are always making willful, considered choices to consume drugs or alcohol, leveling a moral judgment against them instead of recognizing the medical reality of addiction.
“When it comes to addiction, Americans’ word choices are part of the problem.” Appeared Oct. 26, 2022 in STAT News.
Why we like it: This one is more of a media meal than a media bite. In an emerging area, author Lev Facher takes no linguistic shortcuts. Facher cleverly illustrates why the language used in the field of addiction medicine is lagging behind when compared to other areas – the language that has become normalized, such as “addicts” or “substance abusers,” places blame on people who would otherwise be seen as patients in need of treatment and support, not punishment and judgment. As more advocates encourage empathetic, harm reduction-centered framing, the language we use must adapt to reflect this important point of view.
Originally published by Berkeley Media Studies Group
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