Is it “a breach of trust” for a publication to publish an opinion piece that was written with the participation of public relations professionals? That was the conclusion of a recent article in Health News Review, a publication that bills itself as “Your Health News Watchdog.”(“Another ‘breach of trust’ at STAT: patient who praised TV drug ads says pharma PR company asked her to write op-ed”).
The article traces the origins of an op-ed that appeared in STAT, the respected medical blog published by the Boston Globe, headlined “You can complain about TV drug ads. They may have saved my life.” Health News Review managing editor Kevin Lomangino found that a public relations firm working for Gilead, a pharmaceutical company that makes the hepatitis C drug Harvoni, had reached out to a patient named Deborah Clark Duschane and asked her to write about her experience with drug ads.
Lomangino quotes Charles Seife, a professor of journalism at New York University, who called the situation a “breach of trust.”
“The whole point of ghostwriting is to hide the hand of an actor — to make an industry position seem like it’s coming from an unaffiliated individual,” Seife said. “That’s deception. It’s meant to disarm the natural skepticism that we have when an industry makes self-serving statements. And when someone tries to disarm our skepticism, well, it ain’t good.”
As a professional ghostwriter, who has been hired by public relations professionals to work with authors on op-eds that have run in respected publications, I disagree.