Add frequent cell phone usage to the long list of things that can give you cancer, according to the news media. CNN in particular has been reporting possible connections between cell phones and cancer for years.
But on "Newsroom" May 31, they claimed there was a "rather conclusive" link between the two. Anchor Suzanne Malveaux introduced a "breaking" CNN story saying that "We have an announcement finally on whether cell phones cause cancer."
She brought in CNN medical expert, Elizabeth Cohen, who proclaimed that the report was a "very big deal" and speculated that the findings might lead to regulators forcing cell phone companies to make phones that emit less radiation.
Malveaux ended the piece by stating that "clearly we have something that is rather conclusive, from a very prestigious organization," without providing enough context about the World Health Organization's (WHO) report to allow viewers to make up their own minds. She even said she would change her own behavior when it came to using cell phones.
Dr. Elizabeth Whelan of the American Council on Science and Health was critical of the media coverage saying on the ACSH website: "This is a story that causes unnecessary anxiety."
That recent WHO report argued that prolonged cell phone usage may be "possibly carcinogenic." All potential carcinogens are listed on a risk scale from 1 to 4. Cell phones were listed at level 2B giving prolonged cell phone usage the same level of risk as pickled vegetables and coffee. CNN's Cohen compared the risks to that of lead, chloroform and exhaust rather than veggies and a drink many people consume daily.
Clearly, CNN considered the WHO review a big story since CNN.com ran more than 10 stories describing the risks of cell phones including a series of tips to minimize the risk of radiation and compiling a chart detailing the radiation levels of popular cell phone brands.
Other major news networks were much more cautious than "Newsroom" concerning the WHO study. CBS "Evening News" anchor Harry Smith stated that "the new classification was given with an abundance of caution." NBC's chief medical expert, Dr. Nancy Snyderman, told "Nightly News" viewers "there is no definitive evidence linking cell phones to cancer."
Medical experts on CBS and NBC (Snyderman and CBS's Dr. Jon Lapook) both noted that the worldwide rate of glioma has not increased at all during the past twenty years, when cell phone usage became common throughout the world.
Other media outlets also consulted medical experts who stated the risks less hyperbolically. Associated Press quoted Donald Berry, a professor of biostatistics at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas. Berry said, "Anything is a possible carcinogen."
"This is not something I worry about and it will not in any way change how I use my cell phone," Berry said while giving the interview on his cell phone.
ACSH criticized the news media for "dial[ing] up cell phone scare." Dr. Gil Ross of ACSH did not see the new classification as a major concern and said, "There's no biological hypothesis to explain how cell phone 'radiation' might cause cancer. Cell phone 'radiation' is neither ionizing nor mutagenic."