The Running Man - August 7, 2003

Times Watch for August 7, 2003

The Running Man

A front-page story by Dean Murphy and Charlie LeDuff, Movie Star In, Senator Out For Recall Race in California, notes that action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger has jumped into the race for the California governorship, while Sen. Dianne Feinstein has declined to run. (Although L.A. based journalist Mickey Kaus isnt so sure Feinstein is really out of the race for good.) Times reporters Dean Murphy and Charlie LeDuff first offer their readers a little snob appeal: As extraordinary bookends on a day of fast-moving events, the two decisions could not have been more dissimilar in style and substance. Public opinion polls have identified Ms. Feinstein, a Democrat, and Mr. Schwarzenegger, a Republican, as among the most popular alternatives to Mr. Davis, who faces a recall vote on Oct. 7.Instead of talking about issues like nuclear proliferation and appropriations, as Ms. Feinstein did, Mr. Schwarzenegger made light of his decision to run while joking with [Jay] Leno that it was the toughest one that he had made since deciding to get a bikini wax. Since Feinstein was at an Aspen Strategy Group seminar on foreign policy, perhaps her mention of proliferation wasnt all that newsworthy. Arianna Huffington, who also entered the race Wednesday, is positioned by the Times between the Democrats and Republicans: Earlier in the day, [Arianna] Huffington, a populist author and syndicated columnist, officially announced her candidacy for governor. Ms. Huffington said she would not have entered the race if Ms. Feinstein had decided to present herself as the Democratic alternative. I'm not interested in splitting the vote, she said. An independent, Ms. Huffington made no bones about her disdain for both the Republicans and Democrats, calling them fanatics and fools. California is in deep, deep trouble, she said. Its citizens deserve more than the partisan, petty and pathetic leadership it's getting at the moment. It may suit Huffingtons political positioning (and that of the Times) for people to think of her as a pox on both their houses populist. Yet her supporters are on the left, and so is her rhetoric. On Tuesday Huffington was interviewed by John Moyers, editor-in-chief of the left-wing website (and son of liberal PBS ubiquity Bill Moyers). In it, the independent, populist Huffington sounds suspiciously like a garden-variety liberal: I will work to nationalize this election, and connect the dots between the disastrous economic policies of the Bush administration and the plight of California. I will actually expose how laughable is the critique of my Republican opponents, who are going to focus on Davis' fiscal irresponsibility while justifying the outrageous fiscal irresponsibility that Bush and his cronies have unleashed on America. For the rest of the Times article on the California scheming, click here.

California | Gov. Gray Davis | Sen. Dianne Feinstein | Arianna Huffington | Labeling Bias | Recall | Arnold Schwarzenegger

The Times Anti-Drug War Continues

A front-page story by Gardiner Harris is the latest in a series of prominently placed Times stories critical of the drug industry. After penning (with Sheryl Gay Stolberg) a slanted July 22 piece that cheerleaded for drug reimportation, Harris on Thursday suggests that a certain class of anti-depression drugs (including Paxil) leads children and teens to increased suicidal thoughts. The storys headline, Debate Resumes on the Safety Of Depressions Wonder Drugs, broadly questions their safety, but the actual article focuses only on their safety for children and teens.

Harris also questions the treatment effectiveness of the entire class of anti-depression drugs like Paxil and Zoloft (known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or S.S.R.I.s), writing that most studies-including those recently reviewed by British and American health regulators-have found that S.S.R.I.'s are no more effective in fighting teenage depression than sugar pills. Even in adults, S.S.R.I.'s have been found to offer only modest benefits. In about half of all adult tests, the drugs prove no more effective than placebos. On average, they reduce symptoms of depression by about 41 percent on a widely used scale, versus a 31 percent reduction among those taking placebos, according to a survey in 2000 of studies used by the F.D.A. in approving the drugs.

But an analysis of that same survey (published in The Archives of General Psychiatry) notes that the 31 percent figure, while seemingly high, isnt merely a case of giving someone a sugar pill and leaving them be. Science News quotes the survey: Patients who are assigned to placebo treatment in clinical trials are not untreated. The capsule they receive is pharmacologically inert, but hardly inert with respect to its symbolic value and its power as a conditioned stimulus."

Science News also pointed out that placebo patients received physical examinations, attention and guidance from a physician, opportunities to talk about their condition, and other assistance that chipped away at their depression. And the market has spoken: Last year Americans bought $5 billion worth of prescriptions for Paxil and Zoloft (up 13% from 2001), the two most popular anti-depressants, suggesting a broad swathe of America is finding the drugs more useful than sugar pills.

For the rest of Harris story on anti-depression drugs, click here.

Depression | Drug Companies | FDA | Gardiner Harris | Paxil | Suicide | Teenagers