National Post update and 3CH media strategy
by Karen Wehrstein
In case you are wondering how 3CH managed to get a positive column about homeopathy into the National Post on Jan. 28, why we did it and what we have accomplished so far with it, here’s my take.
The week before, the Toronto Star had run an editorial with a critical mention of homeopathy. With research and editing help from 3CH board members Laurie Willberg and Maria Ringo, I put together a lengthy email and sent it to several people at the Star including two relevant editors and the public editor (an ombudsperson-type position).
It made four main positive points about homeopathy, which I felt would be effective in combination:
1) There is science showing effectiveness, substantiated by scientifically-valid meta-analyses, the Cuban study and a sampling of other studies and websites
2) Homeopathy is not magic but rational, following consistent procedures and principles taught in the schools
3) Scientists are currently working on figuring out how it works, substantiated by the existence of the International Journal of High-Dilution Research, a series of studies re properties of high dilutions, including the one that discovered nanoparticles and the work of Dr. Luc Montagnier
4) Homeopathy has large stature worldwide, substantiated by the fact that it’s regulated in Ontario, the estimated number of patients worldwide, the fact that it’s part of public health system and covered by public insurance in many countries, the popularity of Oscillococcinum and stats on how fast it’s growing worldwide.
The Star just wrote back that I should write a letter to the editor.
But then, on Tuesday, Jan. 22, I was having a teleconference with a key person in the health food retail world who told me that the National Post had run a whole column denigrating homeopathy. As soon as I got off the phone, I took the Star email, trimmed all references to the Star, changed them to National Post, and sent it to the relevant editor.
About 20 minutes later, he emailed me back to ask me if I’d like to write a counterpoint column for the Post, saying the email was “90% there.” I just had to change it to a more journalistic style and get it in Thursday morning, then they’d run it on Monday.
So I did that, then emailed back and forth with a fact-checker on the Friday. In his version he removed so much of the meaty substantiation in the article—including the mention of Nobel laureate and co-discoverer of the HIV virus Luc Montagnier and his work with high dilutions—that I was a little upset at first. But by arguing the legitimacy and relevance of the citations, with Maria’s help, I managed to talk him into putting most of them back in, and in fact the story ended up with a picture of Dr. Montagnier.
On Monday it ran in both paper and web versions. But my work wasn’t over yet. I immediately sent out emails with the link to all 3CH members as well as everyone else in the homeopathic community whose emails I have. Not to crow (or at least not entirely to crow), but to rally them to show our numbers and our arguments in the comment section on the website.
People are in some ways herd animals… and powerful people, politicians and high-level executives want to know what the public is thinking, too. They’ll skim comment sections to get a feel for the tide of public opinion on a matter, and part of our mandate at 3CH is to show how much public support homeopathy has. I was all over the comment section myself, using it as a way to disseminate more information that I hadn’t been able to put in the story either due to space or edits.
It is early still, and also hard to gauge the full impact. But immediate obvious impacts were the comments running to 205 by the time comments were closed, emails I received (including one from a homeopath in Sweden asking for science cites to help lobby for the legalization of parents using alternative health care on their children), and the response to the membership drive e-blast we sent out a week later, i.e. a cluster of new paid members. (Thank you all!)
But the greater impact I’ll start explaining by introducing the concept of the Overton Window. What this means is that there is a certain range—a window—of ideas, knowledge and policies which are seen as acceptable in the current climate of public opinion. So for example, “public health insurance” would be well within the window, an established and accepted policy. Whereas “goverment making decisions by consulting the entrails of sacrificed animals” would be outside the window, considered highly marginal.
Over time, the Overton Window can move; for example, “man-made climate change” was at one time a radical notion that is now becoming mainstream as more and more people and media outlets discuss it.
You see where I’m going here? Currently, homeopathy is a little bit outside the current Canadian Overton Window… most people don’t know what the word means and many others scoff at the idea. Our mandate at 3CH is to move the Overton Window over so that homeopathy lands well within it.
So how do you do that?
Approval by an influential person or body can make a big difference. Thus, in the case of homeopathy, regulation in Ontario is an Overton Window mover.
Ridicule and attack is a strategy that has been successfully used to move the window away from an idea. People want to stay away from controversy and avoid association with anything that has been ridiculed. This is what our detractors are doing. It’s not just malice, pig-headedness or emotional reaction; it’s calculated to influence the public.
But the positive strategy to move the window is through exposing the public to accurate, substantiating information about the idea, especially through major media. If you do it enough, in enough places and in front of enough eyeballs, discussion of homeopathy becomes acceptable, and voila—you’ve moved the Overton Window! And you have done it in a positive way, which, ultimately, people prefer to hear, and is better for your good name.
3CH, its members and the homeopathic community in general has the power to do exactly this. And we’ve begun. What we did with the National Post piece was give that window a good little shove in the right direction! We will need to follow up, and we will, of course.
Next issue: Ways YOU can help us keep that Overton Window moving in the right direction.