Accusation that Newsweek held tough article because of Lipitor ad obligation

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“Oy Vez!” – a friend wrote as he forwarded me a column in The New York Observer that begins:

“In early December, star Newsweek science writer Sharon Begley wrote a profile of Stanford professor John Ioannidis, whose research calls into question the medical studies performed by major drug companies. It’s a great read. Good luck finding the story in a copy of the magazine, though. It hasn’t run for more than a month — and advertising is the reason why.

The piece had been edited, approved, fit to layout, and moved to the final stages of production before being abruptly spiked on the night of Dec. 9. Ms. Begley and others were told that the decision had been made because of an ad. Newsroom staff pegged Lipitor, a cholesterol drug manufactured by Pfizer, as the sponsor in question. The Ioannidis piece mentions, among other incorrect studies, a finding that statins are overprescribed.

Dan Klaidman and Nisid Hajari, who were then acting as interim editors of Newsweek as its merger with The Daily Beast was being lawyered, told The Observer Dec. 10 that Ms. Begley’s profile had been held, not killed. The ad in question had been contractually obligated to run in calendar year 2010, they said, and this was the last regular issue of the year. Ms. Begley’s piece had no specific time peg and could be temporarily shelved, while another piece by Washington reporter Eve Conant had a firm time peg to “Don’t ask, don’t tell” legislation. The editors ordered the swap. Ms. Conant’s story and the Lipitor ad ran; Ms. Begley’s piece entered a state of ad-driven limbo.

“We didn’t kill Sharon’s story. We have every intention of running it in January,” Mr. Klaidman told The Observer at the time. The two editors made the case that the Begley decision was not a case of nefarious corporate intrusion on journalism, but rather an embarrassing — and strictly logistical — incident facing a weakened magazine with not enough pages.”

The Observer reports that the piece is “now slated it to run in next week’s edition.”

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Joseph P. Arpaia, MD

January 22, 2011 at 12:34 am

I’m not surprised. Back in 2000 I wrote a feature article for Psychology Today for the August issue. It documented how the fact that patients are able to break the blind in double blind studies skewed the analysis of the studies in favor of the drug. I was chopped to a sidebar because the advertising dept complained that if it ran in its original form they would be able to sell their drug company ads.
Censorship is real.


January 24, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Oy Vez! is right… @Joseph you are spot on, this should come as no surprise the way censorship is used.

Susan Fitzgerald

January 24, 2011 at 1:22 pm

Thankfully, The Atlantic had more guts:
Dr. Ionnidis’ research is stunning and should be widely reported everywhere to hold academia’s feet to the fire.
“Publish or perish” takes on sinister meaning when the whole objective of research is to get a grant to do more research, despite questionable results that do not develop new knowledge.

Gary Schwitzer

January 24, 2011 at 5:06 pm

Newsweek published the story today.

Jamie Gaymon

January 24, 2011 at 11:21 pm

It’s absolutely astounding to me that more of an outcry isn’t made about things such as this. I realize that big business values ad dollars over people’s lives, but I just can’t understand why there’s not more public discontent when things such as this come to light. Are we really that apathetic as a society?