The Microwave News article Defending the Indefensible Deconstructing a New York Times Headline starts “How does a New York Times reporter justify a grossly misleading headline on a story of major importance? Usually we could only speculate, but in one recent case, thanks to a health advocate’s persistence, we have a peek at the rationalizations and distortions in play.”

This is the Times headline at issue:

It sits at the top of a story by William Broad, a staff writer, reporting the release of the National Toxicology Program’s (NTPfinal report on its $30 million, ten-year animal study of the cancer risks associated with cell phone radiation.

The quotation marks are important. They indicate that “some evidence” is a term of art and they imply that the study fell short of providing definitive evidence of a cancer risk. If that had been the case, the term “clear evidence” would have applied.

But that was the finding. The NTP saw clear evidence that cell phone radiation causes cancer and said so in its press release.

Theodora Scarato, the executive director of the Environmental Health Trust (EHT), wrote a series of emails to Broad and kept writing until he replied. Among her many questions was: Why did the headline refer to “some” rather than “clear” evidence of cancer?

In his reply, Broad maintained that he saw nothing wrong with the headline. Here’s what he told her:

“The vital context for this discussion is that our article focused on brain tumors because that’s what readers worry about. Naturally, people hold cell phones to their heads, not to their hearts (unlike the rats in the study, which had no choice but to be irradiated over their entire bodies). I see nothing here to correct. We detailed the various findings of the study exactly as you report them: ‘some evidence’ of brain cancer versus ‘clear evidence’ of heart cancer. Again, we gave priority in the article to the brain-tumor issue because that has become a major topic of concern to consumers.”

Read the full article online at