NBC Nightly News Wields the Power of Pandering in ‘Power of Prayer’ Report

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Screen grab via nbcnews.com

By William M. London

On December 22nd, NBC Nightly News (United States) devoted two minutes thirty-five seconds (nine percent of its broadcast) to telling its human interest story headlined on its Web site as “Power of Prayer? ‘Miracle’ Priest Rises from Wheelchair and Walks.” A transcript of the segment titled “Does the Power of Prayer Have a Place in Medicine?” is available on a companion site for educating elementary and secondary school children.

Anchorman Brian Williams, shown onscreen with the words “Power of Prayer” (not followed by a question mark) as the backdrop, introduced the segment: “When you consider the news we’ve been covering and the time of the year, this segment couldn’t be more timely. It’s about the growing medical evidence of the power of prayer to heal body and soul.”

I guess the producers of NBC Nightly News concluded that Christmas is a suitable time to offer the kind of miracle mongering frequently seen on “The Dr. Oz Show” and that Montel Williams used to offer on his show. When you don’t have a well-documented birth of a human from a virgin mother to present to viewers, you have to lower your standards for what you can offer miracle-seeking viewers.

Williams turned it over to NBC’s senior legal and investigative correspondent Cynthia McFadden, who presented a testimonial by Father John Murray, a Catholic priest of Brooklyn, New York, attesting to the miracle healing power of his prayers and other people’s prayers. His claim of “proof” of a miracle, in his words “without a doubt,” boils down to:

  1. Four years ago, he broke his neck from a fall and bone chips sliced into his spinal cord. (We are not told what part of his spinal cord was injured.)
  2. He was paralyzed from his chest down.
  3. Doctors told him he would never walk again. “‘You should expect no voluntary movement,’” said Murray. “That’s a quote. ‘No voluntary movement for the rest of your life.’”
  4. “But within a year and a half after he tripped on a Jersey Shore boardwalk, the priest was able to rise from his wheelchair and walk.”

McFadden didn’t discuss Murray’s injury in an epidemiological perspective in either her short video segment or her article written with Jake Whitman that accompanies the video online. I was available to help them, but they never called.


Read the full article by clicking the name of the source located below.

26 COMMENTS

  1. Is NBC at the bottom of the ratings barrel?

    ” Some people will report that they get better [with prayer], but you don’t hear the stories about people who prayed to– for healing and don’t get better. You only hear the stories about those who do get better. ”

    Sloan could have been explicit here about the conformational bias fallacy people make. If you don’t hit them over the head with it, so to speak, they don’t seem to get it.

  2. What utter nonsense. Does talking to yourself, or thinking out loud, help you to reason things out?

    Well, I do it all the time; it works for yours truly; but I’m fully aware of the fact that I’m talking to myself, not some imaginary friend.

    Sometimes a member of my family will overhear me, and I’ll feel a bit embarrassed; well tough!

    Perhaps it’s because I was an only child that I developed the habit.

    Anyway, experiments have proved that prayer doesn’t work; in fact it has a negative effect.

  3. OP ;

    Williams turned it over to NBC’s senior legal and investigative correspondent Cynthia McFadden, who presented a testimonial by Father John Murray, a Catholic priest of Brooklyn, New York, attesting to the miracle healing power of his prayers and other people’s prayers. His claim of “proof” of a miracle, in his words “without a doubt,” boils down to:

    Four years ago, he broke his neck from a fall and bone chips sliced into his spinal cord. (We are not told what part of his spinal cord was injured.)
    He was paralyzed from his chest down.
    Doctors told him he would never walk again.

    Did Jesus stick out a leg and make him fall, or was it all down to his own evil “free will” ? Theologians of the world unite ! You have a mystery to explain !

  4. There was no mention in this report of independant evaluation of the first MRI evaluation of the injury ( there are Dr’s that are quaks). There was no mention of a post prayer MRI evaluation.

    If there is a lot of swelling at the site of injury feelings and movement can, and have, returned to patients with out prayer… In order for this to be accurately reported the MRI needs to be presented. If an MRI was not done then the injury and the Dr are frauds! as X-Rays are not a good enough diagnostic tool or even prognostic

  5. Those who doubt the Power of Prayer should study the Lourdes phenomenon.

    Suppose you are diagnosed with inoperable cancer, and given a few months to live. You have two options:

    (a) Stay home, and hope for a spontaneous remission. This happens in about 2 cases per million.

