On Thursday's Nightly News, Brian Williams read a 25-second story about FDA restrictions on the diabetes drug Avandia. This story contained no video--it was just Brian talking to the camera with a photo of an Avandia bottle over his left shoulder. He also did not mention GlaxoSmithKline, Avandia's manufacturer. It's obvious that Brian was protecting Glaxo (a frequent Nightly News sponsor) by severely abbreviating this story and refusing to mention the drug's manufacturer by name. On Friday, The New York Times ran the Avandia story on their front page. Here are some facts from the Times story that Brian "neglected" to disclose:
*From 1999 to 2009, more than 47,000 Avandia users "needlessly suffered a heart attack, stroke or heart failure, or died".
*The FDA "ordered Glaxo to conduct an independent assessment of the Record trial" after an FDA medical officer found that Glaxo's records of the Avandia medical trials were "riddled with...unpardonable errors that seriously biased the trial's conclusions".
*"Senate investigators found that GlaxoSmithKline spent years hiding from regulatory authorities clear indications that Avandia increased heart risks".
*Glaxo recently paid a $2.3 billion "liability charge related to legal cases involving Avandia and another medicine, Paxil".
Compare Thursday's brief story about Avandia with the story about Avodart (also a Glaxo product) that aired on the March 31 Nightly News. In this story, Robert Bazell took more than two minutes to tell us that Avodart may soon be approved to reduce the risk of prostate cancer, in addition to its currently approved use for shrinking non-cancerous enlargements of the prostate. (During this story, the Glaxo logo appeared on screen twice--in large letters.) When the news is bad for Glaxo, the story lasts 25 seconds, but when the news is good, the story lasts much longer. But at least Nightly News reported the Avandia story. Last Feb. 18, it was revealed that the zinc in Poligrip (also a Glaxo product) was causing some users to experience numbness in their extremities and to have trouble walking. Glaxo announced that they would be pulling the product from the market until they can manufacture a zinc-free formula. Nightly News did not even bother to report this story. Once again, Brian and his producers did Glaxo a favor by squelching a negative story about one of their products.
And then there's Aleve. On June 8, Bazell reported a story about an obscure Danish medical study that concluded that Aleve may reduce the risk of heart attacks among its users. Aleve is a frequent advertiser on NBC Universal stations (they advertise on Nightly News almost every night--sometimes twice a night). It's obvious that Bazell and his producers chose to air this story as a favor to their friends at Bayer (Aleve's manufacturer). It was a two-and-a-half minute commercial for their product. So as far as Brian and his producers are concerned, if a sponsor's product causes heart attacks, it only gets 25 seconds of air time. If a sponsor's product reduces heart attacks, it gets two-and-a-half minutes. Nightly News should spend the same amount of time reporting negative stories about their sponsors as they do reporting positive stories.