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