NBC News anchor Brian Williams delivered an awkward and unusual story lead-in last Wednesday, one which has touched off a firestorm of criticism of him even on his own blog.
Williams said, on the air: “If you watch this newscast with any frequency, then you’ve seen it – this ad playing behind me here on the screen – for a medication for something called restless leg syndrome. A lot of us had frankly never heard of the condition but we figured people must suffer terribly from it for there to be a medication to treat it. And so,motivated by a commercial by one of our own sponsors, we asked NBC News correspondent Josh Mankiewicz to do some checking. ”
Mankiewiczâs story begins: âThey show you the problem, and the solution. The syndrome, known commonly as RLS, affects millions and has been known to some for at least 60 years. But until recently, most people â” even many physicians â” had never heard of it. The drug company GlaxoSmithKline changed that.â?
The story then quoted a doctor who said: “I’m not generally a big fan of direct-to-consumer TV ads. However, for this particular disorder, I think they’ve done a great service by spending most of the time identifying the problem.” (You can read Williams’ blog later to see what some viewers dug up about this “expert” source.)
The story went on to brag about Glaxoâs earnings from the drugs. And cited a single patient who said the drug âworked like a charm.â?
The NBC hype didnât end there. Brian Williams went on his blog to brag about the story.
But viewers went to the blog as well, many of them to criticize NBC and Williams, saying things like:
You said “We commissioned last night’s story….”
And with whom did you commission that biased story?
(GlaxoSmithKline – the maker of the restless leg drug in the story)? I thought NBC was trying to cut commercials so we get more news. Does this integraded (sic) ad then count as news or advertising.â?
âThis is only one of numerous examples of drug companies, trying to invent a disease or malady, or whatever, just to sell prescription drugs.â?
âit seemed to me the majority of writers were upset (as was I) about the blatant commercial you ran for for an advertiserâ?
âGive anything a name, initials and a drug to “cure” it and you’ll become a millionaire. Goes to show how gullible we have become in this country. And think about it, Brian, you’re part of the problem/solution?â?
âThis time you’ve really crossed the fine line between journalism and advertising, and you owe your viewers an explanation and an apology.â?
Had NBC, Williams or Mankiewicz done even a little research, they would have found, free on the web, an article entitled, âGiving Legs to Restless Legs: A Case Study of How the Media Helps Make People Sick.â? Which is just what NBC did with this egregious example of disease-mongering. I am at least comforted that an intelligent viewing audience is starting to catch on to such examples of shoddy journalism.