'Evening News' Milked Tragedies to Scare Viewers on Depression Drugs
Looking for factual medical reporting that avoids milking tragedy to create hype? If youâ€™ve made an appointment to watch the CBS â€śEvening News,â€ť you may want to get a second opinion.
While all three broadcast networks touched on the FDAâ€™s new â€śblack boxâ€ť warning label for patients up to age 25 on popular prescription depression medications, CBSâ€™s treatment of the story laid out the heaviest dose of raw emotion and sensationalism.
â€śHow in the hell do I tell a kid that his father committed suicide!â€ť widow Suzanne Gonzalez demanded in a clip Couric aired during the opening teaser to the December 13 â€śEvening News.â€ť
â€śAt an emotional hearing some family members saidâ€ť new warnings labels on anti-depressant medication â€ścome too late,â€ť Couric noted later in the program as she introduced correspondent Sharyl Attkissonâ€™s story on how the FDA â€śis ordering new warning labelsâ€ť on prescription antidepressants such as Paxil and Zoloft.
â€śFDA advisors heard angry and very personal stories from a room full of people,â€ť noted Attkisson as she cued up two sound bites from Gonzalez, who accused the FDA of â€śruining my life, my daughterâ€™s life, my sonâ€™s life.â€ť
Nearly 30 seconds into the story, Attkisson gave her audience the underlying facts, reporting that the FDA was extending so-called â€śblack boxâ€ť warnings on depression drugs for patients up to age 25, based on â€śnew analysisâ€ť that showed a doubling of suicidal behavior in young adults.
Attkisson did feature a woman who said â€śantidepressants gave me back my life and probably very wellâ€ť saved it, but the correspondent failed to feature any doctors or psychiatrists on camera, choosing to summarize their arguments briefly at the close of her story.
â€śDoctors say thereâ€™s a balance, that antidepressants are life-saving as long as the right patients get them and are carefully watched by psychiatric professionals,â€ť Attkisson noted.
By contrast, NBCâ€™s â€śNightly Newsâ€ť and ABCâ€™s â€śWorld News with Charles Gibsonâ€ť gave less emotional accounts of the story.
While ABC reporter John McKenzie also aired a clip of Suzanne Gonzalez blaming the FDA for her husbandâ€™s death, he also noted many medical experts argue antidepressants are â€śessentialâ€ť to treatment for many patients. McKenzie aired testimony from two women who benefited from antidepressant medication and from one woman who worried that â€śany additional black box warning runs the risk of making the effective treatments less available for many depressed patients.â€ť
On the December 13 â€śNightly News,â€ť NBC anchor Brian Williams opted to consult NBCâ€™s top doc rather than air a full story.
Rather than hyping a negative storyline from the development, Williams asked NBC chief medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman, â€śwho is this good news for and bad news for?â€ť
Snyderman told Williams while most psychiatrists argue the â€śuse of antidepressants can keep people from committing suicide,â€ť that she thinks the medical and political controversy over warning labels â€śis one of those debates thatâ€™s going to keep going on and on and on.â€ť