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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press NYT Fluff Piece on Clinton and His Philanthropy

NYT Fluff Piece on Clinton and His Philanthropy

Wednesday, 05 September 2012 04:42

Newspapers are not supposed to do fluff pieces, that is the job of PR departments. Apparently the NYT does not know this, hence the fluff piece on former President Bill Clinton and the various charitable organizations that he has established since leaving the presidency. A serious news piece would have included some discussion of the TRIPS agreement that he inserted into the Uruguay Round of the WTO.

This agreement, which was inserted at the urging of Pfizer and other drug companies, required developing countries to adopt U.S. style patent and copyright protections. The resulting monopolies raise the price of prescription drugs and other protected products by several thousand percent above the free market price. It is a virtual certainty that this agreement will do far more to harm the health of people in Africa, by raising the price that the continent must pay for its drugs, than anything Bill Clinton's charities can do to aid Africans.

Comments (9)Add Comment
Willingness to Sell is Like Willingness to Pay When It Comes to Market Power
written by Last Mover, September 05, 2012 6:41
A standard propaganda line from Big Pharma is that America "subsidizes" its drugs provided to the rest of the world in places like Africa when recipients don't pay the same full price as paid in America.

When citing a bald faced lie to justify price gouging Americans for drugs with thousand percent mark-ups, it's important to understand as well how price discrimination is practiced by such powerful monopolists.

Big Pharma understands perfectly well that short run variable cost of producing and distributing drugs is very low, which is why it's willing to sell drugs anywhere in the world for less than priced in America.

It bargains for the highest price it can get from whomever, which then constitutes additional revenue gained otherwise lost, as higher than the marginal cost of providing it. (This also includes low income Americans in some cases, or customers with real bargaining power like the VA, in sharp contrast to the free pass for obscene full prices allowed under Medicare after stripping the government of any bargaining power.)

To claim that because it does not get the highest price charged to Americans from everyone else on earth, that Americans themselves must be charged more to "subsidize" the others, as if sales abroad were incurring "losses" at the margin, is a propaganda lie.

If all sales abroad were ceased immediately, prices in America would not decrease one dime lower to reflect lower "losses" incurred abroad.

There is of course one area in which Big Pharma does not discriminate at all. All politicians are treated equally under the heavy thumb of Big Pharma with no exceptions, Bill Clinton included.
written by kharris, September 05, 2012 9:16
"A serious news piece would have included some discussion of the TRIPS agreement that he inserted into the Uruguay Round of the WTO."

What Dean has done here is a blog-standard form of rhetorical stupid - "If you don't talk about the stuff I want you to talk about, then you're a poopy-head!"

The basic technique is for a critic to pick an article about some person or topic, and then insist that it cannot be serious or complete or right - that it is somehow biased - because it did not include the critic's pet issue. Dean doesn't like the use of intellectual property protection and immigration law to limit trade, and apparently sees a good bit the world as an opportunity to complain about those things.

Well that's dandy. It is his bi-line. But it's simply not true that any serious discussion of Clinton's philanthropic efforts now necessarily include mention of his trade policies when he was president. If, for example, one were to look at pass-through of contributions to Clinton charities to actual effort in the field, Clinton's trade policy record would be irrelevant. The seriousness of an article on that topic would be called into question if it included a complaint about Clinton's trade policies as President. There is no good reason to include Clinton's trade policy record in the article in question, but there is one bad reason - Dean's insistence on his pet issue.

So it's probably Dean's serious that we need to question in this case, rather than the NYT. And that's saying something.
kharris: huh?
written by David, September 05, 2012 10:18
First of all, it's "byline" not "bi-line" (which I suppose is a pair of lines, not necessarily parallel).

Second, it is kinda standard to look at the net effect of a leader's actions, not just the superficial rosy picture. Hitler restored the German economy, but nobody's going to claim that the net effect was good for the world. Clinton is not just "some person or topic", he was the freakin' PotUS, kharris. So he is definitely fair game for making rhetorical points. I think Clinton did a lot of great things, and does do some great things; but he also made some boners (literally) at the wrong times and caused unnecessary damage due to it. The Clinton Health Access Initiative has some great goals, but granting patent protection to Pharma in developing countries is counterproductive to that same goal. Now, small-minded people may not be able to like to look at the whole picture, but Clinton is not small minded. Maybe he just doesn't think about future consequences very well, which history shows a lot of evidence for. He's got a lot of work to do to make up for that TRIPS agreement, then.
written by kharris, September 05, 2012 12:36
Well, thank you ever so much for the correction. I'll treasure it.

