ABC Wages Misleading War on Cancer Funding Cutbacks


     The word understandably provokes emotional response and ABC “World News with Charles Gibson” was banking on it when they misled viewers in a one-sided story during the February 15 broadcast.

     Anchor Charles Gibson introduced Lisa Stark’s report saying, “funding for the National Cancer Institute had been cut two years in a row, and now the Bush administration is seeking a third cut.”

     Stark’s report included one cancer patient and the father of a child who fought cancer as well as two doctors critical of the funding decreases.

     “Researchers say that cuts come at a critical time: when cancer deaths are dropping. A trend they want to see continue,” said Stark, echoing reports from January 17 evening newscasts that used the positive news to complain about funding levels.    

     “I think it will cost lives,” said Dr. Gregory Reaman of Children’s National Medical Care.

     But the “World News” broadcast was deceptive when it came to the numbers. Instead of comparing apples with apples by stating how much the National Cancer Institute’s budget had fallen, Stark was talking about something else altogether – but you had to be listening closely.

     “[T]he group that enrolls nearly half of all cancer patients in clinical trials has seen its federal funding slashed from $162 million in 2002 to just $130 million in 2007,” Stark said. On the screen “World News” provided the source for the data: Cancer Cooperative Groups.

     So it turns out Stark wasn’t talking about the National Cancer Institute’s funding, but a subgroup that receives funding from NCI. According to its Web site, Cancer Cooperative Groups is a nonprofit organization “chartered to increase participation in high-quality cancer clinical trials” whose research is sponsored by NCI.

     “World News” also chose not to include any budget or health policy experts who could have provided some explanation for what Gibson said “many doctors are calling a retreat from the war on cancer.”

     “It does not seem that a meat-axe is swinging at NCI’s budget, but rather a small scalpel,” Peter Sepp of the National Taxpayers Union told Business & Media Institute. According to Sepp, NCI’s funding decrease will be two-tenths of one percent.

      Private sources of funding research into cancer treatments and the burden of regulation were also excluded from Stark’s report. “The majority of development of new cancer drugs is done not by the federal government but by drug and biotech companies,” former FDA associate commissioner Henry Miller told BMI.

     “Ever-increasing, risk-averse FDA regulation [has] pushed the cost of drug development to unprecedented levels and shrunk both the number of applications to FDA for marketing approval of drugs and the number actually approved,” Miller explained.