Sadly, this is is not an isolated event. But I couldn’t let it go unremarked. My response is below, and of course, more discussion will follow.

June 11, 2012

Tina Brown
Editor in Chief
The Daily Beast

Dear Ms. Brown,

The headline of the (Jun 11 2012 6:42 AM EDT) Howard Kurtz column published at The Daily Beast (www.dailybeast.com) shows a callous and careless pursuit of page clicks using demeaning and offensive language. It should be changed, and an apology provided.

“New York Post’s Schizophrenia” is a misguided attempt to be edgy and provocative in pursuit of page clicks. I understand that revenue is driven by page clicks, but that strategy should never be employed when it demeans and offends.

My objection is to the (inaccurate) use of the term for a serious brain disorder in attempt to make a clever metaphor. It isn’t clever, it isn’t funny, and it is a disgrace to your publication. Its use demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of a severe medical condition, one which can result in significant disability. The headline promotes misunderstanding and stigma, not in the least with its implication that schizophrenia is bad – or a choice. Schizophrenia is a severe brain disorder that can’t be overcome by choice or willpower, unlike the New York Post’s coverage of Newsweek articles.

Schizophrenia is not “split personality” The common misconception stems from when Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler coined the term “schizophrenia” 100 years ago. The term itself is derived from Greek roots schizo (split) and phrene (mind) and Bleuler used it to describe “disconnected thoughts.” (Split personality is actually known as dissociative identity disorder.) The prominent symptoms of schizophrenia can include delusional beliefs, the most common of which is paranoia, and hallucinations. People who have schizophrenia may also have trouble with memory and concentration, along with learning and remembering new things, which can impair decision making skills.

Surely no respectable publication would even consider a headline reading “New York Post’s Cancer,” or “New York Post’s Stroke/Epilepsy/Multiple Sclerosis” to describe objectionable coverage of that publication’s content. Since Kurtz’s objection appears to be based on the incongruity between two reports in the same edition, why not simply say so – without demeaning a serious medical condition?

This kind of casual appropriation of disorder names from psychiatry is disturbing and damaging. Particularly when they are generally used in misleading ways. As noted above, there aren’t parallels with other kinds of medical conditions. Yet it’s not uncommon to see “bipolar” and “schizophrenic” used as adjectives applied to conditions and/or behavior as if the terms were descriptors used in appropriate context, when they are simply used to provoke an amplified response, or in attempt to be clever. Often these terms are used when “incongruous,” “conflicting,” ”discordant” or “contradictory” are what the author actually seeks to convey. This use is not clever, but it is misleading, and offensive.

People who live with serious brain disorders face significant challenges in a society where many believe that their conditions are a weakness of will, a character flaw, or a fanciful version of malingering. These disorders are as real and as medical and physical as heart disease or cancer, and they are equally untreatable with willpower. Headlines like that for Kurtz’s column serve to reinforce public misunderstanding of these medical disorders and further stigmatize the people who live with them. The copy editor who chose the headline should be ashamed.

Very truly yours,

Bella Q

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