Biased Fact Checking from USA Today on Claims Against Pfizer

Last Updated on June 27, 2022 by Shaun Snapp

Executive Summary

  • USA Today fact-checked a claim about corruption at Pfizer.
  • We see how balanced and honest this fact check is.

Introduction

The following is an analysis of the USA Today fact check on claims of Pfizer bribing doctors and suppressing adverse trials.

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Quotes

A viral social media post suggests that Americans shouldn’t trust Pfizer – one of the primary producers of coronavirus vaccines – because of a 2009 lawsuit against the pharmaceutical company. The April 26 Instagram post claims, “Pfizer got sued for $2,300,000,000 in 2009 for ‘bribing doctors and suppressing adverse trial results.'” The caption reads, “And you still trust them ?? With your babies ???” The post appears to be referencing a $2.3 billion settlement by Pfizer in 2009, but it’s misleading about the scope of the allegations relating to the settlement. Pfizer settled allegations of bribery, illegal marketing of painkillers The post appears to reference a settlement involving Pfizer in which the company pleaded guilty to a federal criminal charge relating to the marketing of four drugs. The company agreed to pay $2.3 billion as part of the settlement. The Pharmacia & Upjohn Company – a subsidiary of Pfizer – agreed to plead guilty to a felony violation of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act for misbranding the painkiller Bextra “with the intent to defraud or mislead,” according to the Department of Justice. Under the act, a company must specify the uses of its product in the FDA’s new drug application and not market a product in other ways after that point. The Department of Justice wrote in a press release that Pfizer “promoted the sale of Bextra for several uses and dosages that the FDA specifically declined to approve due to safety concerns.” The company paid a criminal fine of $1.195 billion. Pfizer also forfeited an additional The Justice Department also said in 2009 that Pfizer paid $1 billion to resolve allegations of civil wrongdoing under the False Claims Act that the company illegally promoted Bextra and three other drugs: the antipsychotic Geodon, the antibiotic Zyvox and the anti-epileptic drug Lyrica. The company also resolved allegations that it paid kickbacks – an illegal payment in exchange for preferential treatment or compensation – to health care providers to encourage them to prescribe the drugs. Pfizer denied the civil allegations, except acknowledging improper promotion of Zyvox, Reuters reported in 2009. The company’s general counsel said then that it regretted “certain actions in the past,” but was proud of the action it had taken to strengthen its internal controls, Reuters also reported. Pfizer did not admit wrongdoing as part of the settlement.
These are terrible activities. They are entirely disgusting violations of trust with patients, who Pfizer obviously could not care less about. However, notice that USA Today describes them as if they are really no big deal. At the end of the quote, the spokesman’s comment is boilerplate, and it is what companies caught breaking the law usually do. It is doubtful Pfizer means anything that their spokesman said. And it is also likely that Pfizer is still doing these activities. As for Pfizer not admitting wrongdoing — agreeing to the fine was admitting wrong doing. If Pfizer had been innocent, they would have taken the case to court, but the information would have come out even more. Not admitting wrongdoing is a face-saving gesture offered by the government. But everyone knows what it means. Except for USA Today, everyone is gaslighting the reader by making it appear as not admitting wrong doing means something. The quote continues…
But none of these allegations is related to suppressing evidence of adverse events, as the claim asserted, a key topic as some Americans continue to question the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.
Yes, but it goes to a pattern of unethical behavior. Pfizer operates as a criminal organization that is constantly lying and engaging in corrupt practices, and USA Today is saying basically it is ok. It brings up interesting questions about how USA Today comports itself and its journalistic standards. I will address further that this unethical behavior may seem acceptable to USA Today as they are unethical and not declaring their financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry. The comment about Pfizer goes to their credibility, and for anyone who analyzes the topic in detail, they do not have any. So yes, it makes little sense to listen to Pfizer. If a person were diagnosed as a lying sociopath and had a history of behaving like a sociopath, would you listen to that person on health matters? Well, in this case, that lying sociopath is Pfizer. That is the point of the commenter, and it is quite valid. USA Today is saying the opposite, that a history of entirely unethical and dishonest behavior is not essential in determining Pfizer’s credibility, and that Pfizer should be allowed to lie and cheat and never be held accountable. And that you should trust your health to Pfizer. The quote continues…
Separate lawsuit alleged suppression of adverse effects, study manipulation.”’ The adverse-events allegations surfaced in an earlier lawsuit.
Pfizer constantly does this. And they did it in their studies that they submitted to the FDA to receive the EUA for their covid vaccine. Pfizer occasionally gets charged for doing this. However, they do it as an ordinary course of their clinical trials. The quote continues…
