Published November 5, 2016
One of my favorite movie scenes is from “Die Hard 2” when Bruce Willis, in the character of Lt. John...
— William Wilberforce
Business magazine Forbes regularly features a column by freelancer Tara Haelle. The column goes by the slogan, “I offer straight talk on science, medicine, health and vaccines.” The phrase “straight talk” gives the impression that the brand of writing is independent, balanced, and well-informed—which would suggest a minimal level of editorial bias.
During the past eight and a half months, Haelle has written nearly 60 articles in Forbes. Thirty-seven of them have had to do with vaccines, including her last one—”Gardasil HPV Vaccine Safety Assessed In Most Comprehensive Study To Date” on July 15, 2015.1
It’s a long list, but it’s worth listing to get a sense of both the degree of Haelle’s journalistic lean and the magnitude of her unusually special interest in vaccines, given that Forbes is a business publication, not a health one. Prior to her current piece, Haelle wrote:
An occasional piece on vaccines is understandable, given the pharmaceutical product’s financial relevance to the most profitable industry in the world.38 But 37 articles since the beginning of November 2014? That works out to an average of 4-5 articles a month on vaccine-related themes.
Note that it is clear by the article titles that Haelle is extremely pro-vaccine—which is neither unusual nor surprising. What is unusual is how prolific Haelle is on the topic of vaccines. And when you read the articles, it becomes quickly apparent that they sound almost like promotional pieces, as if someone is trying to sell you something. This is troubling, particularly in light of the move last year by Forbes‘ parent company, Time, Inc., to expand its use of “native advertising” (also known as “advertorials” or “sponsored content” or “branded content” or “in-feed sponsored content”).39
Perhaps the most succinct explanation of native advertising comes from Ken Auletta, a contributor to The New Yorker…
Native advertising is basically saying to corporations that want to advertise, we will camouflage your ads to make them look like news stories. That’s essentially it.41
Time, Inc. CEO Joe Ripp announced in July 2014 that he would be creating an eight-person team to focus on developing native ads. In a staff memo from the company’s chief content officer Norm Pearlstine and executive vice president Mark Ford, it was revealed that the “Native Group” would work “side-by-side with editorial staff.” 39
The ads, which are designed to closely resemble editorial content, have come into criticism from editorial purists, but with the native ad business projected to grow 23 per cent this year Ford insisted: “We’re not trying to trick people. We’re just trying to create great content.”39
Ripp, formerly President and COO of Dendrite International,40 a computer software provider to the pharmaceutical industry, doesn’t have a problem with native marketing, “as long as it’s clearly marked, as long as the consumer knows the difference between what’s editorial and what’s native… “41
Therein lies the problem. In an online study conducted last year by Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and Edelman Berland, it was shown that “general news” audiences have trouble distinguishing native advertising from real editorial content.42
Native advertising is the new wave in media, especially the print variety, because of falling revenues from advertising sales. Major media sources such as Time, Inc. (which also owns TIME, People, and Sports Illustrated), The New York Times, and The Washington Post, as well as many other newspapers and magazines throughout the country are turning to the strategy in order to survive. But it has generated considerable controversy within the journalism profession. So much so, in fact, that Jill Abramson, the executive editor of The New York Times, was fired last year for her opposition to native advertising.43
This is not to say that Haelle’s vaccine articles are native ads. Only that they sure do read like them.
1 Haelle T. Gardasil HPV Vaccine Safety Assessed In Most Comprehensive Study To Date. Forbes July 15, 2015.
2 Haelle T. First Confirmed U.S. Measles Death In More Than A Decade. Forbes July 2, 2015.
3 Haelle T. California Vaccination Bill SB 277 Signed By Governor, Becomes Law. Forbes June 30, 2015.
4 Haelle T. Gardasil 9 Effectively Stops 90% Of Cancers Caused By HPV In Girls and Boys. Forbes June 22, 2015.
5 Haelle T. California Doctor Invokes Holocaust Analogy, Compares Non-Vaccinating Parents To Persecuted Jews. Forbes June 18, 2015.
6 Haelle T. Photographer Documents Deadly Brain Infection As CDC Considers Vaccine. Forbes June 17, 2015.
7 Haelle T. Vaccine Kicked Rotavirus To The Curb In A Few Short Years. Forbes June 9, 2015.
8 Haelle T. Four New Mumps Cases Diagnosed In Outbreak At University of Texas at Austin. Forbes May 20, 2015.
9 Haelle T. California Vaccination Bill SB 277 Clears Senate — And Will Save Taxpayer Money If It Becomes Law. Forbes May 18, 2015.
