Leave it to “60 Minutes” to attack an entire industry for trying “to protect its profits.” That’s the summary of a more than 13-minute assault on pharmaceutical companies that ran on April Fools Day.
But CBS wasn’t joking. Reporter Steve Kroft went after nine different drug firms by name and the industry association in a piece complaining that government doesn’t regulate enough.
Kroft’s complaint was that pharmaceutical firms lobbied Congress to establish the Medicare prescription drug benefit, but he criticized them because they didn’t want government regulation of pricing as well. Conveniently, the Democratic House recently passed legislation that would mandate government price controls, which the story supported.
Kroft portrayed the original vote to approve the prescription drug benefit as a tale of Washington influence peddling – “one example of the incestuous relationship between Congress and the industry, and just one of the reasons the pharmaceutical lobby almost never loses a political battle that affects its bottom line,” claimed Kroft.
“It certainly wasn't ugly for the drug lobby, which invested more than $10 million in campaign contributions during the last election and has been a source of lucrative employment opportunities for congressmen when they leave office,” he added.
Kroft criticized former Rep. Billy Tauzin for taking “a $2 million-a-year job as president of PhRMA – Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.” “That doesn't look good," the reporter argued, although Tauzin pointed out that the drug industry had saved his life when he was dying of cancer.
The “60 Minutes” report was just the networks’ latest example of anti-drug industry coverage. The recent Business & Media Institute study “Prescription for Bias” detailed how nearly 80 percent of drug stories don’t even bother to give the companies a chance to comment.
In this case, the opening graphic listed PhRMA and nine drug firms – Amgen, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Roche, Merck, Lilly, Abbott, Novartis, and Biogen Idec – and, in effect, blamed them for influencing the political process.
Part of the CBS piece relied on information from “Families USA, a nonpartisan health care watchdog group.” But Families USA supports nationalized health care. David Hogberg of the National Center for Public Policy Research had a piece on problems with the research from Families USA.