In 2004, Pfizer agreed to pay $430 million in a DOJ settlement and pleaded guilty to two violations of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act for marketing the drug Neurontin, also known as gabapentin, for unapproved uses. According to a statement from the DOJ, the Warner-Lambert company – which Pfizer acquired in 2000 – promoted Neurontin “even when scientific studies had shown it was not effective.” Two examples include the promotion of Neurontin as the sole drug for epileptic seizures – even after the FDA’s rejection of solo use – as well as marketing the drug as effective for treating bipolar disease.
Amazingly, the FDA disapproved of the use. A drug has to be so bad for the FDA to not support it, due to their financial ties to pharmaceutical companies that this means Neurontin certainly damaged the health of those that took it, and Pfizer knew this and did not care. The quote continues…
According to reporting from The New York Times, in 2008, experts who reviewed company documents for the plaintiffs against Pfizer concluded the company manipulated studies to support the use of Neurontin. One of the experts, Dr. Kay Dickersin of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said the documents spelled out “a publication strategy meant to convince physicians of Neurontin’s effectiveness and misrepresent or suppress negative findings.”
Interesting. Pfizer went ahead and marketed Neurontin anyway.
  • USA Today apparently does not have a problem with this. As for those that had their health degraded by a drug that was so ineffective and dangerous that not even the financially biased and bottom-dwelling FDA would approve it, USA Today could not care less. It certainly does not trump USA Today’s pharma advertizing revenues.
  • USA Today does not think it goes to the character of Pfizer to market drugs that degrade the health of patients, that violate the doctor patient trust.
Furthermore, the details of the Neurontin case are worse than the abbreviated version of events provided by USA Today. At the link provided in the USA Today article, I found the following quotes from the New York Times.
Pfizer’s tactics included delaying the publication of studies that had found no evidence the drug worked for some other disorders, “spinning” negative data to place it in a more positive light, and bundling negative findings with positive studies to neutralize the results, according to written reports by the experts, who analyzed the documents at the request of the plaintiffs’ lawyers. The expert reports, unsealed Monday in a federal court in Boston, add to accusations that the pharmaceutical industry has controlled the flow of clinical research data, blurring the lines between science and marketing. In April, for example, a group of academic doctors questioned the validity of drug industry research after finding that Merck had hired ghostwriters to produce scientific articles about Vioxx, then recruited prestigious doctors to serve as their official authors. Vioxx, a painkiller, was withdrawn from the market in 2004 after research indicated it could cause strokes and heart attacks. Last winter, Merck and Schering-Plough were criticized for delaying the release of a study on their best-selling cholesterol medication Vytorin that showed the drug did not slow the growth of plaque in arteries. In one example, the experts concluded that Pfizer had deliberately delayed release of a study that showed the drug had little effect against pain that is a complication of long-term diabetes, even as the outside researcher who was a lead investigator for the study, Dr. John Reckless of Bath, England, pushed to publish the unflattering findings on his own. Dr. Reckless’s office said Tuesday that he could not be reached for comment. In the e-mail exchange a senior marketing manager for Pfizer and a professional medical writer discussed how to cast the results in a more favorable light for a poster presentation at a medical conference, the experts concluded. “If Pfizer wants to use, present and publish this comparative data analysis in which two of the five studies compared make the overall picture look bad, how do we make it sound better than it looks on the graphs?” the medical writer asked. Thomas Greene, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the documents in the case revealed that even after the Neurontin settlement. “Pfizer continued with the medical marketing firms and planted marketing messages in journal articles that Neurontin was effective while they knew that their own clinical trials had failed to demonstrate it was effective,” Mr. Greene said.
What part of those quotes make Pfizer sound like this is a trustworthy company? How is that not supposed to negatively impact Pfizer’s credibility? It appears that USA Today censored this information to make it as antisceptic as possible. Furthermore, this behavior was replicated with Pfizer’s covid vaccines, which have degraded the health of those that took the vaccine while providing no protection. The USA Today quote continues…
In a statement, Pfizer said it “cooperated fully with the government to resolve this matter,” adding that the manipulation did not involve Pfizer practices or employees and took place before Pfizer acquired Warner-Lambert.
Did they? Probably not. Pfizer’s attorneys tried to hide as much as they could. Their attorneys have a fiduciary duty not to cooperate and cooperation would likely mean giving up more incriminating information to the government and paying out a more significant fine. It is curious how companies seem to say multiple contradictory things. When they talk to the public, they are “cooperating fully.” When they discuss the case internally, they discuss stonewalling the government.  Did they cooperate fully with the FDA when they went ahead and marketed an unapproved drug? I thought that Pfizer was all about “the science.” That is their line when people question the efficacy and safety of their vaccine. So yes, marketing a drug that you did not get authorization to sell for that purpose — tells us a lot about Pfizer. The quote continues…
