Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Journalists and All the Stories Not Told

Many reporters work hard and are highly skilled. Statements from a number of them leave a picture of journalists working until they can open some doors and shine light on important stuff. However, they often don't talk about the doors that remain closed. These are doors are locked by people in power using controls such as bans on staff speaking to reporters without the oversight by authorities, often PIOs.

Why aren't we talking about the doors that are still locked?

Below are some locked doors stories.

Scoop on a Hidden Database, But Never Permission To Talk to Staff People

Christina Jewett is winning awards for her extraordinary 2019 Kaiser Health News series that found the Food and Drug Administration had “let medical device companies file reports of injuries and malfunctions outside a widely scrutinized public database, which leave doctors and medical sleuths in the dark.”

The hidden alternative database had been in place nearly 20 years.
It took Jewett six months to do the story. During that time she worked with an agency PIO and she was never allowed to speak to a subject matter expert.

She got the story through Freedom of Information requests for documents and talking to outside experts, including a former FDA employee.

She said if she had been allowed to talk to insider experts the reporting would have been a much simpler or quicker process. But the agency makes experts available, she said, if it’s going to get flattering coverage.

Employees, Jewett said, are reminded not to speak to reporters without telling the journalists to go through the press office. And reporters sort of know, she said, that it’s frowned upon if a reporter tries to get in touch with an employee first.

NYT Reporter Said She Had Rarely Talked To EPA Career Employees for 10 years

Coral Davenport is a key reporter for the New York Times on the Environmental Protection Agency.

At a 2017 meeting at the National Press Club, she said, “In the past 10 years I have had almost zero access to career staff at EPA. Usually the way I find things out or get leaks is people who have recently left. People outside of EPA with close connections. They’ll talk to folks inside EPA.

“People in EPA have typically been absolutely petrified of speaking to the press. They will speak to someone one degree out or recently left.”

FDA and Off-Label Medications

For a 2018 story on off-label use of medications, a Washington Post reporter said FDA never allowed the journalists on the story to speak to anyone in the agency, despite repeated requests.

Ten Years to Nail Down FDA Failure

Katherine Eban’s 2019 book “Bottle of Lies,” a jaw-dropping look at failure in the FDA on generic drugs, is on several best books lists. When my editorial came out in Medpage talking about the “PIO Censorship,” Eban tweeted that muzzling of government scientists was the reason it took 10 years to write the book.

Unborn FDA Newsletters

Jim Dickinson has had a newsletter company, which includes FDA Webview, focusing on that agency for several decades. He says, “I couldn’t have started my company under the limits now in place -- I'd have had nothing to sell but what everyone else already had in a glutted marketplace: approved FDA info.”

New York Times Reporter on EPA, 2019, How Things Were

“So first I reach out to the scientist. I reach out to the press office. [The press office says] ‘uh, we'll get back to you.’ No one gets back to you. You know, a week later, [they contact you] not even connecting you with someone, but saying, ‘Do you still want to talk to this person?’ At which point, you know, we traffic in sort of daily fast stuff. Do I? I've got eight other stories now that I'm juggling. Yes, I do. You know, so they’re very much hoping, I think, that we will give up. And they cannot overtly deny a request to talk to a scientist, but they also don’t make it easy.”

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