Monday, December 14, 2015

Do as I say, not as I do

We've all seen stories in the press describing how inappropriate it seems for doctors to accept funding from drug manufacturers and other participants in the health care marketplace to attend conferences and the like.  In fact, federal rules now require doctors to disclose many types of such payments.  Well, here comes a story from Trudy Lieberman at Health News Review about reporters accepting invitations from industry sponsors to do the same.

The title--"Is it ok for journalists to attend Bayer-funded training on new cancer treatments?"--buries part of the lede, in that it is not just Bayer who is behind the scheme.  Trudy notes later in the story:

The Mayo Clinic is the money behind February’s obesity training in Phoenix, where Mayo has a branch operation. 

But it goes deeper.  Trudy quotes Lauren Sausser, a reporter at the Charleston S.C. Post and Courier,

[S]ometimes, Sausser told me, “The conflicts are hidden and sometimes they are just not clear.”

That was the case with one of the speakers at the obesity training Sausser attended—James O. Hill, executive director of the Anschutz Center. In August  the New York Times reported that Hill also headed the front group, Global Energy Balance Network, funded with a $1.5 million donation from Coca-Cola to start the organization. In late November the AP broke a story showing through emails it had obtained that Coca-Cola helped pick the group’s leaders, edited its mission statement, and suggested articles and videos for its website. . . . Sausser says none of his industry ties were disclosed to participants attending the program although she said, “it became clear over the course of the conference that he had industry ties. He made a point of saying they deserve a seat at the table to figure out how to solve the obesity problem.” 

I have trouble understanding how any editor would allow a reporter's participation in such an event.  Trudy nails the issue here:

When journalists attend events such as the NPF’s on the sponsor’s dime, they are taking a gift, plain and simple. As innocent as that may appear, a gift implies reciprocity. How does the receiver repay? Favorable treatment for the giver; a reluctance to ask tough questions; directly or indirectly promoting their points of view; or a nod to their products and services when it’s appropriate for a story? And that, it seems, is the real danger lurking in those NPF programs designed to help corporations train journalists to fit their business strategies.

Indeed, Trudy notes:

The NPF’s website soliciting new sponsors isn’t shy about what’s in it for them if they cough up the cash.
“Work with us to find the right blend of training and education of journalists to fit your strategy. A literate journalist is a smarter journalist, and that’s a win-win for everyone.”
For everyone?

Not quite. The public is left in the dark.


Anonymous said...

The local monopoly newspaper takes ad dollars from the "monopoly" health care corporation. They never seem to make any comments on the gag orders they do, etc. I have a ton of stories that would definitely help protect the public/patients, but the newspaper won't print it.

I would also suggest answersforlisa, a blog, about the years of conflicts of interest between a news source and health care corporation.

Carole said...

I pay close attention to everything you write, there's something about you that intrigues me. You seem like someone who knows an awful lot about those who do wrong to and by others. I can tell you fight hard to expose it, to help right the wrongs to the public/patients, my hope and wish for you is that you're successful and that it doesn't go unacknowledged or unappreciated by those you try to help.
I personally enjoy your gusto!