Times Bias Toward Bad Medicine? - October 29, 2003 - TimesWatch.org

Times Watch for October 29, 2003

Times Bias Toward Bad Medicine?

Does the Times have a bad news bias when it comes to prescription drug coverage?

Gardiner Harris' story back on August 7 concerning possible safety problems with anti-depressant drugs made the Times front page. The 2,400 word story opened: "Warnings by drug regulators about the safety of Paxil, one of the world's most prescribed antidepressants, are reopening seemingly settled questions about a whole class of drugs that also includes Prozac and Zoloft. Doctors are just beginning to react to the finding-reported first by British drug authorities in June and then endorsed the next week by the Food and Drug Administration-that unpublished studies about Paxil show that it carries a substantial risk of prompting teenagers and children to consider suicide."

Such a determination, if confirmed, would obviously be of major concern to parents with troubled teenagers as well as to the drug companies involved. (The Times has in the past been quite hard on drug companies.)

But fast forward-and turn many pages-to the back of Tuesday's Science Times section (section F), and one can read another, briefer Gardiner Harris story which seems to discount the premises of his earlier front-pager.

Harris' latest opens: "The Food and Drug Administration issued a public health advisory yesterday that makes clear that the agency has grown increasingly skeptical that there is any link between antidepressant use and the risk of suicide in teenagers and children. 'I think probably that we have backed off a little bit from the advisory issued in June, which recommended against using Paxil,' said Dr. Thomas Laughren, a psychiatrist and an F.D.A. official. 'I believe our position now is that we just don't know.'"

Credit reporter Harris for his willingness to throw cold water over his previous story. But if Times editors considered the safety of anti-depressant drugs front-page worthy back in August, why did the paper bury the new information on page F8?

For the rest of Harris' follow-up on the safety of anti-depressants for teens, click here.

Depression | Drugs | Gardiner Harris

Singer, Actor, Stalinist

The New Jersey section of Sunday's Times glosses over the Stalinism of Paul Robeson, the New Jersey native and Communist actor who is to be honored with a U.S. postage stamp.

Jessica Bruder writes in "A Man and His Stamp" (an article not online): "More than half a century since Paul Robeson was brought before the House Un-American Activities Committee, he will be honored with a quintessential American tribute: a commemorative postage stamp. Robeson, the singer, actor and civil rights activist, who died in 1976, is among New Jersey's most famous native sons. Born in Princeton in 1898, the son of a runaway slave, Robeson earned an athletic scholarship to Rutgers and graduated as class valedictorian in 1919. He was also one of the first blacks to receive a law degree from Columbia University."

When Bruder does bring up "civil rights activist" Robeson's unrepentant Communism (actually Stalinism), it's in the context of his alleged persecution in America: "Robeson became a leader of the nascent civil rights movement. As Hitler gained power in Germany, he also spoke out against the fascism he saw rising in Europe. But some of Robeson's convictions, particularly his professed admiration of the Soviet Union, led to his being branded a Communist and a traitor in his own country."

But as Barry Finger wrote for the socialist magazine New Politics, Robeson pretty much branded himself with his totalitarian "convictions," including support for the Soviet show trials and for Soviet repression of the Hungarian uprising of 1956. Finger notes: "In 1952 Robeson was awarded the Stalin Peace Prize, an award he no doubt fully and justifiably earned. Not four years later, while the sheen was still on the medal, Robeson compared the Hungarian revolutionaries to the 'same sort of people who overthrew the Spanish Republican Government,' a calumny from one whose political life was stained by his unqualified support of a brutal totalitarian system."

Jessica Bruder | New Jersey | Paul Robeson | Josef Stalin