Thank U.S. news media for current Viagra Mania

June 07, 1998|By GREGORY KANE

OUR NEED TO find victims, plots and double standards has led to implications that the development of the male potency pill Viagra is a male conspiracy against women.

You knew it had to happen. Once again, one of those groups that regards itself as historically oppressed -- minorities, feminists, gays -- sees double standards and oppression where none in fact exists.

Syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman is beside herself, wondering why a male potency pill was developed before a male birth control pill. And how dare health insurance companies offer coverage for Viagra and not female contraceptives? Judging from the tone of her Viagra column, it seems the new drug probably ruined the poor woman's castration fantasies.

Newsday columnist Mario Cocco soon followed suit, charging a double standard exists in health insurance coverage for Viagra and none for birth control pills.

If Goodman and Cocco wanted to talk about a really obscene double standard, they'd address the gross disparity in research funds for breast cancer vs. prostate cancer. Oh, I should hush. Here I go implying there may be a double standard against men. Only women qualify for the double standard treatment. Pundits will point out double standards -- such as Viagra vs. the birth control pill -- until our tricentennial celebration. They'll point them out even if a good reason exists for them.

And the good reason is this: Preventing birth is not a medical condition. It's a choice. There is no way that deciding not to have a child and that you want to take a contraceptive pill for it is a medical condition.

Impotence is often a medical condition, brought on by some very real physical maladies. Diabetes is the affliction most often cited as leading to male impotence. The disease will kill you as dead as breast cancer will. For Americans with the noninsulin-dependent, adult-onset type, diabetes is especially harmful because it's a stealth disease. It tends to creep up on you sometime after you turn 40. If you don't see your doctor on a regular basis, adult-onset diabetes can blind or cripple you without your even knowing you have it.

Victims of adult-onset diabetes don't choose their illness. Men with the disease don't choose the impotence resulting from it. That seems a distinctly different situation from a woman -- or a man, for that matter, should Goodman's dream of a male birth control pill come to fruition -- choosing to use contraceptive medicine and asking a health insurance company to foot the bill for it.

Defenders of poor, oppressed womenfolk won't see it that way. This Viagra business has caused them to become completely unhinged. Unfortunately, they are not alone. America's media are afflicted with Viagra Mania.

This newspaper alone has carried a couple dozen Viagra stories since April. Most of those were in the business section, indicating some responsible and informative reporting. But that may be the exception. Consider a story broadcast recently over the airwaves, about a 73-year-old man who tried Viagra and then left his wife for a much younger woman. The news anchor grinned mischievously after broadcasting the "story," which lacked certain elements of legitimate journalism.

What was the man's name? What about his wife's? What about an interview with either one to confirm or deny the story? This wasn't so much a news story as yet another comic blurb about the Viagra craze. And who, exactly, was it that started this craze? The media.

Every year in Columbia, Maryland's branch of the Hugh O'Brian Youth Foundation (HOBY) holds a meeting of high school students throughout the state. They have several panel discussions, one of which asks the question, "Do the media report or create news?" In the case of Viagra, we not only created the news, but a plethora of nonsense and stupid jokes to go with it.

When Viagra hit the market, it made front-page news and was the lead story on some newscasts. Who was the intended target of these stories? Men who were impotent no doubt already knew about Viagra and its availability from their doctors. So the only ones benefiting from the news were nonimpotent men who didn't need the drug but wanted to try it as a sex enhancer. Indeed, there were several stories appearing after the initial one reporting just such a trend. We have to ask ourselves why. Any doctor with impotent patients knows there have been several treatments in existence for years, just as effective as Viagra, that have received no media coverage at all.

Viagra Mania has allowed the media to indulge in what they do best of late: titillating rather than informing.

Pub Date: 6/07/98

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