Spinning the Other Way at KYW-3

Philadelphia station runs an unlabeled VNR but reverses the story's context

Submitted by Daniel Price on

For clients and their publicists, video news releases (VNRs) have always been a gambling proposition, since TV stations aren't obligated to use the material. And if a newsroom does air a VNR, producers have full freedom to alter the story in whatever way they see fit, even if it negates the VNR's original promotional message.

That's exactly what happened on February 22, 2006, when KYW-3 (Philadelphia, PA) took a promotional news release on chondroitin sulfate—a nutritional supplement—and turned it into a "thumbs-down" news report on chondroitin's ineffectiveness in treating joint pain from osteoarthritis.

The original VNR, created by D S Simon Productions and funded by Bioibérica (a Barcelona-based company that sells chondroitin sulfate on the global market), was a retread of a VNR released two months earlier. The story was updated to include mention of a just-released New England Journal of Medicine report, plus new soundbites from orthopedic surgeon Nicholas DiNubile. As with the previous version, the VNR included positive testimony from 30-year old arthritis patient Jason Matley, and revolved around the central thesis that chondroitin sulfate outperformed prescription painkillers in treating moderate to severe osteoarthritis.

Unlike WSYR-9, the Syracuse station who had uncritically adopted the first Bioibérica VNR, Philadelphia's KYW-3 clearly took issue with the company's claim. In introducing the story, evening anchor Alycia Lane told viewers that "a popular supplement gets the thumbs-down." Soon after, KYW-3 health reporter Stephanie Stahl elaborated that "a sweeping new study says they don't work," referring to both chondroitin and glucosamine, another over-the-counter remedy that was tested in the clinical trial.

Although the facts were on KYW's side (the study did indeed conclude that the two supplements weren't much more effective than placebos among the overall trial population), the station used highly deceptive editing to turn the Bioibérica VNR into its own counterargument. After identifying Matley as "typical of the millions who take glucosamine and chondroitin," the newscast inserted a 5-second quote from him:

I was in pain every time I moved.

Without access to the original VNR, viewers at home had no way of hearing Matley's soundbite in its original context:

Before I started to take the supplement, the biggest thing was walking. I was in pain every time I moved.

Additionally, Stahl introduced DiNubile as one of the "many who are questioning this study," when in reality he offered no soundbites to that effect.

While it's reassuring that KYW-3 refused to blindly follow the premise of a corporate VNR, the station still incorporated a fake news report into their own health story without proper attribution. And they mangled quotes out of context to fit their preferred (albeit more accurate) narrative, when traditional journalistic analysis would have achieved the same effect.

The Bioibérica VNR also appeared on WFAA-8 in Dallas, Texas. Like KYW-3, the station chose to use the VNR in a negative context, though not as deceptively. The newscast merely ran silent video of the VNR in the foreground while a station reporter read from her own narrative. Neither WFAA-8 or KYW-3 identified D S Simon and Bioibérica as the source of the video, a violation of the Radio-Television News Directors Association's ethical guidelines.

On the very same day as the KYW-3 and WFAA-8 story, WCBS-2 in New York City ran a chondroitin/glucosamine report that was built entirely from the VNR of Leiner Health Products, a competitor of Bioibérica. The company was much more fortunate in their results, as the VNR was used in a completely uncritical context.

View the original VNR, as well as the KYW-3 news story, below.