    (b) Make a pilgrimage to Lourdes and pray to you know who. You will be miraculously cured in about 1 case per million.

    In other words, the pilgrimage has halved your chance of recovery. Now acknowledge the awesome Power of Prayer!

  6. You can prove anything if all you need is one person to attest it is so. However, any time anyone has attempted to do a statistically significant test, it turns out prayer does not work.

    Jesus promises over and over to answer every single prayer. Everyone knows this is not true, yet they still quote the promise as if it were valid. That alone should prove the bible could not be written by god. Would God insert a fake promise?

    Would medicine throw people on the ground as treatment? Of course not. This priest’s story is not proof of anything.

  7. @OP – It’s about the growing medical evidence of the power of prayer to heal body and soul.”

    Actually, it’s about the growing medical evidence of the growing intrusion and promotion of the delusional faithful and their quackery, in certain sections of the media, illustrating that scientifically illiterate wish-thinking media stooges, don’t know what “medical evidence” is!

    And NOW .. . . . Here is the astrology forecast for the week ahead!!

  8. Another possibility is that the cumulative prayers on all medical topics have influenced the relevant supernatural entity (a snake on a pole?) to intervene to cause physicians to be slightly imperfect in their ability to diagnose the extent of injury and predict the body’s healing response.

    Same applies to weather forecasters. When there’s an excess of demand from the multitudes praying for good weather the supernatural entity then intervenes to make weather forecasters slightly inaccurate. Result is that when the experts forecast rain it occasionally ‘miraculously’ turns out to be fine weather. Definitely easier than for the supernatural entity to actually change the real weather.

    There’s usually more than 1 way to achieve an objective, including miracles. It would be more economically efficient for gods to miraculously intervene to create perceptions of miracles, instead of real miracles. Supernatural entities would have this capability. So they would be inclined to conserve their energy and employ the easy option. Pretty much all modern day miracles may be like this, compared to the real miracles of the olden days.

    From an economics perspective this indicates that the the costs of supernatural intervention have escalated with time, while the quality has diminished. Which compels perception management rather than substance. This effect is indirect evidence for the existence of a monopoly. i.e. absence of effective competition and consumer choice. Presumably attributable to monotheism. Economic theory predicts that if you want good old-fashioned competitively effective miracles then you’ll have to restore the old panopoly. Which implies praying to other gods.

    If they pray to only 1 god they’ll just get the illusion of a miracle. If you can get them to instead pray to all the other gods then that would be a real miracle.

  9. Seems to me that in double blind tests, no proof that prayer helps. Single blind tests, where the person knows he is being prayed for, resulted in more deaths and less healing, general thought to be because of the pressure/stress the person feels to get better. But open to discussion, if u don’t agree.

    Starting to scare me, the things I see on these atheist sites.

  10. I await American health insurance providers mandating prayer as part of your recovery plan. Heaven help you (or not) if you fail in your spiritual end of the bargain, though.

    I think insurers will delight at the opportunity of finding another reason to reject claims. Clearly inadequate religious fervour in this patient.

  11. Allen Jan 14, 2015 at 4:45 pm

    @OP – Doctors told him he would never walk again. “‘You should expect no voluntary movement,’” said Murray. “That’s a quote. ‘No voluntary movement for the rest of your life.’”

    Most of the report apart from this one quote, with no qualification or context, only has hearsay from amateurs as to what the doctor’s diagnosis was. Doctors do predict PROBABLE outcomes and are sometimes wrong!

    Bodies have great powers of self healing, especially is the damage is slightly less than diagnosed.

  12. Doctors told him he would never walk again. “‘You should expect no voluntary movement,’” said Murray. “That’s a quote. ‘No voluntary movement for the rest of your life.’”

    So a doctor being wrong is a miracle? while I like the sentiment I think there’s a limit to how much praise they should be giving medical professionals

    on the plus side, when we accept that jebus gets invovled in healthcare we can do away with all sorts of wasteful court cases for neglegence by stating god interveined, or maybe suggesting any medical failure was due to the patient being cursed

  13. This ‘Power of Prayer’ stuff sounds awesome! I’m already looking forward to winning the lottery this week and I’m not even going to waste my money on a ticket!

