What Happens When No One Is Watching? When Congress Relinquishes Its Oversight Role of the Food and Drug Administration, the Press Reduces Its Watchdog Role When It Comes to Drug Safety

By Mintz, Morton | Nieman Reports, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

What Happens When No One Is Watching? When Congress Relinquishes Its Oversight Role of the Food and Drug Administration, the Press Reduces Its Watchdog Role When It Comes to Drug Safety


Mintz, Morton, Nieman Reports


Until nearly a half-century ago, reporting on unsafe and ineffective medicines--their manufacturers, their prescribers, their government regulator, their victims--was rare. In a chapter I wrote, "Drug Success = News; Drug Failure = NonNews," for a 1965 book, (1) documented a stenographic pattern of reporting about the drug industry not unlike what happened during the run-up to the Iraq War.

* In 1952, the publisher of a drug industry weekly, F-D-C Reports, usually referred to as "The Pink Sheet," was able to say that the industry had been enjoying a "sensationally favorable" press.

* In 1963, at a national symposium on communications and medical research, Arthur J. Snider, science editor of the Chicago Daily News, said: "My concern is that the record would show that 90 percent of the stories we have written about new drugs have gone down the drain as failures. We have either been deliberately led down the primrose path or have allowed ourselves through lack of sufficient information to be led down the primrose path."

* In 1964, in The Saturday Review, John Lear wrote: "It is encouraging to record the interest now expressed in drug marketing problems by such newspapers as The Wall Street Journal. But it may be asked where were the potent organs of the daily press when the drug makers were pulling political and economic strings to prevent the facts from being exposed. When The Saturday Review began reporting the worst abuses in drug marketing in 1959, only two newspapers were willing to assume responsibility for wider dissemination of [our magazine's] independently obtained information. One of those two was the St. Louis Post-Dispatch; the other was Advertising Age."

I couldn't know then that in a few years that pattern would start to break apart, in large measure because of a story I reported for The Washington Post. Even when I was handed this assignment by an assistant city editor, Sy Fishbein, I didn't have the faintest notion of its potential consequences. Nor did I understand at the time why he would assign it to a reporter who'd never written a word about prescription drugs, the pharmaceutical industry, or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Turns out that after another Post reporter had passed on a tip that an FDA medical officer, Dr. Frances Kelsey, had fought hard within FDA to keep the baby-deforming sedative/tranquilizer thalidomide off the market, Fishbein wanted an interviewer with a capacity for outrage, which I had. The tip had come from an aide to Estes Kefauver, who'd been fighting a long, losing battle to drastically strengthen the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938. Building on findings in investigative hearings by his Senate antitrust subcommittee, he proposed amendments to require that a manufacturer provide the FDA with substantial scientific evidence--based on well-controlled clinical trials--which demonstrated both a medicine's safety and its effectiveness in its intended use. His amendments also proposed mechanisms to prevent the price gouging that was rampant even then.

Only a few weeks before my story ran, his Senate foes, mostly Republican friends of the pharmaceutical industry, gutted the amendments. They did this in a secret meeting he'd known nothing about.

My story was published in the Post on July 15, 1962. Here is the lede:

   This is the story of how the
   skepticism and stubbornness
   of a government physician prevented
   what could have been
   an appalling American tragedy,
   the birth of hundreds or indeed
   thousands of armless and legless
   children. The story of Dr.
   Frances Oldham Kelsey, a Food
   and Drug Administration medical
   officer, is not one of inspired
   prophesies nor of dramatic research
   breakthroughs. She saw
   her duty in sternly simple terms,
   and she carried it out, living the
   while with insinuations that she
   was a bureaucratic nitpicker,
   unreasonable--even, she said,
   stupid. … 

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

What Happens When No One Is Watching? When Congress Relinquishes Its Oversight Role of the Food and Drug Administration, the Press Reduces Its Watchdog Role When It Comes to Drug Safety
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.