Money Talks

Friday, November 28, 2008


Pharmaceutical companies spend millions on marketing. Some of those dollars end up in the hands of doctors, researchers and in one case, a public radio host from "The Infinite Mind." An article in Slate back in May led to an investigation by Sen. Charles Grassley, whose findings ended up in a New York Times piece last week. We spoke with NPR's David Folkenflik and Sen. Grassley about the controversy.

Correction: Brooke and Bob make a correction to this story.

Comments [24]

Polona Brooks from Dallas, TX

Dr. Goodwin up or down I am still looking for another source that would give me at least some information I was getting from the Infinite Mind. We all have to cross check the info we are getting anyhow.

Mar. 19 2009 10:34 PM
Laurie Peter from nyc

Did I miss your comment on the most recent "Lie To Me" episode, (maybe Feb.19th 2009) in which they showed real footage of Obama talking about McCain and the lead characture said it showed Obama giving McCain the finget? Might this undermine our presidents ability to get McCain to help him do what we need done for this country?

Feb. 22 2009 10:37 PM
Emily Fisher from New York

I was briefly interviewed for this story by a reporter. I was a staff producer for TIM from 2001-2003. Notwithstanding steps taken at TIM to avoid conflicts of interest, whether or not the pharmaceutical money that partially underwrote the show (disclosed in credits) together with Dr. Goodwin's speaking engagements for pharmeceutical companies were or were not compatible with responsible journalism, the question of whether Dr. Goodwin lied to Bill Lichtenstein is also important, at the very least to the people involved. Your casual identification of Dr. Goodwin as parenthetically "the guilty party" and that Bill's assertions, because they have consistently denied any knowledge of Goodwin's outside work for pharmaceuticals, need no corroboration are interesting. Dr. Goodwin's assertion has consistently been that he DID tell Bill about the existence of these speaking and consulting fees. If you review the details I gave your reporter, which can probably be further corroborated, I think you will agree that there is evidence that Dr. Goodwin is telling the truth.

Dec. 07 2008 01:50 AM
Dr. J from NYC

Dear Ms. Gladstone,
As a scientist I would like to know specifically what the "damage wrought by widespread conflict of interest in health reporting" refers to. Please compare your statistics to the thousands-no, millions- of lives helped/saved by medications made by the pharmaceutical industry and prescribed by psychiatrists throughout the world, and in particular by the doctor, former head of the NIMH, author of the definitive textbook on Bipolar Disorder with Kay Jamison, you have chosen to slander.

Dec. 04 2008 02:20 AM
Nader Omar --- MCM 101

While I understand the "business is business" agenda I really do think that this isn't right. Sure I mean bribery may just be seen as an eyebrow raise if its geared toward smaller media such as movies or music, but something that goes toward as something serious as life and death? Personally I think this is completely unacceptable. Then again these things are much too common in the medical field (how about those free golf tickets from Tylenol?).

I completely disprove of this, but as sad as this is this doesn't step too far out of the norm.

Dec. 04 2008 02:13 AM
Jonathan Leo from TN

If anyone wants to read about the original show's problematic statements go to:

The problem is hardly just one of undeclared conflicts. If the guests had declared their conflicts there would still have been a large problem.

Dec. 03 2008 07:17 PM
Brooke Gladstone from New York, NY

Here are Bill Lichtenstein’s own words on “the Infinite Mind” imbroglio:
“... when these sorts of transgressions occur in newsrooms, everyone wonders how it was possible that no one knew. The best that can be done in response is not to point fingers, but to look critically at what went wrong, how it happened, and to find ways of preventing it in the future.”

Exactly. OTM did not intend to provide a forum for more finger-pointing among former staffers of ‘The Infinite Mind.’ The case merely offered us a peg for a discussion of the real issue: The damage wrought by widespread conflict of interest in health reporting.

As for “The Infinite Mind’ - we intentionally limited ourselves to briefly summarizing the public statements of Lichtenstein and Goodwin. We called Goodwin (the guilty party) only to verify his quotes. Lichtenstein’s statement - that he had no knowledge of Goodwin’s ties to pharma money – needed no verification. That’s been his assertion all along and it hasn’t changed.

