On Sunday's NBC Nightly News (6/30/13), correspondent Janet Shamlian reported on a new drug called Brisdelle that, for some women, may reduce hot flashes associated with menopause. Of course this is Nightly News, so the story was just a 2:05 product placement for Brisdelle (and its manufacturer Noven). But really it was so much more.
Shamlian and Lester Holt (the anchor who introduced the story) told us that Brisdelle had been approved by the FDA. However, neither Holt nor Shamlian disclosed the following information: "In March, the FDA's Advisory Committee for Reproductive Health Drugs voted 10 to 4 against recommending approval of paroxetine mesylate [Brisdelle] as a treatment for hot flashes." (That information courtesy of Medscape News: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/807082.) It is highly unusual for the FDA to go against an advisory committee recommendation, and Nightly News viewers deserved to know this information. But that would require Shamlian to be fully truthful about Brisdelle, which she was not.
Shamlian also failed to disclose that Noven Pharmaceuticals has entered into a licensing agreement with Procter & Gamble whereby P & G will license Noven's as-yet-unnamed hormone skin patch which is designed to boost sex drive in women. P & G is the largest consumer products company in the world, and each year it spends millions and millions of dollars in advertising and sponsorship money with the many NBC/Universal/Comcast television networks.
Later in the story, Shamlian explained that Brisdelle contained a lower dose of paroxetine, the major ingredient found in the anti-depressant Paxil. We were then shown a full-screen photo of a clearly-labeled Paxil pill. Paxil is manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, a pharmaceutical behemoth that advertises heavily on Nightly News and other NBC/Universal/Comcast programs.
Shamlian's report began with a silly clip from "Mrs. Doubtfire" that showed Robin Williams' character complaining that he'd only been impersonating a woman for one day and already he's getting hot flashes. Obviously, this did not help the viewers' understanding of menopausal hot flashes--it was just a gratuitous clip shoehorned into the story to make it more interesting to viewers. One of the core philosophies of the NBC Nightly News producers (and anchor Brian Williams) is to pack their broadcast with movie and TV clips because the NBC Research Department has found that that tactic is very effective in boosting Nightly News's Nielsen ratings.
So let's recap: Shamlian intentionally omitted important information about the FDA's approval process for Brisdelle. She neglected to mention Noven's licensing arrangement with NBC/Universal advertiser P & G. She plugged Glaxo's Paxil. And just for good measure, she threw in a clip from "Mrs. Doubtfire". This wasn't a news story--it was a sleazy, unethical piece of biased yellow journalism. It was a product placement (several of them, actually) masquerading as news. But for NBC Nightly News, that's just business as usual. Shame on Janet Shamlian and the Nightly News producers. Interesting tidbit: You can't spell "Janet Shamlian" without the words "sham", "shame" and "lie".