Sunday, January 16, 2005 commentary:
A New York Times headline blares, "Health Officials Urge Sharply Lower Cholesterol Levels," and the article discusses all the reasons why more and more people should be on statin drugs. Changes in diet, nutrition and levels of physical exercise are utterly absent from the story, leaving the reader with only one conclusion: statin drugs are the only way to lower cholesterol.To the right of the story, a giant tower banner ad demands, "Talk to your doctor today!" Right above that giant quote, a large logo advertises "Crestor," a popular statin drug. The tower banner takes up almost as much screen space as the article, and the message of the two -- in combination -- is quite clear: everybody needs lower cholesterol, and the only way to do that is to take Crestor.
This is the national media on drugs. Or, more accurately, the national media addicted to the advertising dollars of pharmaceutical companies. Even from national newspapers like the New York Times, we're no longer getting balanced information about lowering cholesterol with diet and exercise. Instead, we're getting one-track reporting: drugs, drugs and more drugs. And just in case you missed the point, here's a giant banner you can click that will give you even more pro-drug propaganda.
It's all a result of the FDA's decision regarding direct-to-consumer advertising in 1998. Following that decision, drug companies were allowed to run ads on television, in magazines and all over the web, urging consumers to ask their doctors about drugs they might not even need. The first result was to cause patients to barge into their doctors' offices and demand drugs about which they had absolutely no knowledge. Many doctors still shake their heads over the Claritin campaigns which had patients demanding Claritin, even though they had no clue what Claritin claimed to do.
But the bigger effect -- and far worse -- was that the national media received a huge influx of marketing dollars from drug companies. In a matter of a few months, formerly respectable magazines and newspapers were transformed into pro-drug propaganda rags. And it didn't take long for the editorial content to follow suit, because once a big advertiser is pumping millions of dollars into a publication, it only takes one phone call to shut down an anti-drug article and fire the reporter who dared write it.
And that leads us to today, where we see a blatant example of this at work in the New York Times. This newspaper is already steeped in one ethics scandal after another, and it appears to me that with this article in particular, they've lost any sense of journalistic responsibility and sold out to the drug companies for dollars. In less polite terms, this is called "media whoring," and it means that the publisher shapes their content in order to please advertisers. Hence the utter lack of any mention of nutrition and exercise as a way to counter high cholesterol in this particular article.
The pharmaceutical companies know this, too: their dollars buy them editorial influence. And they exercise it. Newspapers and magazines that write about high cholesterol, but fail to mention statin drugs, are simply denied advertising dollars. Meanwhile, publishers who hype up the drugs with pro-drug headlines are rewarded with even more dollars.
And where do all these advertising dollars come from? From the ridiculously high prescription drug prices, of course! Some prescription drugs are marked up an astounding 500,000% from the cost of their raw ingredients (that's not a typo), and a big chunk of that money goes right back into the big propaganda machine (advertising and P.R.). Drug companies claim they need those sky-high prices to invest in R&D, but in reality, they spend far more on promotion than R&D. And they do that because they're buying off the national press.
The U.S. press has largely sold out to the drug companies. That's why you can't get trusted news about health from most popular news sources anymore. You have to go to independent sites like this one. We don't have a single ad rep, and we tell the truth about health, nutrition, and pharmaceuticals, regardless of whose profit interests it serves. Companies don't pay us to be listed here, either.
Here, we serve your interests, not the financial interests of some mega-rich drug corporation. Too bad the same can't be said of many U.S. newspaper publishers. Their media whoring is absolutely blatant. You can't even honestly call their paper a "news" paper anymore. It's more like an infomercial.
It's a great system for pushing drugs onto American consumers, though. Most Americans will do what they're told, as long as the orders come from a source like a national newspaper or cable news channel.