10 Haelle T. Pertussis Vaccine Remains Best Way To Prevent Whooping Cough, Especially For Babies. Forbes May 11, 2015.
11 Haelle T. Measles Vaccine Reduces Death From Other Infections Too — By Preventing ‘Immune Amnesia’. Forbes May 8, 2015.
12 Haelle T. Rubella Eliminated From The Americas, Thanks To MMR Vaccine. Forbes Apr. 30, 2015.
13 Haelle T. MMR Vaccine and Autism: Yet Again, No Link Exists — Even For Children At Risk For Autism. Forbes Apr. 21, 2015.
14 Haelle T. Measles Aerosol Vaccine Works — But Not Quite Well Enough. Forbes Apr. 20, 2015.
15 Haelle T. Polio Vaccine Found “Safe And Effective” 60 Years Ago: What Would Salk Think Today?. Forbes Apr. 13, 2015.
16 Haelle T. First HIV Immunotherapy Treatment In Humans Proves Successful. Forbes Apr. 9, 2015.
17 Haelle T. ‘The Vaccine War': What You Should Know After You Watch PBS Frontline’s Special. Forbes Mar. 25, 2015.
18 Haelle T. Yes, Low Immunization Rates Are Responsible For The Measles Outbreak, Study Suggests. Forbes Mar. 16, 2015.
19 Haelle T. Tetanus Vaccine Boosts Cancer Vaccine In Fighting Brain Tumor. Forbes Mar. 15, 2015.
20 Haelle T. The Measles Outbreak Is Twice As Big As You Thought. Forbes Mar. 12, 2015.
21 Haelle T. 15 Myths About Anti-Vaxxers, Debunked – Part 3. Forbes Feb. 19, 2015.
22 Haelle T. 15 Myths About Anti-Vaxxers, Debunked – Part 2. Forbes Feb. 18, 2015.
23 Haelle T. 15 Myths About Anti-Vaxxers, Debunked – Part 1. Forbes Feb. 17, 2015.
24 Haelle T. Measles Outbreak in Dollars and Cents: It Costs Taxpayers Bigtime. Forbes Feb. 11, 2015.
25 Haelle T. Vaccine Researcher Gregory Poland Says Measles Jab Is Amazingly Effective But Not Perfect. Forbes Feb. 5, 2015.
26 Haelle T. Sears and Gordon: Should Misleading Vaccine Advice Have Professional Consequences?. Forbes Feb. 3, 2015.
27 Haelle T. Five Things To Know About The Disneyland Measles Outbreak. Forbes Jan. 20, 2015.
28 Haelle T. Disneyland Measles Outbreak: It Is Indeed a Small World After All. Forbes Jan. 13, 2015.
29 Haelle T. More Rotavirus Vaccination Means Less Rotavirus. Forbes Jan. 12, 2015.
30 Haelle T. Gardasil HPV Vaccine Not Linked To Multiple Sclerosis Or Related Diseases. Forbes Jan. 6, 2015.
31 Haelle T. Majority Of Autism Increase Due To Diagnostic Changes, Finds New Study. Forbes Jan. 5, 2015.
32 Haelle T. NHL Mumps Outbreak: What’s Up With The Vaccine?. Forbes Dec. 16, 2014.
33 Haelle T. Newest HPV Vaccine Protects Against 9 Strains. Forbes Dec. 11, 2014.
34 Haelle T. Safety of Flu and Pertussis Vaccines in Pregnancy Assessed. Forbes Nov. 25, 2014.
35 Haelle T. A Resurrected Vaccine Fear Puts Kenyan Infants At Risk. Forbes Nov. 17, 2014.
36 Haelle T. Pneumococcal Vaccines Lead to Reduced Hospitalizations. Forbes Nov. 14, 2014.
37 Haelle T. Ebola Is A Symptom Of Our Compounding Failures. Forbes Nov. 5, 2014.
38 Anderson R. Pharmaceutical industry gets high on fat profits. BBC News Nov. 6, 2014.
39 West G. Time Inc. moves into native advertising with CEO Joe Ripp creating eight-person native team. The Drum July 20, 2014.
40 Time, Inc. Joseph A. Ripp.
41 Native Advertising | Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. YouTube.com Aug 3, 2014.
42 Critical to Success of In-Feed Sponsored Content Are Brand Familiarity, Trust And Subject Matter Authority, As Well As Relevance, According to New Research From IAB & Edelman Berland. Interactive Advertising Bureau July 22, 2014.
43 Auletta K. Why Jill Abramson Was Fired. The New Yorker May 14, 2014.