Letter to the reader

On Dec. 7, we published Jeri Chadwell’s carefully researched, well written look at Dr. James Forsythe’s cancer practice. Like a lot of locals, her curiosity had been piqued by a long-respected local physician becoming involved late in his career in homeopathic treatments.

After her story ran, we received a letter to the editor from local talk show host Eddie Floyd. After reading it, we thought it would make a good demonstration piece for the difficulty of sorting out good and bad information in this age of endless sources. You can read his letter on our letters page. We wrote to him for specific citations on these three sentences from his letter:

“He [Forsythe] was told that, ’The Cancer Institute is the engine that drives the hospital. Why would we want to change anything?’ ”

“Dr. Forsythe has done an outcome based study with 1,250 Stage IV cancer patients.”

“[H]is protocol … has been written about … at many oncology conferences throughout the United States and internationally.”

The first thing that became apparent was that none of these items were known to Eddie Floyd to be true by his own newsgathering. We know this because he informed us he had written to Forsythe for substantiation to answer us.

We then received a response not from Floyd or Forsythe but from P.J. Lombardi, identified to us by Floyd as the doctor’s stepson. We were now a couple of generations away from original information.

In response to the first item, Mr. Lombardi said the quote was spoken by a physician who Forsythe says participated in a meeting with him. It was the same name given to our reporter, who did not use that name in the story because she was unable to reach the physician and confirm it. She did not feel she had the right to take Forsythe’s word about a statement by a different doctor.

In response to the second item, Lombardi wrote, “Jeri has my PowerPoint citing the stats.” Those statistics are raw research. They are not a study. No such study has been published, much less peer-reviewed.

In response to the third item, Lombardi wrote, “Yes, on my website http://drforsythe.com/successful-formulas/presentations.” We found no attestations or testimonials at that address.

Chadwell wrote the story she did because she must scrutinize claims made to her. We’re not familiar with the ethical practices of radio, and perhaps radio hosts need only repeat such claims without checking them out. But to us, that is stenography, not reporting.

We run readers’ letters because we think they should have a say, but in this day and age, readers must use care with everything they read. Might you have drawn information from this letter to the editor? Anyone reading the letter by Eddie Floyd and picking up information from it to repeat to others or in writings would be getting information that was uncertain at best. In item one, Floyd quotes a participant in a meeting as having said something. But Floyd wasn’t there. He didn’t hear it. Yet he positively wrote it was spoken, only because Forsythe claimed such.

This is an age when reality is up for grabs. It requires readers to do more work than just read.