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Networks Use Good Cancer News to Complain About Federal Funding Levels

     News that U.S. cancer deaths fell for the second year in a row led the ABC, CBS, and NBC’s evening newscasts. But reporters for all three networks used the chance to editorialize about how much government spends on research – even though it has doubled from eight years ago. What’s more, none of the networks mentioned the role private industry plays in fighting cancer with new drugs.


     NBC Science reporter Robert Bazell noted that “some scientists” criticize President Bush because “federal funding” for cancer research “has been leveling off in recent years.” On the CBS “Evening News,” the network’s own Dr. Jon LaPook told anchor Katie Couric that “a lot of people” who do research were “worried about cuts.”


     “This is not a time when we can go backwards. We have to be going full steam ahead,” the CBS chief medical correspondent insisted.


     ABC’s Dr. Timothy Johnson leveled the harshest criticism, telling anchor Charles Gibson that President Bush was “misleading” about his government medical research, which he lamented had actually been “cut” last year.


     Johnson’s liberal complaint about inadequate spending isn’t surprising. The Business & Media Institute (BMI)has previously documented Johnson’s advocacy of government-run health care and higher tobacco taxes.


     And while Johnson is correct that the National Cancer Institute’s budget was decreased less than 1 percent for the current fiscal year, The Heritage Foundation’s chief budget watcher Brian Riedl told BMI that focusing on that one statistic neglects the long view.


     The federal government has greatly doubled for cancer research specifically and medical research generally.


     “The entire NIH budget since 1998 has gone from $12.5 billion to $27.7 billion, it’s more than doubled,” Heritage’s senior federal budget policy analyst noted, adding that the National Cancer Institute went from “2.38 billion in 1998” to “$4.793 billion” in 2006, unadjusted for inflation.


     Riedl complained that the media frequently use the term “cut” as shorthand for “not increasing the budget as much as I wanted.”


     All three evening newscasts neglected to examine the role that private industry plays in fighting the war on cancer.


     According to its Web site, member companies of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) invested “$39.4 billion in 2005 in discovering and developing new medicines” while the industry as a whole “reached a record $51.3 billion in 2005.”

   

     “America’s pharmaceutical research companies are developing 646 new medicines that can treat or prevent many types of cancer in the future,” PhRMA president and cancer survivor Billy Tauzin noted in a January 17 press release. A PhRMA fact sheet that breaks down the medicines by cancer category showed some 79 in development for breast cancer and 96 for lung cancer.