After that, we briskly corrected a couple of inaccuracies in the New York Times piece on the topic and moved on to interviews on the broader issue. The working assumption in those interviews was that most of the pharma money flowing to journalists and medical experts is NOT disclosed. "The Infinite Mind" was cited as example, which pretty much tracks with Lichtenstein's view of events. This segment did not challenge him. It was not about him.

We SHOULD have disclosed that WNYC Radio, which produces OTM, allowed The Infinite Mind, as a courtesy, to record in its studios for a while. That arrangement was some years back. There was never an editorial partnership.

Dec. 03 2008 05:31 PM
Keith Benoit from Upstate NY

I won't comment on the disclosure protocols, etc. Instead, here's one listener's impression (mine) of the show before this "scandal" broke.

Perhaps it was the slightly cheesy, sorta amateurish title of the show (Goodwin's elongated enunciation of the word "Infinite" at the start of each show was sweetly corny), or perhaps it was Goodwin's somewhat halting, occasionally forced "connection" with his guests and callers that left one with the impression that you weren't listening to a polished, elided production, but an honest, searching conversation about difficult, even mysterious issues involving the mind. Whenever I imagined Goodwin, and whenever I paid attention to that line about the show being produced "in association with WNYC," I pictured someone like Martin Bergmann, the NYC psychoanalyst who more or less played himself in Woody Allen's "Crimes and Misdemeanors," a pure academic who maybe came into the studio once in a while, spoke when the light came on, then left the place, trailing behind him dandruff and pages of psychoanalytic esoterica. Not once did I imagine him as a wheeler-dealer rostrum whore, someone who was parlaying a modest public radio gig, of all things, into a small, misbegotten fortune. In short, I bought the whole thing—the earnestness, the wonder, the sense of purpose. Whatever color the pill was, I downed it.

Dec. 03 2008 12:20 AM
neal jahren from minneapolis, mn

On The Media has run previous segments on the trend for people to listen only to messages that reinforce their previous beliefs, and the past election cycle shows us that partisans in any conflict can find a pretense for rejecting a message from "the other side." Moreover, the debate about vaccines and autism, or about medications for depression for that matter, shows us that there are plenty of partisans who will cling to and advocate for their respective positions regardless of receiving any outside influence simply because their ideas have become a driving force of their personal identities, so ensuring that "experts" are not on an influencer's payroll is not a guarantee that their opinion is unbiased. I feel that disclosing financial relationships is the sort of thing that media organizations need to do to help maintain an acceptable level of quality, but I am pessimistic about the idea that it will lead to better coverage or to a more informed public.

Dec. 01 2008 06:23 PM
neal jahren from minneapolis, mn

In general, more disclosure and transparency is always a good thing. But disclosing potential conflicts of interest is not a substitute for thinking critically about the speaker's message and credibility in light of the totality of information. If influencers are "pulling the strings" from behind the scenes, it results in media consumers being uninformed or misinformed. However, if media consumers seize on any potential conflict of interest to reject information that they do not want to hear, they will be no better off.

Dec. 01 2008 06:23 PM
David Hershon from New York City

You know, one point three million dollars buys an awful lot of conflict, when you are talking about "conflict of interest" in reporting on a subject.

Lichtenstein and his company are in the same boat as Harvard and Emory with Dr.'s Biederman and Nemeroff. They relied on these three doctors to disclose, and the doctors didn't. Not surprising when you hear the amount of money involved.

Dec. 01 2008 11:46 AM
J. D. Murphy from Los Angeles

If this is merely an appearance of conflict, then call it that. Being paid to speak is not "a conflict of interest". [NPR "personalities" are paid for making public appearances at many Washington events. Those appearances and corresponding fees are undisclosed. Cokie Roberts, Bob Edwards, and many others have for years received fees for public appearances. Editorial content of NPR programs is influenced by publicists and advanced men who in their desire to get the right spin on a story provide program producers with undisclosed perquisites as well as factual content.]

