There are a couple of sad facts about Migraine - it is still poorly understood, and the stigma of Migraine still rears its ugly head all too frequently. Recent news articles about Congresswoman and Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann serve to reinforce these facts.
It would have been difficult to miss the press coverage about Bachmann recently. Some of the headlines have read:
- "Stress-related condition ‘incapacitates’ Bachman; heavy pill use alleged."1
- "Migraines Such as Michele Bachmann’s Can Be Incapacitating."2
- "Michele Bachmann’s Migraine Demons"3
While I can agree that voters should know about any significant health issues candidates may have, I find much of the press coverage objectionable. Biased and / or poorly researched reporting is not only disrespectful to the person about whom it’s written, it’s also disrespectful to readers. Readers deserve news coverage that is well researched, accurate, and objective.
Jonathan Strong’s article on the Daily Caller web site1 seems to be the first to “break” the story about Bachmann’s Migraines. His first mistake was calling Migraine a “stress-related condition” when, in fact, Migraine is a genetic neurological disease. The article cites several anonymous sources, which is a common journalistic practice. At the bottom of the article, is this statement, “The DC agreed to provide the sources anonymity because they were providing information only a select group of people could know, at great professional risk.” Even so, if Bachmann and her health issues are to be tried in the press and the court of public opinion, it seems to me that certain principles of a court of law should be applied. She should have the right to face her accuser. It would seem that Strong didn’t ask Bachmann or her staff for a statement before publishing this article. Certainly, if he had, he would have said so in the article.
Kim Carollo of ABC News started out by mentioning Bachman’s statement about her Migraines and a statement from Alice Stewart, a spokeswoman for Bachmann, who said:
“Twelve percent of Americans suffer from migraines, so if you’re saying that Americans who suffer from migraines can’t do their jobs, then I think you’re going to run into problems.”
A good start, but then, instead of talking about how Migraines can vary from person to person, went on to write,
“But doctors who specialize in treating migraines say that while they can’t speak for Bachmann, 55, many migraine sufferers experience headaches that can be incapacitating.”
She then went on to quote several well known Migraine specialists about how debilitating Migraines can be. There was certainly good information about Migraine in the article, but it was as if Carollo ignored what Bachmann and her spokeswoman had said.
“Stress-related condition,” “heavy pill use,” “Migraine Demons.” Such phrases could certainly lead readers to question Bachmann’s health. They also contribute to the misunderstanding of and stigma related to Migraines.
Bachmann issued a _statement _ about her Migraines yesterday. In part, it read,
"Since entering the campaign, I have maintained a full schedule between my duties as a congresswoman and as a presidential candidate traveling across the nation to meet with voters in the key, early primary and caucus states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. I have prescription medication that I take whenever symptoms arise and they keep the migraines under control. Let me be abundantly clear - my ability to function effectively has never been impeded by migraines and will not affect my ability to serve as Commander in Chief."5
Migraine is misunderstood enough without the media adding to the misunderstanding. Studies have shown that the stigma associated with Migraine increases Migraine burden, makes it more difficult to live with the disease.6 We don’t need poorly researched and written news articles to make the stigma worse. I call on “journalists” to do better and on readers to post comments whenever you see this kind of article and there’s a comment section. Let journalists know that this kind of reporting is simply unacceptable.
1 Strong, Jonathan. “Stress-related condition ‘incapacitates’ Bachman; heavy pill use alleged.” The Daily Caller. July 18, 2011.
2 Carollo, Kim. “Migraines Such as Michele Bachmann’s Can Be Incapacitating.” ABCNews. July 19, 2011.
3 Staff Writer. “Michele Bachmann’s Migraine Demons.” fitnews.com. July 20, 2011.
4 Oliphant, James. “Michele Bachmann says ‘easily controlled’ migraines don’t slow her.” Los Angeles Times. July 19, 2011.
5 Press Release. “Bachmann Responds to Migraine Reports.” Michele Bachmann. July 10, 2011.
6 Park J.E.1; Kempner J.2; Young W.B. “The Stigma of Migraine.” Poster presentation. 52nd annual meeting of the American Headache Society. Los Angeles. June, 2010.
Teri Robert is a leading patient educator and advocate and the author of Living Well with Migraine Disease and Headaches. A co-founder of the Alliance for Headache Disorders Advocacy and the American Headache and Migraine Association, she received the National Headache Foundation’s Patient Partners Award and a Distinguished Service Award from the American Headache Society. Teri can be found on her website, and blog, Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Google+.