Flaw in the Ointment

Flaw in the Ointment

Flaw in the Ointment

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Dec. 18 2004 7:50 AM

Flaw in the Ointment

Everyone leads with news that Celebrex, Pfizer's blockbuster painkilling drug, triples the risk of heart attack, stroke, and death, according to a recent study. The FDA has advised people to stop taking it and may soon require a warning or block the drug's sale. Pfizer's stock plunged, while some in Congress demanded a shakeup at the FDA, complaining that the drug-assessment process is flawed.

The Washington Postpoints out the irony of the situation: After Merck pulled Vioxx (a drug in the same class) due to similar concerns three months ago, Pfizer encouraged people to switch to Celebrex, claiming it didn't have the same health risks. The New York Timespoints out that many drug dangers could be uncovered if the FDA would simply crunch the numbers from HMO patient databases. But so far, the FDA has lacked the funds to do so. The Los Angeles Timespredicts a "race to the courthouse" as lawyers prepare a class-action lawsuit. All three papers quote Pfizer reps as saying that multiple previous studies show that Celebrex is safe without specifying which studies those are. The only study mentioned was sponsored by Pfizer itself.

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The NYT fronts a separate piece of news analysis noting that the drug industry in general is in trouble. Companies are spending billions on R&D but producing few winning new drugs. Meanwhile, patents are expiring and governments may force companies to cut prices.

The WP and the LAT front, but the NYT skips news that President Bush finally signed into law the long-awaited intelligence-reform bill (though the NYT continuous news desk covers it). The president has yet to name the new national intelligence director, but CIA chief Porter Goss is out of the running. The bill's sponsors emphasized that the legislation is just a first step. Many 9/11 Commission recommendations remain unfulfilled, including doing more to prevent WMD proliferation, improving diplomacy in the Muslim world, and rethinking U.S.-Saudi relations.

The NYT and LAT front a story that the WP reported Thursday: Congolese women have accused U.N. peacekeepers of sexually assaulting them. According to the accounts, U.N. soldiers used milk and cookies to entice 12- and 13-year-old girls before raping them. The U.N. has uncovered more than 150 allegations of sexual abuse. Kofi Annan promises reform, but a report says the abuse is "significant, widespread and ongoing." Nearly all the U.N. contingents in Congo are implicated. The LAT mentions a French staffer who photographed underage girls and says that if the photos get out, it could become "the U.N.'s Abu Ghraib," but fails to attribute the quote to any source, named or unnamed.

The NYT fronts word that the ACLU collects information about its members and donors, including their wealth, stock holdings, and other philanthropic interests, as a way of targeting its fundraising. The revelation is ironic given the ACLU's frequent criticism of corporations that collect personal information for marketing purposes. "It's not illegal, but it is a violation of our values," said one board member. "It is hypocrisy." New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer is on the case, investigating whether the group violated its privacy promises.

The NYT fronts, the LAT teases, and the WP stuffs word that the E.U. will begin talks about the possibility of adding Turkey to the Union. Including Turkey will be tough. Its economy still has a long way to go and public opposition is strong, particularly in the European countries with the largest Muslim communities—namely Germany, the Netherlands, and France. As a result, the negotiations are expected to drag on for 10 years. But as Turkey booster Tony Blair put it, the decision proves that "those who believe there is some fundamental clash in civilizations between Christian and Muslim are actually wrong."

The NYT goes below the fold with word that California plans to build a second death row next to the existing one in San Quentin. A new building is needed not only because so many people get sentenced to death in California, but also because so few inmates are actually executed: The leading cause of death on death row is old age. The glacial pace of executions seems inefficient, but some believe that's a good thing. "It may function to give us exactly what we want," says one law professor. "A death penalty without executions."

Making a blacklist, checking it twice ... The Los Angeles Times reports that in North Carolina and elsewhere, conservative Christians are putting their money where their mouths are, launching campaigns to boycott stores that greet shoppers with "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." "It is apartheid in reverse—the majority is being bullied by the minority," says the pastor who organized the boycott. "If they want the gold, frankincense and myrrh, they should acknowledge the birth of the child." One store owner was glad to be given permission to say "Merry Christmas" again. "Christians are out of the closet," he said.