By Leslie Manookian
We know from experience with SARS, bird flu, swine flu, Ebola, and Zika that the dangers and impact of these threats are often very exaggerated. Indeed, during the swine flu / H1N1 outbreak of 2009, Dr. Anthony Fauci warned that one third of Americans would contract the disease. As a result of the fear, vaccine makers received $1 billion to develop a vaccine and federal and state health agencies received a whopping $5 billion to promote the vaccine to the public.
In July of 2009 CDC instructed the state to STOP testing for swine flu. This would have made sense if those being tested were overwhelmingly testing positive for the virus. But that wasn’t the case. Sharyl Attkisson, an award-winning investigative journalist for CBS, discovered the CDC knew as early as July of 2009 that there was no emergency. She requested data from state health departments and found that very few of the patients being tested actually had swine flu.
Nevertheless, on Friday October 24, 2009, President Obama declared a national emergency. In the end, $7.65 billion was ultimately spent on what was in reality very few cases – no emergency. Yet the CDC never came clean and by June of 2010, the CDC said the H1N1 virus that caused the outbreak was a regular human flu virus which would continue to circulate.
Importantly, although Attkisson had uncovered a massive controversy which warranted a thorough investigation, no other media outlet picked up the story. One must ask, why not? Clearly this was a huge scandal, why was the media silent?
Perhaps it’s because in many ways, the media has become a de facto subsidiary of the pharmaceutical industry. If that seems outlandish, let me explain.
As reported widely in the independent media, a few years ago, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. met with the CEO of a national broadcast news corporation. Over breakfast, that CEO told Kennedy that the pharmaceutical industry accounts for 70% of network news revenues in non-election years and that if any journalist reported on stories that threatened one of the network’s pharmaceutical accounts, he’d fire them immediately. That 70% of revenues amounts to billions in profits. Then there is pharmaceutical digital ad spending which amounted to $3.6 billion in 2019. In 2020, the pharmaceutical companies are forecasted to spend a staggering $27 billion on marketing their products.
Then there’s the influence pharma buys in medicine – of doctors, medical schools, and medical journals. The pharmaceutical industry directly paid doctors $3 billion in 2018 for things unrelated to research. The industry funded $750 million (one third) of all Continuing Medical Education for doctors in 2011.
While we’d like to believe pharma doesn’t influence science, a recent study found that one half of all medical journal editors were taking money from pharmaceutical companies. These payments amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars in some cases. Then there’s the income journals earn from reprints (money drug companies pay the journal to reprint published studies on their drugs that are favorable which the drug company sends to thousands of doctors). The Lancet, one of the most prestigious medical journals in the world, derives 41% of its income from reprints of drug studies and the American Medical Association derives 53% from its journal reprints. All this means that medical journals are more likely to publish positive research on drugs – which skews perspective on the safety of drugs – and means pharma has influence where it should not.
Though the focus of this article is on pharmaceutical influence of media, it is worth mentioning that big pharma buys influence in government as well. In fact, the pharmaceutical industry “gives” members of Congress about $30 million each year and spends $250 million lobbying Congress each year. Shockingly, 9 out of 10 US Representatives and 97 US Senators have taken money from pharma.
When President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of the dangers of military-industrial complex, perhaps he missed one piece, the medical piece. Were he alive today, I think he’d re-name it the MEDICAL-military-industrial complex.