The producers of "On the Media" are irresponsible for neither fully reporting the story nor providing a discussion of Goodwin's position. Presenting highly edited sound bytes from an octogenarian senator only underscores the thinness of its content. Further, if "On the Media" actually found that Goodwin had engaged in unethical conduct, the story needed to scrutinze Lichtenstein Media for its naive defense of ignorance.

My high regard for Goodwin remains unfazed. Lichtenstein Media is shameful for not providing Goodwin support in the face of suspect journalism. The producers of "On the Media" are simpletons, who, if you listen carefully to their voices are probably beneficiaries of the very medication and treatments Goodwin has championed for the past decade.

Dec. 01 2008 12:26 AM
J. D. Murphy from Los Angeles

Ridiculous to think Lichtenstein's company did not know of Fred Goodwin's association with large pharmaceutical companies. The lectures were well publicized and likely endorsed by Lichtenstein Media as a means to publicize "The Infinite Mind".

Bill Lichenstein's feigned ignorance is unconvincing. Corporate sponsorship is both sought and used to fund these "public radio" programs. NPR also seeks and obtains major funding from private corporate sponsors.

There is no evidence that a.) Dr. Goodwin presented falsified information, b.) pharacuetical companies paid Dr. Goodwin to make unsubstaniated, unreliable statements in support of psychotropic medication, c.) any individual was paid to make unreliable statements on "The Infinite Mind", or d.) program content or editorial decisions were made as a direct result of funds paid to Goodwin for the services he rendered in speaking engagements.

Goodwin is entitled to produce programs based on his medical and professional expertise. That was the purpose of the program. The controversy concerning anti-depressant medication was not created by Goodwin and will likely last many more years, but the benefits to hundreds of thousands patients seen over the past twenty years is uncontroverted. Goodwin is entitled to speak to these issues whether or not pharmacuetical companies pay him to discuss the efficacy of these treatments.

Dec. 01 2008 12:26 AM

Surprise, surprise?! Hmmm . . .

Nov. 30 2008 10:02 PM
Ricardo from Astoria

Reasonable listeners should have assumed that any medical professional may be receiving funding from Big Pharma. The coziness between the two professions is quite well known and the opinions from members of both professions should always be held suspect until and unless proven otherwise.
To be fair, this kind of corporate back-scratching goes on in all manner of businesses; it's the American way of getting "some" for oneself. Until greed and selfishness are no longer human foibles, this story will be repeated regualarly. See Sunday's NYT front page story on the military-industrial-media complex.

Nov. 30 2008 06:41 PM

Why didn't "On The Media" interview Bill Lichtenstein for the story? Is there any good journalistic explanation? Perhaps "On the Media" needs to do a story on itself.

Nov. 30 2008 10:52 AM
F. Milton Olsen III from 3rd from the sun

Media is rife with this kind of corruption-- money coming from business and even the rogue federal government to influence or even command media.

Once this begins to happen, some media become such lapdogs that they leap to do their masters' bidding without money-- out of fear or even a Stockholm Syndrome kind of slave loyalty. NPR leaped to trumpet that the Mumbai terror attacks had "all the hallmarks of Al-Qaida" when in fact, the attacks had none of the "hallmarks" usually ascribed to Al-Qaida. After this was pointed out, NPR appears to have pulled that story from their website without comment.

Legal payola plays a big part in Public Radio's choice of books, music, commercial television shows, movies, etc. that they are constantly hawking over our airwaves, pretending to be "cultural coverage."

Nov. 30 2008 08:35 AM
Cycledoc from Everson, WA

It's not enough to disclose conflicts of interest. Disclosure indicates a problem but it doesn't validate or fully impeach the findings. Consider that the great majority of clinical studies are drug company sponsored and that most of the clinicians doing the study receive remuneration from the sponsor.

What then should a practicing clinician do? Discount or ignore the study? How can a busy professional fully factor in the ambiguity of conflicts of interest.

The system is corrupt and the suggestions offered in the program provide a reasonable approach, but more needs to be done--more controls on advertising, full disclosure of costs and benefits, perhaps a change in how we fund research.

More here on free markets in medicine--

Nov. 30 2008 07:59 AM
Ed Silverman

For the record, Pharmalot broke the news that Grassley was investigating Goodwin. You can read that - and Grassley's comments in the Congressional Record - right here...

