'Evening News' Milked Tragedies to Scare Viewers on Depression Drugs
Looking for factual medical reporting that avoids milking tragedy to create hype? If youâve made an appointment to watch the CBS âEvening News,â you may want to get a second opinion.
While all three broadcast networks touched on the FDAâs new âblack boxâ warning label for patients up to age 25 on popular prescription depression medications, CBSâs treatment of the story laid out the heaviest dose of raw emotion and sensationalism.
âHow in the hell do I tell a kid that his father committed suicide!â widow Suzanne Gonzalez demanded in a clip Couric aired during the opening teaser to the December 13 âEvening News.â
âAt an emotional hearing some family members saidâ new warnings labels on anti-depressant medication âcome too late,â Couric noted later in the program as she introduced correspondent Sharyl Attkissonâs story on how the FDA âis ordering new warning labelsâ on prescription antidepressants such as Paxil and Zoloft.
âFDA advisors heard angry and very personal stories from a room full of people,â noted Attkisson as she cued up two sound bites from Gonzalez, who accused the FDA of âruining my life, my daughterâs life, my sonâs life.â
Nearly 30 seconds into the story, Attkisson gave her audience the underlying facts, reporting that the FDA was extending so-called âblack boxâ warnings on depression drugs for patients up to age 25, based on ânew analysisâ that showed a doubling of suicidal behavior in young adults.
Attkisson did feature a woman who said âantidepressants gave me back my life and probably very wellâ saved it, but the correspondent failed to feature any doctors or psychiatrists on camera, choosing to summarize their arguments briefly at the close of her story.
âDoctors say thereâs a balance, that antidepressants are life-saving as long as the right patients get them and are carefully watched by psychiatric professionals,â Attkisson noted.
By contrast, NBCâs âNightly Newsâ and ABCâs âWorld News with Charles Gibsonâ gave less emotional accounts of the story.
While ABC reporter John McKenzie also aired a clip of Suzanne Gonzalez blaming the FDA for her husbandâs death, he also noted many medical experts argue antidepressants are âessentialâ to treatment for many patients. McKenzie aired testimony from two women who benefited from antidepressant medication and from one woman who worried that âany additional black box warning runs the risk of making the effective treatments less available for many depressed patients.â
On the December 13 âNightly News,â NBC anchor Brian Williams opted to consult NBCâs top doc rather than air a full story.
Rather than hyping a negative storyline from the development, Williams asked NBC chief medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman, âwho is this good news for and bad news for?â
Snyderman told Williams while most psychiatrists argue the âuse of antidepressants can keep people from committing suicide,â that she thinks the medical and political controversy over warning labels âis one of those debates thatâs going to keep going on and on and on.â