In 2014, Pfizer agreed to pay an additional $325 million to resolve claims in the decadelong civil lawsuit. According to the CDC, mRNA vaccines – which include Pfizer’s – have been “held to the same rigorous safety and effectiveness standards as all other types of vaccines in the United States.” Evidence from clinical trials shows the Pfizer vaccine is 95% effective in the prevention of COVID-19. In an April press release, Pfizer confirmed “high efficacy and no serious safety concerns” following an updated landmark COVID-19 vaccine study. Pfizer is now seeking full, regular authorization for its vaccine. On May 12, the CDC signed off on a recommendation for adolescents aged 12 to 15 years old to get the vaccine.
Every part of the quote above is false — the vaccines are neither safe nor effective. The actual or absolute risk level is not 95% but around 1% on rigged data, and the vaccines have very bad side effects. No one improves their health by taking the covid vaccine. That last part of the quote is true, but adolescents should not be taking any of the vaccines, and the argument for taking them is even weaker than for adults as covid barely affects adolescents. The fact-checker working for USA Today either had never researched any of these topics and would not be allowed to print anything to the contrary. It is most likely USA Today has pharmaceutical conflicts that they do not disclose to the reader. Advertising dollars would be one apparent conflict. The quote continues…
Our rating: Partly false We rate that claim that Pfizer was sued for $2.3 billion for “bribing doctors and suppressing adverse trial results” PARTLY FALSE, since this claim jumbles and misstates elements of two different cases.
Why would the rating be “Partly False?” Wouldn’t it also then be “Partly True.” USA Today is engaging in sophistry by trying to split hairs. The fact is Pfizer has been found repeatedly engaging in criminal activity. For USA Today to claim that this pattern of behavior should have no impact on Pfizer’s credibility would mean that USA Today fact-checkers would have to have brain damage. The quote continues…
Pfizer has settled various lawsuits that involve allegations of kickbacks, fraudulent marketing and data manipulation. The $2.3 billion was the total amount of a settlement involving Pfizer, but not in a case related to suppressing adverse events. That allegation came in an earlier case that began before Pfizer acquired the company involved.
Is there any category of cheating and lying that Pfizer has not engaged in to maximize profits? One might say, as Pfizer has such a history of lying, why are they allowed to run clinical trials? The FDA cannot trust anything Pfizer publishes, so why not simply have the FDA run the clinical trials? As for the observation that Pfizer is not responsible for suppressing adverse events as they acquired the company that did it — Pfizer suppressed adverse events in the covid studies they submitted to the FDA. That is why there are so many adverse events now that the vaccines have been rolled out. The quote continues…
Pfizer did not admit wrongdoing in its settlements. Additionally, the caption of the post implies that because of the prior lawsuits, Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccines may not be safe, which is false.
Again, no companies that payout judgments to the US government admit wrongdoing. So is USA Today saying that none of those companies did anything wrong or broke any law on all fines paid by companies to the government? Again, this is deceptive and quite ridiculous hair-splitting by USA Today designed not to alienate a potential advertiser. Where is USA Today’s declaration of conflicts of interest? How much money does USA Today receive from Pfizer every year in ads? Pfizer’s covid vaccine is not safe, as I cover in the article How Safe Are The Covid Vaccines. So actually, the person who published the comment about how Pfizer is unethical and untrustworthy ended up being correct.

Conclusion

USA Today provided a highly deceptive explanation for why a claim that Pfizer has been repeatedly caught cheating and lying by the US government should not impact their credibility. The fact-check article provides negative value and is peculiar for its lack of disclosure regarding USA Today’s pharmaceutical funding. You see USA Today has about as much interest in public health as Pfizer does — which is none. USA Today knows it is profit-maximizing to toe the line for pharmaceutical companies and defend them, even though to do so is to attempt to defend the indefensible. These establishment media fact-checking articles are all very similar. They restate statements from the corrupt official sources as if they are fact. So if say Pfizer does not admit wrongdoing, then it paid out a billion dollar fine, but did not do anything wrong, and apparently paid out the fine because they just felt like it. If one questions the covid vaccine, the fact-checking article merely points back to the same false math that was presented to the FDA as evidence that the vaccines are effective. Secondly, Google ranks these fact-checking articles very high — so one must first see the fact-checking articles from establishment media sources before getting to information from smaller independent outlets that are less corrupt. USA Today not only failed to fact-check anything but also left out important information that exposes to an even higher degree what a corrupt and unethical, and untrustworthy company Pfizer is. USA Today further demonstrated its own corruption and willingness to lie to protect its advertisers.

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