When the Food & Drug Administration announced intensified warnings against the widely-advertised Procrit prescription drug, and two of its rivals, ABC and NBC both did the right thing and assigned a reporter to publicize the dangers of the $10bn-a-year medicines. "The drugs have been only approved to keep patients from needing blood transfusions and should be used as little as possible," NBC's Robert Bazell explained.
The networks are duty bound to devote extra attention to adverse stories about their advertising sponsors. First, it is information patients in its audience need to know, since many, presumably, heard of the drug while watching newscasts. Second, even though there is a formal separation between editorial content and advertising content, that line blurs easily in a viewer's mind--so a newscast must be transparent about publicizing its advertiser's flaws in order to maintain its own credibility.
In this instance, the FDA found that the drugs can be dangerous in higher-than-approved doses and found no proof that they help with chemotherapy generally. Yet Procrit, a medicine specifically for anemia, had been "heavily promoted to cancer patients," ABC's Lisa Stark observed, as she played a clip from Johnson & Johnson's often-seen spot. The company agreed to pull its ads.
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