Editorial: A free press works to inform everyone

Have you ever wondered if a doctor was prescribing you an expensive drug rather than a cheaper alternative because of payoffs he or she has gotten from the drug companies?

It’s well known that the companies spend a fortune promoting their drugs, even to the point of paying doctors in free trips, free products and handsome fees for giving a talk about their drugs, oh, say, in Hawaii.

Thanks to the public interest journalism organization propublica.org and its investigative series Dollars for Doctors, you can track exactly how much your doctor has taken from drug companies and from which companies.

Propublica is in the process of posting its latest numbers, but you can find them at a website called OpenPaymentsData. The good news for Gilroyans is that the 70 doctors listed here are on the low end of what they take from pharmaceutical companies in the way of promotional benefits. One doctor took $6,000. He hasn’t returned a call for comment. Another took $1,200, that he said was lunches and drug samples from the drug sales representatives who make it a point to visit doctors often to pitch their products.

Head up to Stanford and you’ll find a doctor who took $44 million in payments for speaking fees from drug companies. Yes, that’s million. Is it possible to believe that doctor would prescribe a generic? It’s hard to say, but it’s certainly information every patient can benefit from having. It gives them questions they should ask their physician they wouldn’t have otherwise.

Gilroy doctor Joseph Barbara said he thought the days of big payouts to doctors were over in recent years, but argued a bit for paying doctors to teach and speak to other doctors, saying they had more information and credibility with their peers. He’d rather have his questions about a drug answered by a doctor, he said.

For us, this public information is a blessing, and the fact that we can get it right at a journalism site is one of the things that make the field still relevant and important, even when it seems that the internet and its unsupported statements have trumped the day.

If you are reading this, you are also still a believer in information that is vetted and subject to quality control, practices that are largely ignored by so many in the fringe media.

You have also witnessed the attacks on the objective press, often by those with the most to hide. Fracking companies fight to keep secret the chemicals they inject into the water table; political candidates hide their emails and their tax returns; food producers try to hide their ingredients.
These are among the troubling things the a free and fair press fights to uncover and share. An unfettered press is the backbone of an educated electorate and committed to the protection of consumer rights. As the attacks on the press continue in this heated election season, we hope that those who support the fourth estate will speak out and remember Thomas Jefferson’s words when asked what he would rather have, a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government: “I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”