Most everyone has heard the adage comparing opinions and a certain orifice and that truism is unlikely to change, particularly since the replacement of what used to be the news in favor of “advocacy journalism” personified by commentary on cable news and talk radio. No one is more vilified for the practice than Fox News and while the network is a needed and otherwise missing voice for the right on television, there are times when it deserves some of the ridicule it receives from the left.
Fox’s most visible “medical A-team” expert is psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow, who most recently voiced his response to the untimely death of Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman via heroin overdose.
Ablow has perspectives that can be thought provoking. In his 1997 novel "Denial,” he wrote that there is no original evil left in the world but rather, now everyone is just recycles old pain.
Psychology, faith, emotion and motivation are topics that don’t fall into the category of exact science and Ablow as well as anyone else gets some latitude for exploration. But as a medical doctor he seems unable to keep subjective, perhaps political views separate from the science of medicine.
Ablow was widely criticized for his call advising parents not to allow their children to watch Chaz Bono on Dancing with the Stars because gender dysphoria might “be kindled by celebrating those who have undergone sexual reassignment surgery.” He later said that such appearances could actually indoctrinate children.
He then went on to say "if a person came to me tattooed as a zebra, I'm not going to have my kids watch a show in which people pretend to be farm animals," a rebuttal he made to criticism on Integrity Live, otherwise known as “The Howard Stern Show.”
Apparently fear of the impending danger of kids watching people in costume and then wanting to be the character is too much for Ablow to bear. Perhaps some of his patients have been seeking surgery to become purple dinosaurs.
In the case of gender dysphoria, there is little doubt that the confusion suffered by those experience it needs support and not exacerbation; however, American Psychiatric Association president John M. Oldham debunked Ablow's argument, stating that there "is no evidence that viewing a television game show with a transgender contestant would induce Gender Identity Disorder in young people."
Assessing Hoffman's demise, Ablow responded to his death by advocating in very certain terms that while we should celebrate the arrest of drug dealers in connection with his death, we can’t blame them because they didn’t kill him—he killed himself.
In one sense Ablow is correct: using drugs of any kind, particularly those that are not only illegal but known to be highly addictive and potentially toxic, is a personal choice. Hoffman is solely responsible for walking down that path.
After that, however, it becomes more complicated. Ablow claims “only one person is, ultimately, responsible for his death: Philip Seymour Hoffman, himself. No quirk of neurochemistry can make you rate getting high as more important than getting your kids through life. Only a disorder of character can do that.”
In the most literal sense, this is largely true. Even upon realizing he had a serious problem, Hoffman certainly had the resources to take a salient moment and send himself to rehab, perhaps with strict orders not to be let out until he was clean.
However, Ablow seems out of touch with the very essence of addiction. All addictions are not the same; certainly an addiction to gambling could only be described as primarily psychological. That is entirely different than an addiction to heroin, which not only creates a sense of euphoria when injected, but also in many users almost instantly changes the body to crave it. The body becomes dependent and attempts to kick the habit or for that matter, just not having a fix available can lead to severe withdrawals which help facilitate continued use and make kicking the habit that much more difficult.
There is no absolving Hoffman of the responsibility for his own demise but to act as if drug-related deaths aren’t essentially the result of a partnership doesn’t work either. Unlike years past when companies sold cigarettes perhaps without a real grasp of how toxic they are cigarette manufacturers sell their products now with full knowledge that smokers become addicts and are likely to develop numerous health problems if they continue. By the same token, drug manufacturers and dealers are well aware that addictive drugs have but one function: to create a psychological and physical dependence that is so powerful it is very difficult to overcome and as long as the user doesn’t overdose, he or she continues to buy more. One might wonder if they don't turn around and use their profits to build profitable rehab centers.
Ablow seems unable to grasp the basic understanding that if no one manufactured or sold the drugs, no one would be using them. Would an addictive personality simply find another potentially toxic escape, such as racing cars or skydiving or sniffing glue? It’s difficult to say but again, compulsions and psychological addictions are different than a total physical dependence on a substance. Regardless, those who manufacture and distribute addictive drugs are more than accessories or even enablers—they are malicious facilitators.
Ablow correctly points out that a child who loses a parent to overdose is faced with a massive violation of trust and may be burdened with the notion that he/she was less important than drugs and never safe from an unexpected catastrophe. These kids may inherit a vulnerability “to depression and drug addiction and personality disorders….” He sees this as “the real way psychiatric suffering is passed through generations.”
Yet at the same time, he completely ignores that genetics are half of the cause of addiction, which strongly contributes to children of addicts being 8 times as likely to develop one. This is an even more powerful statement as to why those who are genetically predisposed must stay away, for the very same reason that children of those likely to suffer from heart disease or cancer must be vigilant. That is a matter of science and medicine, not conjecture.
Our society has largely gone too far away from the notion of personal responsibility and the right is often correct in pointing out that many people with one problem are another blame their woes on others, the system or anyone but themselves. There is no question that addicts bear primary responsibility for their situations.
What Ablow fails to understand is that it isn’t a zero-sum game and for someone in his position to inject black-and-white assessments into scenarios that demand a deeper and more intuitive analysis is superficial and shortsighted. In finalizing his comments regarding Hoffman, Ablow said, “I am on the front lines. I know this to be true,” making his myopic views all the more puzzling. When making such an argument becomes and improvement over previous statements that are completely unsubstantiated, it may be time for Ablow to enroll in some ongoing education or just take the blinders off. Meanwhile Fox might want to stick with fact-based medical contributors.