Accuracy in Media

Dr. Robert Goldberg is warning people in his new book that the Internet has become the repository for a dangerous mix of tabloid journalism and vital medical information, often badly misrepresented. Goldberg told Accuracy in Media in an exclusive interview that “not only do we have interest groups and trial attorneys trying to use the Internet to shape people’s perceptions of medicine, but under ObamaCare the government is launching an unprecedented effort to crowd out other voices, other forms of information so that doctors and patients sort of fall into step with the quality guidelines under ObamaCare.”

Robert Goldberg is the author of the book, Tabloid Medicine: How the Internet Is Being Used to Hijack Medical Science for Fear and Profit. He identifies a variety of culprits, including the media, trial attorneys, anti-industry activists, and politicians who in some cases have worked together to create a campaign of doubt and fear about the safety of certain medical treatments. He shows how the Internet is used to scare the public and hide a political agenda, while preying on people’s insecurities to the ultimate detriment of both the individual and public health.

Goldberg is president and co-founder of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, a nonprofit institute dedicated to promoting the use and understanding of technologies that make health care more predictive and personalized.  Previously, Goldberg was a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Public Policy Research, where he was also director of the Institute’s Center for Medical Progress, and chairman of the center’s 21st century FDA Reform Task Force.

Among his concerns about ObamaCare is Donald Berwick, Obama’s recess appointment as Director of Medicaid and Medicare Services. Goldberg describes him as “an authoritarian when it comes to medical decisions.”

Excerpts from the interview are below in italics. You can listen to the entire interview or read the transcript here.

DR. GOLDBERG: I use the term “tabloid medicine” based on the tabloid journalism of the turn of the century, where you take exaggerated stories of risk and danger, or celebrities exposed, and you plaster them all over the Internet, in this case, in our time, to create a perception that medical products such as vaccines—and, most recently, this FDA report about the so-called “link” between cancer and breast implants—as a way of driving and discouraging support for medical innovation, and organizing opposition to the producers and commercializers of these advances.

I approach this with neither fear nor favor to anybody.  I took on the Clintons when they tried to nationalize the vaccine industry, and I went after drug companies that tried to keep generic drugs off the market.  I’ve also looked at the efforts of the EPA to take asthma inhalers away from poor kids in order to reduce global warming.  The point of all this, along with the work I’ve done to try to give people information on Internet-based ways to monitor the safety and benefits of their drugs, or the prices—is that people need to have the information delivered to them in an unfiltered, scientific way so they can partner with their doctors to do what’s best for them.  I’m afraid that not only do we have interest groups and trial attorneys trying to use the Internet to shape people’s perceptions of medicine, but under ObamaCare the government is launching an unprecedented effort to crowd out other voices, other forms of information so that doctors and patients sort of fall into step with the quality guidelines under ObamaCare.

There is this narrative—it’s not just a liberal narrative, though it does emerge from the Left primarily—that goes back even to the environmental movement of the ’70s, that corporations poison people in the pursuit of profits.  So, whether it’s nuclear power or clean coal or automobiles that supposedly have faulty brakes—like the ones from Toyota—or vaccines which are the hidden cause of autism or antidepressants causing suicide, there is a firm ideological belief that corporations are not a healthy contributor to the political ecology of this planet, to the point…of saying, “Since scientists partner with industry, they, too, are corrupt!  And since doctors or engineers use this science, they, too, are corrupt!”  They paint this one-size-fits-all black-and-white notion that the only solution is, of course, for these groups, who are individuals, to come in, take over, issue top-down commands, and purify the system, restore balance, and achieve justice.

I was able to, with other patients, engage the insurance companies, and, if we wanted to, we could even sue them.  When the government takes over the entire marketplace, you have no recourse.  You have no other form of appeal—specifically, under ObamaCare, you can’t sue the government, you can’t sue HHS, and, to a certain extent, that protection will extend to the insurance companies as well.  Moreover, the fact that the government’s now getting into the business of establishing these one-size-fits-all standards just makes it that much more difficult to navigate on these issues.  One immediate issue that comes to mind is the FDA deciding not to provide a label for Avastin, which is for women with breast cancer, even though some women are high responders.  So what’s happened?  The government’s weighed in and said, “Well, we’re not going to pay for it,” and then the insurance companies followed suit.  So when they’re all fused together, it makes it that much more difficult to fight tabloid medicine.  There’s an ideological orientation towards using those techniques, and once a government gets behind it, with the money and regulatory authority, it becomes pretty hard to fight.

The trial lawyers—some trial lawyers use the Internet so that when you go on the Web for a search, your first three pages of a search for a particular illness or medication will highlight all the risks from instant experts, and, in some cases, they link back to a 1-800 number or a “sue me” website, a website.  There are these natural—the folks who say, “Don’t trust the drug companies, all they want to do is make money—but buy my product!”, like Suzanne Somers and Joseph Mercola, Mike Adams—and sometimes they work in unison.  Then there are these other groups—I call them the “so-called consumer advocates,” such as Consumers Union, which puts out a list of best buys for all medications which is completely based upon the Worst Pills, Best Pills approach.  There’s a group called the Prescription Project which is funded by George Soros and trial attorney money, which is designed to basically tell people, “Take a generic first and foremost.”  Those are some of the main perpetrators of this activity.  Finally, there are the anti-vaccine groups—Jenny McCarthy and Generation Rescue.  It’s really a sort of sad state of affairs when, instead of talking about Jonas Salk and vaccines, you talk about Jenny McCarthy and vaccines!

My real concern with [Donald] Berwick [Obama’s recess appointment as Director of Medicaid and Medicare Services] is that he is an authoritarian when it comes to medical decisions.  He believes that a “centralized integrator”—his words—ought to decide how much we spend and what we spend it on, and then people can use as much up to that point.  But the evidence that he uses, again, is tabloid medicine—these one-size-fits-all approaches that don’t account for individual differences.  He is hell-bent on driving it through and using the Web and electronic medical records to pound that message to the rest of the medical community.  I just think that he’s a total sham, and the fact that he loves the NHS [the British National Health Service] just only indicates a bias that we should have expected from anyone that would work with the Obama administration on health care.  I’m concerned about the damage that he’ll do with all the gimmicks and toys that he’s going to try to impose upon health providers and consumers in the future.

The incentives in Medicaid that are in ObamaCare encourage states to spend more money on primary care, and their match for that—it’s all about the money—their federal share of that is higher for primary care.  It is going to be lower for mental illness, which means that the states will have more of a burden on their own to provide that care.  And since, over the last twenty years, most people that are mentally ill have been pushed into Medicaid, it leaves them with less care and less choice, as opposed to what many of the states want to do—including Mitch Daniels in Indiana and Governor Christie in my state, New Jersey—which is to give patients the cash equivalent to buy insurance in the open market suited to their needs.  Believe it or not, Roger, when that was proposed by the state of Rhode Island on January 21st, 2009, the Obama administration went to Rhode Island and started auditing their Medicaid program.  If that’s not intimidation, I don’t know what is.

…when it comes to medications or treatments, you can use the Internet to get a second opinion from leading experts in the field—it’s a very powerful tool for that because people, in real time, will answer you.  So you can use the Web to empower you, to find the right clinical trials, just avoid one-size-fits-all solutions.

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


Comments are turned off for this article.