On Monday, CBS Evening News reported that according to an article from this month's edition of "Archives of Internal Medicine", heartburn drugs like Prevacid, Nexium and Prilosec could cause serious side effects. Use of these drugs can lead to an increased rate of bone fractures, intestinal infection and pneumonia. The article also says that more than 50% of the 113 million prescriptions written each year for these drugs (representing over $13 billion in annual sales) may be unnecessary or inappropriate. Nightly News seems to pride itself on being at the forefront of medical reporting. But Nightly News did not report this story. The reason is obvious. Brian Williams and his producers did not want to risk offending the manufacturers of Prevacid, Nexium and Prilosec--all of which are frequent Nightly News sponsors. In fact, Nightly News carried Prevacid or Nexium ads four days during this past week (on Friday, Nexium was the first ad in the first commercial break--traditionally the most-watched ad of a show). Clearly, the income from these ads is much more important to Brian and his producers than reporting the risks associated with these drugs. Could you imagine Nightly News reporting that half of a sponsor's prescriptions may be unnecessary? That would never happen. This is just another example of Nightly News protecting its sponsors.
But of all the shameful things Nightly News has done to protect or promote its pharmaceutical sponsors (and that's a long, long list), without a doubt the most shameful was on Friday's broadcast. The broadcast ended with Brian Williams conducting a 90-second interview with Sally Field about the dog in the ad for Boniva, the osteoporosis drug that is a regular advertiser on Nightly News. This "news story" was nothing more than a 90-second commercial for Boniva (it even contained 15 seconds of clips from the actual Boniva ad). Just when I think Nightly News can't sink any lower, they find a way to surprise me. Has Brian Williams no shame? Apparently not.