Nov. 30 2008 12:22 AM
Bill Lichtenstein from Executive Producer, The Infinite Mind


1) Given the revelations from Senator Grassley and the New York Times, I don't think it would be unfair to say that Dr. Goodwin was shilling for the pharmaceutical industry by accepting fees to speak on behalf of a drug company while hosting The Infinite Mind.

2) With regard to disclosure, The Infinite Mind followed practices similar to NPR and other news organizations, guidelines that clearly need to be revisited in light of this situation. Consider that Dr. Goodwin discussed medication studies on various NPR programs from All Things Considered to Talk of the Nation, and was identified to listeners only as a professor, public radio host, and former government official, with no reference to his pharmaceutical industry ties.

Same for Dr. Charles Nemeroff, a psychiatrist also under investigation by Senator Grassley for not disclosing at least $1.2 million in pharmaceutical consulting fees. Nemeroff appeared on All Things Considered in 2008 and previously on Morning Edition, where he discussed the positive aspects of anti-depressants for kids. He was identified only as a "psychiatrist" and "research scientist," without mention of his pharmaceutical ties.

And the New York Times in 2006 interviewed Harvard psychiatrist Dr. Joseph Biederman, also under investigation by Senator Grassley for not disclosing $1.6 million in pharmaceutical consulting fees, regarding the positive aspects of psychiatric medications for kids, without disclosing Biederman's pharmaceutical ties.

Nov. 29 2008 10:08 PM
Tom Parker from Washington DC

Slate first reported on "The Infinite Mind" several months ago. In response, Bill Lichtenstein wrote: "In any case, to suggest that distinguished researchers such as Drs. Stotland and Leuchter are shills for the drug industry is bad journalism. Pharmaceutical companies fund the lion's share of research being conducted today. There are strict ethical codes and laws governing the use of such funds. Journalists covering this industry know that, and routinely disclose only those ties that are likely to raise serious questions about a researcher's neutrality."

Couple of questions, Mr. Lichtenstein. Is it patently ridiculous to suggest that Goodwin was a shilling when he was out stumping for Glaxo? Also, if journalists regularly disclose these ties, why didn't your show?

Nov. 29 2008 07:45 PM
Tom Parker from Washington DC

To both Bill Lichtenstein and NPR....All you had to do was google Fred Goodwin or look up some of his published studies and you would find that he has ties to Best Practice, a pharmaceutical consulting company.

Here's their website:

In fact, according to the company's website, Goodwin helped to found the company back in the nineties.

All this fingerpointing is just typical CYA.

Nov. 29 2008 07:25 PM
Bill Lichtenstein from Executive Producer, The Infinite Mind

In the wake of the November 22, 2008 New York Times article, which revealed Dr. Fred Goodwin, former host of public radio's "The Infinite Mind," had received $1.3 million for lecturing on behalf of a pharmaceutical company, NPR has continued to try and distance itself from the problem and has used its airwaves and web site to unfairly blame the program's producers for the situation. The latest is a segment of NPR's "On The Media," airing November 28, 2008, which purports to report on "The Infinite Mind" controversy. However, the "On The Media" broadcast itself failed to live up to four basic journalistic standards, troubling for a national public radio program that prides itself on covering the press.

First, despite the intense controversy surrounding this important matter, neither I, as executive producer, nor any of the senior producers of "The Infinite Mind" were contacted by "On The Media," invited to be on the segment, or asked to respond to the criticism leveled at us by in the show.

(Due to space limitations, see response in its entirety at )

Nov. 29 2008 10:42 AM
Beth Schachter from Manhattan, NY


Why did you stress the point that the audience for the Infinite Mind is small, now that it's broadcast only on XM radio? As we know, that radio program used to come to many of us a regular NPR broadcast where, I suspect, the listening audience was much larger. It seemed like you were trying to protect NPR by denying its past association with Fred Goodwin. Actively ignoring the Infinite Mind's former prominence on NPR only made you seem like you were in silly denial.

Best regards,

Nov. 29 2008 08:16 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.