You skipped the substance and went right to the excuses. My point, which you ignored, is that you stretch way beyond the context of the NYT piece to complain that it didn't include your pet issue. The article was not an assessment of Clinton's career, which is what you implied that it was in your criticism of the NYT and then pretended it was in order to rebut my comment. IF it were an assessment of his career then it would be "kinda standard to look at the net effect of a leader's actions". It was not a full treatment of his career, which is maybe why you felt the need to stoop to "superficial rosy" as the final flourish to that sentence. That same point, that this was not a full treatment of his career, is why your Godwin is a full Godwin, not just partial credit. Your Hitler argument is just another way of insisting that the NYT piece should be something it is not. The NYT is not meant to be a full treatment of Clinton's career.

Now, you do finally get around to revealing your real motive with this: "he was the freakin' PotUS, kharris. So he is definitely fair game for making rhetorical points."

Yeah, he was the freakin' POTUS. Your criticism of his record, however, was wrapped in insistence that the NYT turn an article about "some person or topic" into your pet issue. The NYT is NOT the freakin' POTUS. Your critisism of non-seriousness was leveled at the NYT. Clinton is fair game? That makes the NYT fair game? I think your logic has run off the track, perhaps in your reticence to admit you made a mess Anyow, congratulations. You've written about Clinton and apparently have thereby made yourself fair game for "rhetorical points", whatever those may be.

So, just to repeat the point you've tried to bury - you claimed that the NTY piece was not serious because it didn't flatter you by addressing your favorite issue. It's as if the sports page writes about a horse race without including a mention of animal cruelty and you claim that means it isn't serious sports writing.

Just to review, in case you are still trying to miss the point. An article about Clinton's charitable efforts is not a review of a presidential career. In order to make your complaint, you implicitly treated the article as if it were a review of his presidential career. When I pointed that out, you doubled down on pretending that an article about charitable foundations was a review of Clinton's entire career. You've invoked Hitler, declared "fair game" status on Clinton as if that excused what you said about an article about Clinton. Do you not see some logical and name-calling problems here?

You spend your days calling kettles black and won't even admit when you've behaved like a kettle. Find some objectivity.
written by AlanInAZ, September 05, 2012 12:38
"It is a virtual certainty that this agreement will do far more to harm the health of people in Africa, by raising the price that the continent must pay for its drugs, than anything Bill Clinton's charities can do to aid Africans."

It would have been helpful to quantify such a statement.
written by Last Mover, September 05, 2012 12:43
Philanthropy is rarely if ever divorced from trade or economic exchange at any level for that matter.

Monopolists are not stupid. They never give if it threatens their self interest. Market segmentation is their forte.

As long as recipients of the giving cannot resell the goods or services in question to those paying higher prices assessed by the monopolist, they will get it free or perhaps at lower prices, upon which the monopolists will proudly grab the moral high ground alongside politicians like Clinton and brag about how wonderful it is to help those who really need it.

What a sacrifice.
I'm proud to be a kettle
written by David, September 05, 2012 6:56
I'm Pa Kettle, by the way. I've been to Clinton's boyhood home, his museum, etc. Us Kettles understand what being dirt poor means.

No, kharris, I'm just saying that calling Clinton a politician is much much safer than calling him a philanthropist or a charitable giver. But the Clinton Foundation has offices just across the river from NYT, so I think Dean is right, they're giving him a pass. Of course the TRIPS was 12 years ago, but still the point is that getting the poor to honor patents is a tax upon those poor, for the life of the patents and all the patent renewals (you do know how they play that game, right?). And Clinton okayed that. What are we supposed to do, pretend like it never happened? A wrong is a wrong. i forgive Clinton for his wrongs, that's politics, but those who are not reminded of their history repeat it. So, here's the reminder. Clinton schtupped poor people, at least this once. Now, you, kharris, go do Peace Corps (or whatever similar outreach service beckons you) for 2 years in, say, Mali and watch people with solvable medical problems who actually die because they cannot afford the medicine because all of the philanthropists in the world can't donate enough to beat the policy manipulations of big pharma that TRIPS put in place, and THEN tell me Dean's rant is some rhetorical bullcrap and has nothing to do with real peoples' lives being compromised and shortened, with actual suffering caused for them and their families. At that point, I'll listen to you whining from your armchair with a little more respect.
Trade deal to curb generic-drug use
written by teto, September 06, 2012 9:25
Support to your thesis from scholarly places ...

Trade deal to curb generic-drug use

Tighter patent rules could raise drug costs in poor countries.

written by J, September 14, 2012 10:54
That last comment was a really fantastic little piece of writing.

Sadly, it was because you had to point out the obviousness of the validity of criticizing a puff piece akin to complimenting a mass murderer on how many rescue dogs they've taken in, or a retired notorious polluter on their new line of organic chicken.

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.