How Reuters worked sources and documents to report on baby powder issues
Last week, a Reuters investigation revealed that since at least the 1970s, the FDA has downplayed health concerns about talc in powders and cosmetics, deferring again and again to manufacturers.
The story follows earlier reporting on how Johnson & Johnson failed to warn customers that its talc powders and cosmetics were tainted with cancer-causing asbestos and that as concerns about Baby Powder mounted, J&J focused on marketing to minority and overweight women.
Reuters enterprising correspondent Lisa Girion explains how the stories came about:
Q: What types of reporting were involved?
A: This involved working old sources, making new ones, scouring court records, watching and reading hours and hours of trial testimony and gathering documents, lots of documents.
Q: What has been the hardest part of the reporting?
A: Many of the key players are dead, and most of J&J’s records detailing its asbestos testing history were, initially at least, confidential. Then I found cryptic references to an old asbestos case in the pre-trial proceedings of some pending lawsuits in New Jersey. All I had to go on was the last name of the plaintiff: Coker. I had no idea when or where the case was filed. One of the law firms on the case was based in Beaumont, Texas, so I called the clerk in the nearest courthouse. Sure enough, after some digging, the clerk found the case in archives. The records showed that in 1997, a woman named Darlene Coker filed a suit alleging that the Baby Powder she used on herself and her two daughters caused her cancer. I tracked down her now grown daughters, who told me their mother filed the suit because she wanted answers. She died without knowing the full story. That story emerged bit by bit. Each time a case went to trial, I read as many of the documents presented to jurors as I could get hold of. It was slow going. At one point, a judge refused – without explanation – to let me read documents that had been presented at trial. Eventually, the story came together in our Dec. 14, 2018 Special Report that showed that J&J knew its raw talc and powders sometimes tested positive for asbestos from the 1970s into the early 2000s and did not report those findings to the FDA.
Read more here.