Monday, December 3, 2007

Is Montel Williams disturbed by Big Pharma?

Controversial behavior by Montel Williams, spokesman for PhRMA's Partnership for Prescription Assistance, may bring unwanted attention to Big Pharma's great PR machine. (h/t Cary Byrd at eDrugSearch Blog)

As reported, the 'Help is Here Express' blew through Savannah Georgia to promote the hope of 'free or nearly free' drugs to qualified individuals. This Orange Bus travels the country promising that it's program helps to save providing medications to uninsured patients.

Montel Williams has multiple sclerosis, as do I, and has been the visible image of PPArx since . Now I've got my own opinions as to the quality of assistance which Billy Tauzin and his Orange Bus purport to provide needy individuals. [see PhRMA and PPArx: How much are they really helping patients in need?]

Previously, I've given Williams the benefit of the doubt regarding the use of his image to promote a glossed-over PR concoction. I have no doubt wondered as to the level of compensation the Big Pharma lobby may be providing him, but I've let it go.

Last Friday, Courtney Scott, a high school intern at the Savannah Morning News, interviewed Williams for the paper. But apparently her 2nd question touched a raw nerve.

Excerpt from Savannah Morning News online:

Before the rally in Johnson Square, Williams stood for an interview with Scott.

With her second question she asked, "Do you think pharmaceutical companies would be discouraged from research and development if their profits were restricted?"

It was a question she came up with after discussing the issue with her Advanced Placement English teacher.

Williams bristled.

"I'm trying to figure out exactly why you are here and what the interview is about," he replied.

He asked if she suffered from any illness, to which she answered no.

"I'm here as a patient advocate talking about the fact that medications available today are saving people's lives, that's what saving mine and after that, this interview is done."

He snapped his fingers, said thanks and walked away.

"That's an absolutely fair question to someone who represents the pharmaceutical industry," said Savannah Morning News Executive Editor Susan Catron.

Ken Johnson, senior vice president for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said the question would have been better directed to himself because he represents the drug industry, and Williams is paid to raise awareness of the drug program.

Yup, that's it. A paid endorser is not in any way responsible for having an opinion on the item being endorsed. However, I believe that any paid spokesperson should be educated and well versed on the subject of that endorsement. Williams could have simply responded that the question presented be directed to the individuals representing Big Pharma itself, not to the star of the Orange Bus Circus.

Later that day, Scott was at the Westin Hotel preparing for an unrelated interview when Williams approached her and delivered a threat. MSNBC reports Montel threatens to 'blow up' teen reporter. Savannah Morning News says Montel 'blows up' at local reporters. My favorite is from eDrugSearch Blog Big Pharma Flack Montel Williams can't take the heat -- from a high school interrogator!

But I guess that all should be excused as Williams offers On-Air Apology to Teen Reporter (AP Press). Scott may take the offer, but she should be prepared to face numerous slick-talking representatives of PhRMA. And representatives are numerous indeed as Big Money is being spent by Big Pharma to represent and educate many of us, including our lawmakers in Congress.

As far as PhRMA's Partnership for Prescription Assistance goes, here's a brief rundown of my personal experience, excerpted from a previous post - Rx Outreach Rocks!

I have spoken before about PPArx and not much has changed.

When I called their number this summer, I was 'assisted' by a man who didn't really speak English at all. In fact, we had to resort to spelling everything in 'alpha, beta, charlie, echo' lingo. Now just think about most medications....that's extremely tedious at best.

Then I waited....and waited...and waited...and finally received their specially-prepared 'package' almost two months later. Ironically, the 'package' omitted applications for programs which I knew were available (I was instructed to contact the program directly for more information) and included applications to programs for which I knew I was not even remotely eligible.

What a waste of time, energy, and resources.

Perhaps PhRMA and Montel Williams need to lower their perceived risk of personal attack by actually doing a better job of providing the information and services which they are promoting.

And to the companies and lobbyists of Big Pharma, please use your resources for real R & D and stop spending so much money, time and energy on 'educating' and 'selling' us of your wonderful intentions, products, and services. We'd all be better off for it.

UPDATE: Prescription Access Litigation discussed Montel and PhRMA on their own blog, sharing my views. Expert below:

So why was Montel so angered by this question, a question which arguably invited a stock answer that PhRMA reps repeat dozens of times a day? It’s not as if the reporter asked “Why doesn’t the pharmaceutical industry make its Guiding Principles on Drug Advertising mandatory and enforceable?” And it’s not as if the reporter asked some obscure question on some obtuse point of, say, patent law or the issue of follow-on biologic drugs. It’s surprising that the industry’s main spokesperson for its patient assistance program was so poorly prepared to answer such an easy question.

But perhaps all this is beside the point. Does it ultimately matter if Montel Williams answers questions about the industry’s priorities and policies, or any questions beyond the mechanics of this patient assistance program?

The answer is, yes, it does. Montel Williams has become one of the most visible spokespeople for the industry. He lends his name and his credibility to the cause of burnishing the image of America’s pharmaceutical companies, and is paid (presumably handsomely) to do so. So it’s entirely fair that he be asked questions about the industry. Although perhaps Ken Johnson, PhRMA’s Senior Vice President of Communications, is the better person to ask this kind of question, Montel is fair game as well — by accepting the industry’s money, and acting as his spokesperson, he has to take what comes with that — including fair questions about the industry’s misplaced priorities.


  1. Exactly right on. Researching so called "affordable health insurance" I have run into misleading and vague information, difficulty getting information from knowledgeable representatives, and finding always that low cost means little benefit!

  2. If "A paid endorser is not in any way responsible for having an opinion on the item being endorsed" sign me up to endorse medical maryjane, pay-per-child welfare, mercury in fish........