What Are the Chiropractors Trying to Hide?

Sue Brown
August 6, 2011

Here’s a revealing account of how a MEDICAL ECONOMICS staff writer got tossed out of their annual convention.

Since there’s growing interest among physicians in the activities of chiropractors, my editors assigned me to report on the annual meeting of the American Chiropractic Association scheduled for late June in Atlantic City, N.J. I had no bias against chiropractic: After having seen both an orthopedist and a neurologist for a whiplash injury I suffered five years ago, I turned to a chiropractor—one of the so-called “straights” who limits his practice to spinal adjustment—and found immediate relief from pain.

I phoned ACA headquarters in Arlington, Va., for information and press accreditation to the meeting, giving my name, of course, and explaining that I’m a writer for MEDICAL ECONOMICS. A succession of staff members agreed to send me information or phone me back, but they didn’t follow through. And the ACA’s executive vice president, Gerald M. Brassard, D.C., would never take my calls.

After a week and a half, I tried harder. I got in touch with the ACA’s New York City delegate and asked him who at the association might be receptive to the medical press and to a reporter who would give chiropractic a fair shake. He advised me to contact the group’s communications director and, when I reached her, she was helpful. She suggested I write a letter requesting permission to attend the meeting and assuring ACA officers that my report would be an objective one. When I rang her up later, she told me Brassard had decided I could come, but I wouldn’t be allowed into board of governors sessions.

That was fair enough, as far as my editors and I were concerned. So, note pad and recorder in tow, I got myself to the ACA’s meeting site, the Sands Hotel. Finding no facilities had been set up for the press, I hailed a friendly member of the organization’s women’s auxiliary, who gave me a meeting program and directed me to the group’s staff room.

In response to my knock, an ACA “meetings assistant” opened the door a crack and stuck her head out. A glance at her name badge revealed she was one of the staff members who’d fielded my phone calls. I asked if the ACA public relations representative was in and, looking around, she said he’d been there but must have gone off somewhere. Throughout the day, he never seemed to be where I was.

I asked the meetings assistant for a press pass so I could attend the group’s sessions that day. She left to get her boss’s (Brassard’s) okay and returned after about 20 minutes with my name badge clearly marked “Press”—the only such badge I saw during my stay.

Then she shooed me from the staff room, because they were “too busy to have me around.” She shooed me, too, from the hall outside because I was “disturbing people in the meetings that had already begun.”

Two floors below, I found and entered a meeting of what I believed was the ACA’s House of Delegates but which proved to be the loftier Council of Delegates. Within 45 seconds I was escorted out by members who asked who I was and by whose authority I was there. I told them Brassard had approved my press credentials, but they insisted my attendance at the meeting would have to be cleared by a vote of the delegates.

Deciding the best place to wait would be the meeting of the organization’s noncontroversial—I thought—Council on Nutrition, I joined that session. Within five minutes, Brassard showed up to tell me he hadn’t approved my attendance at meetings, and I couldn’t go to any of the sessions or ask anyone anything without first getting his approval. To do that, I was to write out every question I had and take it to the editor of the ACA’s Journal of Chiropractic, Don Sanford, for relay to Brassard.

Sanford was among the cluster of men accompanying Brassard, so he and I found a quiet spot and mulled over the situation a bit. He asked me what kind of story I was going to write about the ACA. I explained that I’d been assigned to do a meeting report and that it would include ACA members’ views of the issues affecting many of them now—unionization, winning hospital privileges, and such.

Sanford told me that the best way for me to get this information would be to interview ACA members most knowledgeable in each area and he and Brassard would choose them. I explained that my editors expected me to attend and describe important ACA sessions—and the House of Delegates was certainly one—as well as talk to individual members.

The group’s meetings assistant came by again to shoo me from the hall where we were seated, so I found a new corner and dutifully prepared questions for the journal editor to pass on.

Before the next important session, the afternoon assembly of the House of Delegates, I couldn’t find Sanford, so the meetings assistant instructed me to take my questions—including my request for permission to sit in on the House of Delgates—to Brassard, who was then in the meeting room.

Trooping downstairs again, I spotted him near the speakers’ podium. When he strode toward me, I handed over my sheets of questions, but he thrust them back at me and said, “You can’t stay in this meeting.”

I turned to the ACA delegates and members standing around and asked if they agreed with Brassard’s decision. Some seemed chagrined. One said, “I’m sorry, but I just work here” (and asked me not to use his name). Others snapped, “No comment” or mumbled, “He’s right.”

Finally, two members of the ACA’s board of governors, Louis Sportelli, D.C., of Palmerton, Pa., and Ronald Harris, D.C., of Miami, took me off to a cocktail lounge to explain why MEDICAL ECONOMICS was unwelcome at their convention. We talked for more than an hour, during which these polished, articulate gentlemen expounded on how M.D.s had done their profession dirty over the years. They told me chiropractors no longer need “acceptance” by the medical establishment. They believe they’re winning the support of the patient population without your blessings—or referrals.

I asked what, then, they had to hide from this magazine. “Why should we let you know where our nuclear arms are if we’re not sure whether or not you’re the enemy?” Sportelli asked me.

That was the note on which my day at the chiropractors’ convention ended. Ironically, I’d been told earlier by the Journal of Chiropractic editor that its July issue would be devoted to the topic of promoting good interprofessional relations between chiropractors and physicians.

Has Chiropractic Come Full Circle?

Twenty-one years ago, MEDICAL ECONOMICS writer Carlton Smith strove mightily to report on the annual convention of the International Chiropractors Association (ICA) in Davenport, Iowa. Smith managed to obtain some semblance of a story, even though he was firmly directed away from most of the meetings. He did his interviewing in a parking lot nearby and sat in on a few songfests at the homecoming of the local Palmer College of Chiropractic.

An ICA member did steer Smith—carefully—through a tour of the group’s headquarters. When Smith stopped to read a pile of promotional mailers telling chiropractors “These Five Ads Are Money Makers!” the guide snatched the brochure from Smith’s hands before he could read past the headline.

It was altogether different 12 years later when A.J. Vogl, then executive editor of MEDICAL ECONOMICS, went to the 1974 annual meeting of the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) in Chicago. Vogl got a warm reception, including an introduction on the floor of the ACA’s House of Delegates. He attributed that to the organization’s desire to be taken seriously by a magazine it identified with the medical establishment. He also noted “they really burn to present their point of view to M.D.s—specifically to M.D.s who don’t accept all AMA pronouncements at face value.”

One of Vogl’s willing interview subjects was Gerald M. Brassard, D.C., then the ACA’s director of governmental affairs. Now its executive vice president, he figures prominently in the accompanying article by a MEDICAL ECONOMICS staffer who attempted to cover this year’s ACA convention. Her report indicates that relations between organized chiropractic and the medical press are back where they were 21 years ago.

This article was posted on August 6, 2011.