News and drugs

The other day Scott Pelley got fired from his job as the anchor of the CBS Evening News. CBS has traditionally been thought of as the best and most important of the network news operations, the home of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, and the news anchor position has been the most prestigious in the business for decades.  A shake-up at that spot has always been huge news in and of itself, and there was a lot of hand-wringing and speculation this time as well, although almost entirely within the industry.

pelley

But CBS Nightly News ratings trailed ABC and NBC, and news, like everything now, is a profit center. Pelley is out. His presentation of the day’s events wasn’t selling as well as the competitors’, even though the content was virtually identical.

There are two reasons why this doesn’t matter to me at all. The first is just my own taste, I suppose, and I probably shouldn’t even mention it, as it will surely anger those who disagree and it’s really not that important. But, as I’ve said before, that’s why Stewie is Generis, so here goes: Scott Pelley and Ted Baxter are virtually indistinguishable to me. They both simply read what’s put in front of them, quite obviously without any real understanding of it. And they both cultivate the silver-haired, square-jawed, steely look of authority and competence which masks any sign of who they might really be off-camera, as well as that phony “newsman’s voice”, meant to instill confidence in the truth and gravity of whatever they’re reading, however silly it may be.

baxter

The second reason Pelley’s firing doesn’t matter to me, and shouldn’t matter to anyone else either, is that network news itself no longer matters. It’s nothing but a re-hash of stuff that you already knew from the internet. It’s stale by the time they serve it to you. It might be 24 hours old or older and you’ve already determined whether you care about it.

There is no “journalism” involved – CBS is not “breaking” any stories with a network of far-flung correspondents and investigators. They are simply repeating what’s been on Twitter all day long, or even what CNN ran 10-12 hours earlier. And their standard is that if there are no spectacular images to go with the story, well, it’s just not news as far as they’re concerned.

And the really pathetic thing is they try to “tease” their stale stories to keep you tuned in through 3-4 minutes of ads: “You’ll be shocked at what President Trump tweeted last night at midnight – we’ll tell you after this…” No, I won’t be shocked. I saw it when he tweeted it 18 hours ago, and it didn’t shock me then. It wasn’t newsworthy at the time and it’s already been covered to death by everyone else all day long, including by the crack reporting staff at Get Off My Lawn.

So who’s watching these network “news” programs? Only people who don’t have the internet. In other words, only old people. And the proof is right there before your eyes. Those ads they want you to watch are virtually all drug advertisements and all for ailments that affect older people primarily.

There are a zillion new drugs you never heard of a couple of years ago that you are now bombarded with ads about during the newscast.   The drug companies know exactly who’s watching.

drug graph

I’d never heard of any of these drugs before, and now I can’t avoid them: Latuda (depression), Harvoni (hepatitis C), Rexulti (depression), Lyrica (nerve and muscle pain), Eliquis (stroke prevention), Xeljanz (rheumatoid arthritis), Viberzi (irritable bowel syndrome), Invokana (Type 2 Diabetes), Humira (arthritis), Jublia (toe fungus),  Xarelto (stroke prevention).

Maybe you’re taking one or more of these, or maybe you’re a medical professional who has known all about them for years, but that’s not my point. My point is that I have as many ailments as the next guy and the only way I’m aware of these drugs is from direct-to-consumer advertising.  My thesis is that most people have had the same experience.

Over $5 Billion dollars in drug ads were purchased last year and it’s been trending up for some time.

Following graph from this site:

drug spending

The A.M.A. has called for a ban on direct-to-consumer ad spending. The only two countries that allow direct-to-consumer drug advertising are the U.S. and New Zealand.

 

most advertised

16 drugs accounted for more than $100 million in advertising last year.

This report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (obviously created pre-Trump) says prescription drugs accounted for nearly 17 percent of total health care spending in 2015, up from about 7 percent in the 1990s, due in large part to rising prices for brand-name treatments.

Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) introduced a bill to eliminate the tax breaks that drug makers can take to offset their spending on ad campaigns. He said it was a “common sense measure to help cut down health care costs.”

On the other side of this fight is the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. It’s the industry trade group and has rejected efforts to limit ads saying the ads are useful for informing patients about their treatment options and help them avoid health emergencies.

I’m tempted to agree that there is probably more new information transmitted in these ads than in the alleged “news” that surrounds them, but that would be ignoring the difference between information and advocacy.

Nine out of ten of the biggest pharmaceutical companies actually spend more on advertising than on R&D, which should tell you something about the whole process. Note that Jublia, the toe-fungus treatment, costs about $600 a bottle but is proven to work in fewer than 20 percent of users, according to Consumer Reports.

Which side do you think the Trump administration will support? I don’t know but I can guess – as with all crime stories, you’ll find the bad guys if you  “follow the money”.

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