Mother’s Health News, Brought to You by Carcinogenic Baby Shampoo

Arianna Huffington had an announcement (1/19/12) about a new section in her Huffington Post:

I’m delighted to announce the launch of Global Motherhood, a new section within HuffPost Impact dedicated to the health and well being of mothers and babies around the world, and sponsored by Johnson & Johnson.

It goes without saying that it’s a bad idea in general to have a corporation in the health industry sponsoring health coverage; the potential for conflict of interest is obvious. But given that these kinds of special sections are typically created to meet an advertiser’s need–an impression strengthened by the fact that the second paragraph of Huffington’s announcement focuses on Johnson & Johnson’s efforts to “use technology to improve the lives of mothers and babies”–one has to ask, why this section for this advertiser?

You don’t have to dig very far back into the Huffington Post archives to get a clue. On November 1, HuffPost Parents posted this AP report:

The piece described a boycott launched against the Johnson & Johnson by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, which “has unsuccessfully been urging the world’s largest healthcare company for 2 1/2 years to remove the trace amounts of potentially cancer-causing chemicals–dioxane and a substance called quaternium-15 that releases formaldehyde–from Johnson’s Baby Shampoo, one of its signature products.”

After Johnson & Johnson reached an agreement with the campaign to phase out the chemicals in the U.S. market, HuffPost Healthy Living (12/28/11) ran this post by Samuel Epstein, an expert on cancer at the University of Illinois School of Public Health:

Epstein’s post pointed out the geographically limited nature of the company’s agreement and the fact that its shampoo contains a third chemical, nitrosamine, that is also a potential cancer risk.

To be sure, as Jezebel (1/20/12) pointed out, there are numerous health concerns with Johnson & Johnson products–from birth control patches to insulin pumps, from the anti-psychotic drug Risperdal to Tylenol and Motrin. But if your news outlet reveals that a product might be giving kids’ cancer and then the makers of that product offer you a sponsorship deal, it’s a good bet that they aren’t doing so because they’re grateful to you for keeping them on their toes.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.