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The morning news shows, with a heavily female audience, are most successful when audience members feel like they’re part of the family. Nothing draws a family closer together than an illness.

Since it is where she works, Roberts is particularly savvy about what a morning show audience wants to see. But even such smart people can be vulnerable, and not think clearly, when they are sick, said Dr. Barron Lerner, a Columbia University professor and author of “When Illness Goes Public: Celebrity Patients and How We Look at Medicine.”

Celebrities often start out wanting to keep their audience informed about medical issues, only to regret it when the situation becomes more serious, he said.

An employer-employee situation is another complication, and it’s healthy that people are raising questions about it, Lerner said.

“She might feel obligated in some way to give more and more information and show more and more of her situation than she might otherwise,” he said. “It’s very important that these things get suggested. I’m glad to see people are raising a red flag.”

There’s a cringe factor in these situations, NYU’s Caplan said, and it’s hard for people directly involved to see it. He sees a similar dynamic at work in hospitals all the time.

“Doctors say, `what could I do? The patient wanted it. I had to give them this weird treatment,’” he said. “But you have to retain your judgment.”


EDITOR’S NOTE _ David Bauder can be reached at dbauder”at” or on Twitter