BMI Study: The Media's Prescription for Bias

Before I started as NewsBusters managing editor, I finished up a study of the media's bias when it comes to reporting on prescription drugs. The study was released on March 14.

After the page break are some findings from the executive summary. Here's a link to the PDF version of the study.

Even when one new drug was hailed as a “major advance in combating
breast cancer” and a “major medical breakthrough,” its manufacturer was
given only a passing mention on one network. BMI looked at 132 stories
on prescription or over-the-counter drugs from the ABC, CBS, and NBC
evening newscasts between January 1 and Sept. 30, 2006.

Among the findings:

  • Industry
    Ignored: While covering everything from medical “controversies” to
    breakthroughs, nearly 80 percent of the stories excluded the viewpoint
    of the pharmaceutical industry, failing to include either a company
    statement or a company spokesman.
  • Media Overemphasize Cost to
    Consumer: The broadcast networks mentioned costs to consumers or drug
    company revenues 11 times more often than they mentioned drug
    development costs.
  • Networks Leave Companies Unnoticed: Only 22
    percent of the stories even named the company that developed the drug
    or drugs featured in the story.
  • What Development Costs?: A mere
    2 percent of stories dealt with the cost of developing drugs, and even
    those costs were downplayed by industry skeptics.
  • Special
    Treatment for Left-Wing Causes: Nineteen stories focused on drugs that
    were popular liberal causes such as the morning-after pill or HPV
    vaccine Gardasil. The networks didn’t apply the same scrutiny to those
    drugs and their makers as they did to others.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is a writer living in New Carrollton, Md.