Fake News about Health Products

Harriet Hall


One of my biggest pet peeves is advertisements for bogus health-related products deceptively presented as news stories. These appear regularly in many newspapers, including my own local paper the Tacoma News Tribune, and they typically fill a half page. They usually include the words advertisement or paid advertisement in small print that is easy to miss. In every other way—format, typeface, appearance, reporter byline, pictures, organizational affiliations, and so on—these fake news stories are indistinguishable from real news stories.

It got to the point that I opened the daily paper dreading to see how many of these fake news stories it contained. Occasionally I found none, but most days there were one, two, or even three of them. I started keeping a list. I got angry enough to critique a few of them in articles on the Science-Based Medicine website. They were a constant aggravation. Then one day I realized the newspaper had raised the subscription rates and my credit card was being charged $82.34 every month. I had been paying nearly $3 a day for very little real news and way too much fake news. I’d had enough! I cancelled my subscription.

They didn’t want me to go. They offered to reduce the subscription rates. That just made me angrier. If they could reduce the rates, why hadn’t they already done that? They kept insisting. They really wanted me back. Finally, they asked how much I would be willing to pay. I told them I didn’t want it at any price (I should have asked if they would be willing to pay me). I no longer get the daily paper. I don’t miss it. My life is more tranquil now, and my blood pressure is lower. But it still annoys me that naive readers are being fooled by fake news.

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