Accuracy in Media

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy Thompson says Americans making New Year’s resolutions to lose weight should do so without products containing ephedra. The major media should adopt a resolution not to serve as lapdogs for Thompson’s agency by helping the trial lawyers destroy the dietary supplement industry. The ban on ephedra is the first step in this campaign.

The coverage of this controversy demonstrates that the media bias in favor of big government is back. The only difference this time is that it is Republican big government. It’s no wonder that some conservatives are despondent over the President’s failure to rein in the federal bureaucracy.

CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather said the government was moving against ephedra “after years of doing nothing.” NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw said that the government was moving to “protect” people. The liberal theme was that the federal government acted too slowly in preventing Americans from freely choosing an herbal product that has been in use for thousands of years and which has been taken safely by millions of Americans to lose weight and boost energy.

At the HHS news conference announcing the ban, a commissioner from the Food and Drug Administration, Dr. Mark McClellan, said that it “appears” that ephedra is linked to strokes, heart problems, and death. This is what passes for science these days. There is no scientifically established causal connection, and the government knows it.

But the Naderite Public Citizen organization has been agitating for this ban. In league with other Naderite groups, it wants to control what Americans are allowed to eat and ingest. Sidney Wolfe of Public Citizen made appearances on all three network evening news programs and was identified by Linda Douglass of ABC World News Tonight as a valiant “consumer activist.”

Curiously, Public Citizen has backed access to marijuana, an illegal substance more carcinogenic and deadly than tobacco, on the fraudulent ground that it is medicine. The “medical marijuana” hoax is a naked ploy that some are using just to get high.

In promoting the ephedra ban, the media have repeatedly cited the tragic case of Baltimore pitcher Steve Bechler, whose death has been “linked” to the substance. The media don’t bother to explain that while there was ephedra in his blood, he in fact died from heatstroke. He was working out with the Orioles during warm and humid weather and was out-of-shape, overweight, on a diet and hadn’t eaten much solid food over the previous two days. He also reportedly had liver problems and borderline high blood pressure. He took three pills with ephedra when he should have taken only two.

Many companies have already discontinued distributing ephedra because of the threat of lawsuits. The trial lawyers are salivating at the prospect of shaking down the dietary supplement industry for billions of dollars. Interestingly enough, the Public Citizen website features an article griping about the December 15 Newsweek cover story, “Lawsuit Hell,” on how litigation is harming America. The group favors such litigation in order to guarantee “consumers’ access to the courts,” even if industries and professions are ruined and many jobs are lost in the process.

One legal website highlights Public Citizen releases urging an ephedra ban and declares, “If you or a family member has been injured, contact a personal injury attorney today.” Class action lawsuits have already been filed. More clients are being solicited. Strike it rich by blaming your health problems on ephedra!

One journalist admitted that “bad press” about the supplement had dried up insurance coverage for some ephedra makers. But the bad press continued, with claims that an earlier ban on ephedra “might” have saved Bechler’s life. It’s true that he “died after taking ephedra during last spring training,” but there were other more significant factors in the case. The media refer to 155 deaths, implying that the supplement was somehow scientifically determined to be the causal factor in all of these cases. There is no evidence for such a wild charge.

Ruling out ephedra for weight loss or fitness, Dr. McClellan said, “There are far better, safer ways to get in better shape.” He assured us that the government wants us all to “enjoy a long and healthy life.” The Big Media applauded this Big Government announcement. And the trial lawyers operating behind the scenes are laughing all the way to the bank.

Ready to fight back against media bias?
Join us by donating to AIM today.


Comments are turned off for this article.