Hundreds of news stories cited a health care expert's attacks on Big Pharma without mentioning that he was being paid six-figure sums by lawyers suing drug companies.
In a 2019 interview with CBS's 60 Minutes, Brandeis University professor Andrew Kolodny denounced the pharmaceutical industry's tactics in getting FDA approval for certain opioids. "If it's not illegal, it should be illegal," he said of such behavior.
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The news program failed to disclose that Kolodny had a financial stake in advancing such an opinion. In a September conflict of interest disclosure, the professor acknowledged that he had "received compensation for work as an expert in malpractice litigation involving opioid prescribing." The total extent of Kolodny's compensation is not known, but in testimony on behalf of Oklahoma's lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, the professor testified that he was receiving between "$300,000 to $500,000" for that case alone.
Kolodny has been a popular media source according to Lexis Nexis, appearing in 704 English language news stories since January 2018. More than 200 of those stories described Kolodny as a "professor," while more than 400 cited his work as co-director of the "Opioid Policy Research Collaborative." Only 58 acknowledged that he served as an expert witness in lawsuits—only 12 divulged that the professor had been paid.
The disclosure of his lucrative consulting prompted some outlets that cited Kolodny, such as NBC News and Yahoo News, to issue corrections or clarifications that he was "a paid consultant" for those suing the pharmaceutical industry. But others, including the New York Times, CNN, Bloomberg, and NPR, did not. The Associated Press issued no corrections despite interviewing Kolodny three separate times, getting juicy quotes calling Big Pharma donations "blood money" and saying the industry was responsible for a "public health catastrophe."
A 60 Minutes spokesman defended the lack of a correction, noting that the program had identified Kolodny as "an expert witness" in the Big Pharma litigation. The spokesman did not respond to follow-up questions asking whether the average viewer would understand that meant Kolodny was paid nearly half a million dollars to serve as a witness. The New York Times, CNN, Bloomberg, NPR, and AP all failed to respond to requests for comment.