In 1953 a new vaccine for polio was discovered. As this was a devastating disease sweeping the nation, citizens were hopeful that many of their children would be saved or better yet, prevented from ever contracting the paralyzing condition. While many wanted to believe that this vaccine would be the end all of polio, some contrasting points of view presented themselves within the articles of some of the country’s top newspapers.
In an article by the New York Times, titled Vaccine for Polio Successful; Use in 1 to 3 Years is Likely, William L. Laurence writes a very detailed description of just how the vaccine is expected to help. He explains that experiments with the treatment were performed on 90 children and adults, treating for all three viruses known to cause the disease. The main source for the story was Dr. Jonas E. Salk, Professor of Research at the University of Pittsburgh. Salk’s article in the Journal of the American Medical Association proved to be the main point of origination for many of the facts that Laurence presented in his writing. The conclusion of the article lets readers know that while strives have been made with the hope of success, a practical vaccine is not yet at hand. Coinciding with the times, the reporter bases much of his writing on the official source or may possibly be following the guidelines of government officials, creating a story that is not just informative and detailed but also very cautious.
Conversely, The Washington Post delivered an article titled, Two Reports Show Polio Can Be Beaten. Here, Nate Haseltine attempts to encourage the success of the vaccine after several tests were performed upon animals. It is clearly stated about half way through the article that no evidence has been found that the vaccine will work for humans, but at the same time, there is no known reason why it wouldn’t work. The main source for this article is Dr. David Bodian, a scientist from the Johns Hopkins University. While Haseltine also focuses on the official news source, he seems to throw caution to the wind a bit more in his reporting suggesting that there is no reason what so ever that the treatment will not be useful in the near future.
The two articles examined here show that while most reporting for major newspapers was, and still is, based solely on the official source, there may still be discrepancies from paper to paper. The New York Times demonstrated a style of reporting that was educational but a bit more reserved than that of the Washington Post. And the as the Washington Post falls on the other side of the fence in terms of conservatism, the reporting seems to be much less in depth as well. In any case, these two articles from the 50’s demonstrate that the reality represented by the news media is constructed through interactions between journalists and public or medical officials.