GOOP and the Media’s Double Standard on Pseudoscience

Recently, Olga Khazan of The Atlantic tried to figure out “The Baffling Rise of GOOP”—actress Gwyneth Paltrow’s trendy lifestyle website, which has recently been accused of promoting deceptive health claims. Khazan wonders what the site’s popularity says about the future of health journalism.

Khazan does a good job navigating the oddball world of GOOP pseudoscience and the enormously lucrative business of selling snake oil to a new market of consumers who are equally parts gullible and health obsessed. Yet, as with anyone examining their own trade, Khazan fails to see what’s truly wrong with health (and frankly, all) journalism today—routine double standards, crushing cynicism, and the media’s utterly ridiculous and embarrassingly sycophantic admiration of the Hollywood elite.

Khazan clearly sees a problem—that not enough journalists are asking the necessary tough questions about Gwyneth’s wacky claims. But ultimately, Khazan reasons that this is simply a budgetary matter:

Fact-checking often doesn’t fit into increasingly tight media budgets, or isn’t much of a priority, so dubious health claims about prolonged fasting or avoiding gluten ricochet around the internet.

Really? How lazy and impassive have journalists become that they require a fact-checker to look into the validity of GOOP’s various bizarre claims? Does it really require a fact-checker on staff to look into Gwyneth’s assertion that water has feelings or that crystals heal clinical depression and that walking barefoot on grass heals “everything from inflammation and arthritis to insomnia and depression?” In fact, before “fact-checkers” became a thing, weren’t reporters supposed to be the checkers of facts?

Well, yes. And that’s why Khazan’s reasoning comes off as just another tired excuse for bad reporting. What Khazan and many journalists don’t want to admit is that reporters give GOOP a pass because its creator, Paltrow, is one of them—an elitist. She’s a member of the “in crowd.” She’s liberal, wealthy, and an A-list, Academy Award winning actress who claims to be “incredibly close to the common woman” while selling $5,000 vases (or does one call them vaaahses when they’re that expensive?), $8,000 tents, and a $500 umbrella. In fact, Paltrow is peak elite.

Is there a more protected or privileged class than that tiny demographic?

Even after the actress admitted on Jimmy Kimmel Live that she doesn’t “know what the f*ck we talk about [on GOOP’s website]” the media chuckled and turned the other way. Or rather, they turned their attention back to what they view as a much more dangerous group of pseudoscience peddlers—like those who suggest prayer can help those suffering from diseases, never mind that there’s actual evidence that prayer can help with disease management and recovery.

I mean, the gall of these Christians!

One need only juxtapose the media’s reaction to two similar yet vastly different recent comments made by two actors in the wake of Hurricane Irma to understand the problem. When actress Jennifer Lawrence claimed Hurricane Irma was Mother Nature’s way of punishing Americans for electing Trump, the mainstream media yawned (save for a few articles that tried to explain her comments because, come on, cut her a break, it’s Trump, so anything goes, right?).

Yet when actor and vocal Christian activist Kirk Cameron made the equally ludicrous claim that Hurricane Irma was sent by God to teach man “humility, awe and repentance,” the mainstream and entertainment media blew up, generating dozens of headlines and smug stories denouncing such dangerous theories. I mean, really: awe, humility, and repentance? What gives, Kirk? How could you suggest such things?

This all makes me wonder. What would reporters do if Gwyneth suddenly “found God” as they say, and GOOP started recommending Christian-based health treatments like bathing in the waters of the Grotto of Massabielle in the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, France; or gave travel tips on a pilgrimage to the Bosnian town of Medjugorje, where, in the 1980s, townspeople started seeing visions of the Virgin Mary. That sort of passes the GOOP snobbery smell test, right? I mean, if those waters or visions were in Detroit, Michigan, or Columbus, Ohio, no dice, but Europe? Maybe.

Or what if Goop offered its readers an interesting how-to article on praying the rosary or the chaplet of St. Michael or maybe a nice, short piece on how going to Mass improves mood. One can probably predict the outcry from the media: CRUCIFY HER!

Gwyneth is no dummy. She gets that wacky health claims are best kept firmly secular. And she understands she’s mollycoddled by members of the mainstream press, who act more like Tiger Beat-clutching preteens at a boy band concert than the skeptical investigators they were hired to be. Perhaps that’s the answer to Khazan’s question about why Goop remains so popular.

Knowing her courtiers won’t ask tough questions or write essays that could damage the brand, GOOP carries on with its dangerous and deceptive health claims, entirely unchecked.

Image: Gwyneth Paltrow By Jared Purdy [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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  • Fran2244

    This article needs a fact checker. Jennifer Lawrence never said that – check Snopes for what she did say and how it got distorted. The link to the claim that there are benefits from prayer doesn’t actually present any evidence for that claim, just that cancer patients who report strong spiritual or religious beliefs also report better health. Other studies show no benefit to distance prayer although the Templeton Foundation has tried to find some.

    I don’t think the media jumps on Christians or those who claim some benefit from Christian practices unless those Christians are trying to use their religion to bash gays, but I don’t have any statistics, so take it for what it’s worth.

  • Facebook User

    Professor Kenesi, who investigates alleged miracles of healing at Lourdes, of Lourdes International Medical Committee, says:

    In Committee, we so often hear this phrase: “Do you guarantee one hundred percent that this is a miracle?” The answer is: “Absolutely not.”
    Despite the seriousness of our work, the redoubling of tests, the long duration of observation, some uncertainty still persists. Our role, in LIMC, is to make it as small as possible. But we do not reduce it to zero. This is an admission of ignorance on our part. We do not claim to know everything, nor do we to explain everything one hundred percent. It is typical of all human affairs.

    Lourdes is famous for its miracles though despite the millions that go there, and the countless miracle claims, only 69 (up to the year 2015) have been declared officially to be sound examples of possible miracles. The miracle reports were more common in decades gone by. The reason for that is that improvements in medical science are refuting miraculous explanations. The miraculous is heading towards redundancy.

    The Catholic Church when it tries to verify that miracles of healing happened at Lourdes finds it far from easy. But ordinary people have the right to see the evidence before believing and do not have the time for examining all that. A true miracle would be straightforward. Otherwise people are going to get conned and fall into error.

    It is no wonder that the medical reports that verify healings that are taken as miracles showing the Church should canonise people invoked for the cures as saints are highly confidential in the Vatican. We protest against this. The cured people will talk about what happened so what is the Vatican hiding? What is the pope and his curia afraid of?

    Catholic teaching insists that Jesus said that if he will do a miracle you must have strong faith first. What about Catholic devotees and priests encouraging sick people to believe they can and will be cured so that the door to a miracle can be opened? It is sick! No longer must they be able to say, “We promise Lourdes will heal the heart and that is the real miracle.” No longer must they be able to say, “Real healings are rare but Lourdes heals through a placebo and it does not matter how somebody gets better as long as they do”. Both of these are still giving false hope and putting people in emotional danger. To promise a placebo is quite cruel and even worse than promising that a real miracle might happen. The good at Lourdes is what we hear about. That is dishonest. There is another side. It is a dark side that makes promoting it totally unjustifiable.

  • Swagman

    Paltrow knows this storm of bad media will blow over and the hordes of idiot consumers clamoring for a tiny slice of the Glynnie life will continue to fork over their measly earnings to do so.