CBS Responds to Complaints About '60 Minutes' Drug Story

CBS News, via its "Public Eye" blog, has responded to the National Center for Public Policy Research's critique (covered here yesterday in Newsbusters) of its 60 Minutes show Sunday.

In a nutshell, The National Center's David Hogberg had complained that a recent "60 Minutes" broadcast relied upon unrepresentative, artifically-high data to determine the price seniors are paying for drugs under Medicare. Second, David said "60 Minutes" falsely claimed the Veterans Administration derives its prices by negotiation with drug companies, not telling viewers the VA uses strict price controls.

Viewers were expected to conclude that VA-like negotiations by Medicare would result in lower drug prices for Medicare recipients. The critical phrase "price controls" never came up.

David also complained that the "60 Minutes" broadcast failed to tell viewers that Families USA, which issued the study, "is a left-wing organization with an agenda of increasing government involvement in health care."

CBS Blogger Brian Montopoli interviewed the producer of the "60 Minutes" segment, Ira Rosen, who said he "stands by the story" (that's what journalists always say -- they don't even bother to alter the wording). Rosen also said of the Families USA-supplied prescription drug data The National Center's David Hogberg called "unrepresentative": "Families USA data is represented nationally." That's an odd way to word it and literally meaningless, but if we assume he meant that it is perfectly appropriate to take price data from two counties that are above-average in wealth (one of which is the fourth-richest county in the USA) and report that the data is representative of drug prices under Medicare in the entire country, well, all we can say is that we see why Ira Rosen went into journalism instead of statistics. Of David Hogberg's criticism that the program misrepresented the way the Veterans Administration arrives at prices for drugs, the CBS Blog was silent. Of David's charge that "60 Minutes" should have told viewers that Families USA is a very liberal organization, "Public Eye" wrote:

The Center also complained that "60 Minutes" identified Families USA as a non-partisan group, calling it "a left-wing organization with an agenda of increasing government involvement in health care." "We are non-partisan – I want to be clear about that," said [Families USA Executive Director Ron] Pollack. "We have never supported or opposed any political candidate for any office, ever. I don't know how I could be more resolute about this. And indeed, our tax exempt status requires us to be." Pollack said that the vast majority of the group's finding comes from non-partisan foundations, though it has received a "tiny proportion of funding" from George Soros.

I have no reason to doubt that Ron Pollack is right when he says Families USA is non-partisan, but that's a red herring. The National Center for Public Policy Research did not say that CBS should have told viewers that Families USA supports candidates of one particular political party for public office, we said viewers should have been told that Families USA is "a left-wing organization with an agenda of increasing government involvement in health care." When CBS decided to call Families USA a "non-partisan health care watchog group" without saying anything about its leftism, viewers were misled.

What possible reason, other than bias, would "60 Minutes" have had to do that? Interestingly, while CBS called Families USA a "non-partisan health care watchog group," it called the National Center for Public Policy Research "a conservative group called The National Center For Public Policy Research." The National Center is conservative, but it has the same tax status as Families USA -- and has an equal claim to be called "non-partisan" by CBS.

What's different, apparently, is the way CBS News views the two organizations. CBS does deserve credit, at least, for mentioning the National Center's concerns -- first expressed to "60 Minutes" five times before the show was broadcast, when there was still time for corrections that were never made -- on its blog. If only the blog had more readers than the broadcast. For those who might wish to view it, the "60 Minutes" segment in question is linked to on CBS's "Public Eye" blog.

Full disclosure: I work for the National Center for Public Policy Research.

Health Care 60 Minutes
Amy Ridenour's picture


Sponsored Links