During the week of Nov. 9-13, NBC wasted more than twenty minutes of valuable Nightly News time on "Making A Difference" stories about celebrities and their charities. (Obviously, the producers' goal was to use the lure of celebrities to attract viewers. The charity aspect was just the excuse that allowed them to put the celebrities on the air.) That's the equivalent of almost an entire broadcast. No surprise there--it's a sweeps period. But I can't help wonder how much actual news could have been reported in those twenty minutes. Of course, actual news isn't going to increase the ratings nearly as much as fawning stories about celebrities. Look--Brian Williams is hanging out with Jon Bon Jovi! And Anne Thompson is chilling with Glenn Close! And isn't that Natalie Morales with her BFF Halle Berry? Nightly News is so-o-o-o-o cool!
But there's an interesting--and appalling--subplot to Nightly News's Celebrity Week. On Nov. 10, the "Making A Difference" segment was about Alicia Keys and her "Keep A Child Alive" foundation. This is the foundation's mission statement from their website: "Keep a Child Alive is dedicated to providing life-saving anti-retroviral treatment, care and support services to children and families whose lives have been affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa and India by directly engaging the global public in the fight against AIDS." On Nov. 11, 12 and 13, the "Making A Difference" segments were sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline products. GlaxoSmithKline and its predecessor companies spent years fighting to prevent low-cost generic AIDS drugs from entering Africa because that would have undercut their profit margin on the AIDS drugs they were already selling. Glaxo refused to grant a license to other companies who wanted to manufacture a lower-priced generic version of the drugs to sell in Africa. In fact, in 2001, Glaxo actually sued Cipla, an Indian pharmaceutical company, to try to prevent them from introducing a low-cost AIDS drug into Ghana. Glaxo also sued the South African government over the Medicines Act, which would have allowed the government to obtain inexpensive AIDS drugs. And for years, Glaxo fought to keep their own AIDS drugs from being sold at low prices in Africa. In 2003, an AIDS advocacy group sued Glaxo to attempt to force them to allow low-cost AIDS drugs into South Africa. South Africa's Competition Commission eventually found Glaxo guilty of anti-competitive behavior, a decision that finally paved the way for the introduction of generic AIDS drugs into South Africa. In 2004, Glaxo was sued by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation over its AIDS drug pricing policies in South Africa. According to Michael Weinstein, AHF's president, "As a result of Glaxo's actions, thousands and thousands of South Africans were unable to afford or obtain Glaxo's life-saving AIDS drugs, and we believe thousands of those individuals have died of AIDS as a result." So while Alicia Keys is helping to save the lives of AIDS patients in Africa, Glaxo was actually responsible for thousands of AIDS-related deaths. It is obscene that the NBC producers would allow Glaxo to sponsor "Making A Difference" segments in the same week that Nightly News profiled the "Keep A Child Alive" foundation. Shame on them for disrespecting Alicia Keys.