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CNN SUNDAY MORNING

Exploring Celebrity-Drug Maker Connection

Aired August 18, 2002 - 07:53   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: A couple of weeks ago, loyal viewers will know that we had Danny Glover on this program. He was talking about anemia. Turns out Danny Glover's on the dole for a company that makes an anemia drug, just one of many celebrities who, as it turns out, go on television talk shows, actually paid for by the prescription drugs companies. In fact, last weekend, Kathleen Turner talked about her battle with rheumatoid arthritis on CNN as well.
It turns out there's much more to all of this story. CNN's Garrick Utley explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARRICK UTLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It appeared to be just another morning television celebrity interview, this one on CNN. Comedian Joy Behar talking about her career.

JOY BEHAR, COMEDIAN: I'm here to discuss heart disease.

UTLEY: In fact, viewers were watching a hidden commercial. Behar was paid by Bristol Myers-Squibb to promote the drug, Pravachol, which her doctor prescribed to fight her high cholesterol.

BEHAR: So he put me on Pravachol, which is a statin. And my numbers went down like 100 points in two months.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're doing better?

BEHAR: Much better. I mean, that's the way to do it.

UTLEY (on camera): What's happening here offers something for everyone, or almost everyone. The drug maker gets its product mentioned in a personal, compelling way. The celebrity gets paid for doing it. The television program gets a famous guest, who it hopes will help to drive up its ratings.

But what about the viewer?

(voice-over): On NBC's "Today" program, listeners were not told that Lauren Bacall was being paid to promote a drug for an eye disease that a friend had suffered from. In a statement to "The New York Times," NBC said, "In hindsight, and with more information about celebrities and their connection to drug companies, we may have handled that differently."

On ABC's "Good Morning America," actress Kathleen Turner told of her struggle with rheumatoid arthritis. There was no mention that she was being paid to publicize a Web site operated by two companies that produce a drug against the disease. An ABC spokesman said to Salon.com, "It's troubling that certain our of guests have not disclosed their paid relationships with these companies."

Where is this headed?

SCOTT DONATION, EDITOR, ADVERTISING AGE: There's an opportunity here for tremendous backlash, because what you're really doing, in some cases, is either deceiving the consumer or just forgetting the consumer's needs.

UTLEY: Drug manufacturers say they are helping the consumer by providing useful information. By using celebrities who create awareness about a drug, who do not actually try to sell it, of possible side effects...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Side effects may improve decreased appetite, dry mouth, sweating, nausea, constipation, sexual side effects, tremor, fatigue, or sleepiness.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UTLEY: Which the FDA requires in regular commercials do not need to be mentioned. Even some who put the famous together with the drug companies for the hidden promotions don't like the deception.

BARRY GREENBERG, CEO, CELEBRITY CONNECTION: The lines are totally gone. The media's credibility in communicating the message of these people and how they -- how deeply they investigate the celebrities and their ties to pharmaceutical companies is on the line here.

UTLEY: As when actor Rob Lowe appeared on CNN.

ROB LOWE, ACTOR: Now I'm helping to launch "By My Side," which is a multi-media campaign to educate chemotherapy patients about the dangers of infections, because my dad got an infection when his -- when he was taking chemo...

UTLEY: The drug company, Amgen, confirms that it pays Lowe for his promotional work, a fact not mentioned during the interview. In a statement issued Monday, CNN announced that "celebrities who are to be interviewed about medical issues will be asked whether they are being paid by or have a financial relationship in a related drug or medical company. If so, CNN will disclose that relationship during the interview."

There is no evidence that every famously afflicted person takes money from drug or medical companies. No evidence that Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson's disease does, or that Christopher Reeve does. Still, it's going to be hard to stem the marketing tide.

DONATION: Let's face it. The advertising community is not known for restraint. And we're going to see a lot of hamhanded efforts here.

UTLEY: Efforts to sell the product by not saying that they are selling it.

Garrick Utley, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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