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2003-05-08

Looks Like News, Sounds Like News–But Paid for By Drug Companies

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Morley Safer of 60 Minutes Introduced Hundreds of Fake "News Breaks" Broadcast On Public Television; CNN’s Aaron Brown and CBS’ Walter Cronkite May Back Out After a News Expose Revealed Newscasters Were Blurring the Line Between New and Advertising

We’re going to play you a video piece which has appeared on public television around the country. As we play it, try to decide if it sounds like a commercial, or more like news:

  • Morley Safer, introducing an episode of the "American Medical Review".

That’s Morley Safer, standing on an elaborate news–style set. But this well-known face of investigative journalism is not introducing yet another expose for his long-time news magazine 60 Minutes.

Morley Safer is introducing one of hundreds of videos he has appeared in–that promote drug and health care companies.

Each video is between two and five minutes. They appear between regular programming on public television across the country. The company that produces them, WJMK in Boca Raton, Florida, calls them "news breaks." And with a name like the "American Medical Review" and a host like Morley Safer, the programs could easily be mistaken for news advisories from the American Medical Association or a scientific journal.

But The New York Times yesterday revealed that health care and drug companies pay some $15,000 to have their companies or products featured in the programs.

In one of the videos Safer introduced, executives at a small drug company called Innapharma, promoted a new, experimental antidepressant. In the video, the company’s president said "Patients rapidly get well and they stay well for months or years... I’ve never seen anything that compares." But last month Innapharma filed for bankruptcy protection after the Food and Drug Administration ordered it to stop human trials of the drug because a study showed it was toxic in animals.

A CBS spokesman told The New York Times this week that Safer had realized after beginning to work for WJMK that the job was not consistent with the network’s standards, but that the company had continued to produce new videos using his taped introduction.

To replace him, WJMK hired CNN’s nighttime anchor, Aaron Brown and former CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite.

But the Times expose has caused an uproar. CNN and Aaron Brown have already pulled out and a source close to Walter Cronkite told the Times that Cronkite may notify WJMK as soon as today that he is also pulling out. WJMK dismantled its web site yesterday, which had been promoting the "American Medical Review" shows and hosts, in addition to similar shows like the "American Business Review" and the "American Environmental Review".

WJMK President Mark Kielar is still claiming the videos are educational and not promotional, according to the Times.

Democracy Now!’s calls to WJMK were not returned.

  • Jeff Cronin, Spokesperson, Center for Science in the Public Interest.
  • Dr. Steven Haimowitz, is a co-founder of Healthology, Inc., and the company’s President and CEO. For ten years, he served as a senior-level executive in leading international healthcare communications companies, developing and implementing many of the most successful and effective marketing and educational programs for clients from all sectors of the healthcare marketplace, including Fortune 100 pharmaceutical companies, biotechnology companies, hospitals and health systems, managed care organizations, physician practice management companies, academic associations, and nutritional and consumer product companies.

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