Why Did Al Roker and Matt Lauer Undergo a Dangerous Prostate Exam on Live TV?

It’s time for someone at NBC to put on a glove and figure out how bad medical information got on the Today show.


In November, the men of the Today show stopped shaving to raise awareness for men’s health, specifically testicular and prostate cancer. November is a key ratings month in television and the Beards for Better Balls stunt was attention-getting for a good cause.

But when a couple of the Today men decided to get their prostates checked live on the show. Well, pardon the pun, but they scraped bottom. It was inaccurate, unethical and dangerous. All of which I found out from my doctor when I went in for a physical the other day. He wanted to talk more about Matt Lauer and Al Roker’s prostates than mine.

“I watched it live,” my doctor told me, “and couldn’t believe they were pushing the PSA test.”

The test is no longer recommended or even considered safe by most in the medical world, but you wouldn’t have known that from the Today show-and-tell.

Lauer used Dr. David Samadi, his own urologist, for the report. Roker asked, “Are there any downsides to this? Any complications to the screening?” Samadi, who must have known better, answered, “There are no complications. “

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In May of 2012, all of the news networks, including NBC, reported that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force released findings that the risks of the PSA screening outweigh the benefit and recommended it not be used anymore. The study found that there is no real evidence that this test accurately detects cancer. However, there is evidence that this test, coupled with the anxiety it produces in patients, and unneeded biopsies and radiation treatments, causes more deaths than the test prevents.

That’s a pretty big “downside,” don’t ya think?

After the study, The American Urological Association and The American Cancer Society stopped recommending routine PSA testing for the vast majority of men. How did Lauer and his urologist not know that? Or did they just choose to ignore it? Doctor Samadi runs a robotic surgery center that specializes in prostate surgery. The U.S. Preventative Task Force found that the PSA test led to too many unnecessary surgeries.

The real disservice in the report may have been committed by NBC News chief medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman, who was present the entire time, but never once spoke up to provide balance or objectivity to a live report that quickly became an infomercial for a questionable medical practice. It seems she didn’t want to correct the personal attendant to Lauer’s derriere. Samadi might poke and prod it, but most at NBC just kiss it.

It has been a bad month for network news and especially NBC. Lara Logan was suspended at CBS for her Benghazi report on 60 Minutes. Martin Bashir resigned from MSNBC after suggesting that someone should defecate in Sarah Palin’s mouth. And Alec Baldwin’s MSNBC show was cancelled after he claimed a New York Post photographer enjoys putting something else in his mouth during a homophobic rant.

I would argue that what Lauer did is worse than all of the above. After the Beghazi debacle, a CBS internal investigation found that Lara Logan and her producers could have discovered that the report was flawed If they had only done their due diligence. Due diligence, in this case, means Logan and her producers would need access to confidential FBI transcripts. All Lauer and his producers needed was access to Google. Instead they allowed flawed information to be disseminated so Lauer’s urologist didn’t look bad.

It is time for NBC to put on a rubber glove for its own internal investigation into how and why bad medical information was allowed to go out over their airways unchallenged.

Follow @LarryMendte on Twitter.

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  • mangoman

    Get over yourself, Larry. Men have been getting this exam for years and there’s nothing dangerous about it. Find something significant to write about.

    • Larry Mendte

      Did you read the article? The study? The recent research? The test is no longer recommended because it leads to men getting surgery and radiation who do not need it. More die from the unnecessary treatment than are saved by the test. This is significant. The fact that you are still uninformed proves my point.

  • rsk

    Actually it is still recommended to high risk and men between the ages of 55-69. There’s nothing dangerous about the PSA test itself and many Doctors still use it as a baseline along with other tests but don’t rely on the PSA test alone. This probably should have been mentioned by Dr. Samadi.

    • Larry Mendte

      rsk, true, The ACS still makes that recommendation, the USPSTF does not. However, you are right, it can still be an effective tool if not used as the sole determinator for treatment. But to leave ALL of that out of a Live Report is media malpractice.

  • Ed

    The author is correct! Considering the recent USPSTF recommendation on routine prostate cancer screening and the documented negative results men have experienced, it’s troubling that an acclaimed “objective” news organization continues to present a biased recommendation on this controversial issue to the public.

    It’s also unethical, unprofessional, and patronizing for Urologists to advocate for
    routine screening while conveniently failing to mention that they have a vested financial interest in screening men for prostate cancer.

    The science behind PSA testing has always been questionable at best, the USPSTF
    finally recommends against, and the last major physician specialty to climb onboard is Urologists. Whatever happened to “First, do no harm” as the bedrock of medical ethics? And they wonder why we no longer trust them!

    The bottom-line is “news” such as this is a disservice to all of us when presented in such a biased manner. The dangerous part of this screening, in the absence of comprehensive informed consent, is a diagnosis of prostate cancer, the treatment and quality of life issues, which most men likely wouldn’t have died from anyway!

    • Steve RN

      Please receive some medical training before stating potentialy dangerous “oppinions” to the general public. The PSA or prostate specific antigen test and a digital prostate exam are two sepparate things. The digital prostate exam is used to physically monitor the size of the prostate and should be performed at regular intervals in men over 45. The PSA measures an antigen released by the prostate often during times of unusual growth. It is currently used not as an accurate diagnostic tool but as an indication of baseline and worsening growth patterns. Its presence does not necessarily indicate a problem, but increasing numbers over time are indicative of one. Go back to school or choose to write about things of which you understand.