Truth In Media: Understanding Big Pharma’s Propaganda Machine

Part 2 of 4, Truth In Media: Big Pharma, The FDA & Health Propaganda

The Truth In Media Project has released Part 2 of its new 4-part Truth In Media episode Big Pharma, The FDA & Health Propaganda. In Part 2, Understanding Big Pharma’s Propaganda Machine, Ben Swann discusses the how companies within the pharmaceutical industry are able to attract positive media surrounding its drugs, regardless of whether or not their claims are founded.

Laurie Powell, a former medical brand strategist, spent a decade identifying drugs that would have the potential to treat prevalent and widespread medical issues, and persuading physicians to believe that these drugs were valuable, even if their effectiveness or overall safety was not yet proven.

According to Powell, ad agencies work with pharmaceutical companies to create ghostwritten articles that praise certain drugs utilizing cherry-picked data, and these articles are provided to medical journals. These “scientific articles” are not truly scientific, says Powell, but are actually forms of advertisements created to convince physicians to believe in a certain drug’s potential as well as influence their colleagues.

“It would start with New England Journal of Medicine, JAMA, those kinds of large publications,” says Powell, as well as communicating with smaller publications more specifically tailored to certain medical conditions. “We’d plan out over the next few years how we’re going to take the messages that come from the data— which we’d slice and dice that up— and disseminate those messages throughout those publications over a course of years.”

Marcia Angell, the former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, strongly criticized this practice.

“This is corrupting research and making the public— and doctors— think that prescription drugs are much better and safer than they really are. I saw an enormous change in the relationship pf academic medicine and clinical research to the drug companies. And I saw more and more bias introduced into the research. And one of the worst forms of bias is that the drug companies will not permit researchers to publish negative results. If the drug doesn’t look good, it’s not published. It’s buried.”

It’s common knowledge that corporations have long created advertisements tailored to shining a positive light on their products in order to attract consumers. However, companies pushing to influence consumers to buy a certain brand of soda or shampoo is clearly not in the same realm as a pharmaceutical company controlling the entire message when it comes to the safety and effectiveness of its drugs, particularly when the FDA has been tasked with making sure that drugs are held under a high level of scrutiny.