  14. What a load of horseshit!…

    My esteem for Williams and Nightly News just went south. In my book, they have now officially stolen the “journal irresponsable” title away from Charlie Hebdo because NBC news now officially condones magic. What’s next?… “proof” that bad things really happen to people who say the word Beetlejuice three times in a row?

  15. One of the players on my old boys rugby team fractured his neck in a game and had no idea. He thought it was a pinched nerve in his shoulder. He played the rest of the game and had beers after. Next morning he couldn’t move. Had to send an ambulance to take him in. He’s fine now. It was the swelling that did it.

  16. Consider this absurd segment as a harbinger of doom for the nightly news in general. While this half hour of network tv used to be our own private sit down with the trusted anchorman for his take on the state of affairs in our country and in the world, it has now devolved into a highly annoying, dumbed down, side show. If you’re still tidying up the kitchen after dinner and miss the first five minutes then don’t bother turning on the news at all. This is where they might discuss something of substance that happened in Congress that day, or they might, if we’re lucky, mention a bloody disaster in a “foreign land”. (When I say bloody I mean it in the American sense; actual blood pouring out. “If it bleeds it leads”). If the bloody disaster was caused by US “nation building” or “humanitarian intervention” it will be presented as a feel good story about how we are world leaders for good.

    After the first segment of self congratulatory international “news” there will be some mention of California wildfires burning up whole neighborhoods of grand beautiful houses and tornados in the midwest destroying whole towns of trailer park homes but sparing their church! “It’s a miracle I tell ya! Thank you God!” Or we’ll hear of a bridge that collapsed somewhere that was due to lack of funding for maintenance and repair but then there will be ten short clip interviews with the local folk who explain that they had just driven over the bridge this very day and it’s nothing short of miraculous that they themselves are still alive to tell the tale.

    The final five minutes of the nightly news is a tear jerker sob story about someone somewhere (An American of course) who has a horrific problem – either lost everything they own due to fire or natural disaster, someone’s bad predatory behavior (possibly their own) , or they had a serious illness or accident and are now bankrupt due to astronomical medical bills that only a millionaire could afford to pay, and we are presented with their Pollyanna style attitude and cheerful outlook on life, despite the dire circumstances that they currently face.

    I don’t think there is any difference between any of the three major networks, ABC, NBC, and CBS. They seem to all be relics of days gone by. Neither their “news” broadcasts nor their entertainment programing can compete with the cable channels that are paid for like HBO, Showtime, etc. Young people get their news and current events information from different sources. The old-school networks know this well, as is obvious from the advertisements that flog us continually throughout the half hour broadcast, with demands that we call our doctors immediately to be issued a prescription for medication that will cure our old duffer ailments. Ads for erectile disfunction, cholesterol, adult onset diabetes, post menopause painful intercourse due to vaginal dryness, esophageal reflux etc. are all woven in amongst a few wispy bits of information wafting along for this feel good half hour. Never an add for acne meds to be seen though.

    Is there an American here who is surprised by this clip? It’s business as usual in my view. What would be more interesting is if we find out that Brian Williams is furious about his role in feeding the American public a half hour of idiot level useless drivel. When the nightly news, the old stalwart of network programing expires with a sad little whimper, will anyone even notice?

  17. I saw a salamander once without a tail. I prayed for it. Voila! A new tail!

    I’ve been struggling with a cold for a few days. And yesterday I had tater tots at dinner. Today, no more cold! Must have been the tater tots!

  18. Sure prayer works, the same way a placebo works. The human brain is an amazing thing, and attitude can impact one’s health. On the other hand, it can’t make someone who was really paralyzed get up a walk, and if it has any impact it’s not because of the mythical sky daddy. To put a report on any news show claiming that it is is worse than irresponsible.

  19. One study showed up to a 30% improvement rate from subjects given sugar pills where they told the subjects they were sugar pills.

    (So it’s entirely possible that some people’s bodies improve their own health through prayer. No divine intervention required, if the afflicted person believes it will do them some good, sometimes it does. I wonder if anyone’s run a properly regulated study on this.)

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