Thursday, August 22, 2013

Newspaper Preaches But Doesn't Practice

By Luke T. Bush

The Press-Republican has published articles and editorials warning readers about telephone scams, especially those aimed at too-trusting senior citizens.

So why is your Hometown Newspaper running a dubious display ad?

There's a half-page spread on the bottom of page A9 in the Wednesday, August 22, 2013 edition touting "a real memory pill," i.e., a pill that will improve the failing memory of an aging mind. At first glance to someone not paying attention it looks like a news article complete with a headline.  But check at the top of the spread where it says in small print: "Paid Advertisement."

The ad goes on about the wonders and benefits of this great medical breakthrough (a real memory pill!).

To quote: "First, the formula was submitted to the rigors of a placebo-controlled, randomized, double-blind clinical trial, using the same FDA-sanctioned brain testing protocols used to qualify prescription-sold cognitive medicines."

Sounds impressive.  But note the ad invokes the name of the FDA but only by saying the clinical trial used the same FDA protocols.  It wasn't actually tested by the FDA.

Then there's this statement about the clinical trial: "Then, the results were shared with the world in a well-respected, peer reviewed medical journal."

Ahem.  The name of that journal...?  Reporters and writers cite their sources.

Also, reporters try to use full names – easier for someone else to verify sources.  But in the ad testimonials are given by people with incomplete appellations: "Cary S." and  "Elizabeth K."  It reminds me of other dubious ads I have seen in the past.   A careful reader will note that after each quote by an exuberant customer is an asterisk, indicating a footnote linked to that statement.

Make sure to read the fine print.

It's important to read that footnote contained in a box in the lower right hand section of the ad.  Some readers might have to squint to discern the fine print which states:

"*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.  This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Everyone is different and you may not experience the same results. Results can depend on a variety of factors including overall health, diet, and other lifestyle factors."

If the product is not intended to "treat, cure or prevent any disease" then how can it be a "real memory pill?"

Such wording implies there's no guarantee of the product's effectiveness, ergo little chance someone could successfully take legal action against the company.  Or even get a refund.

If a reporter used the same kind of weasel words in a story he would be fired.  There are standards in journalism.  And newspaper ads should also reflect standards.  Readers trust a newspaper to be as accurate and as fair as possible, not to engage in or condone rhetorical tricks just for money.

( Email: luketbush[at]gmail[dot]com )

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