April 5, 2019
by Victor Riches

Just when you think the practice of journalism can’t sink any lower, USA Today and the Arizona Republic demonstrate there are no depths too deep in the race to abandon ethics and professionalism in the newspaper business. Yesterday morning, USA Today published an inexplicable attack on Right to Try and other Goldwater Institute measures that are designed to eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy and empower people to live freer lives.

In a time in which politics are as divisive as ever, with Republicans and Democrats incapable of agreeing on even the most innocuous of bills, it is nearly impossible for truly revolutionary ideas to cut through the bickering and backbiting. The single greatest exception to this trend is Right to Try. This measure was the first successful effort in more than 50 years to dramatically change the way terminally ill Americans access treatments that have not gone through the FDA’s cumbersome, decades-long approval process.

The measure has been widely applauded by patients, families, doctors, and policymakers from both parties. It was passed into law with nearly unanimous support in 41 states and signed into federal law last year. Hundreds of patients have already shared their stories of being treated under Right to Try for life-threatening illnesses such as ALS and cancer, and countless more will be treated in the future. This, according to USA Today and The Republic, in a purported piece of investigative journalism, is a bad thing.

The story appeared in USA Today amidst such hard-hitting reports as an article on National Burrito Day and a piece calling on 13 NFL teams to change their uniforms. Published jointly with the Arizona Republic and the George Soros-funded Center for Public Integrity, this “news” article is a jumbled mess inveighing against the supposed threat of “model legislation.” The gist of the story is that since free-market advocates such as the Goldwater Institute are successful in passing bills in multiple states, they must be part of a nefarious conspiracy.

The centerpiece of this nonsense is an attack on the Goldwater Institute’s leadership of the nationwide, grassroots, bipartisan effort to make Right to Try the law of the land. The story points to our legislation as “the most successful copycat bill in history.” Rather than intending this as a compliment, however, the authors point to it as proof of some insidious effort to spread a secret political agenda.

Obviously, this is absurd. We do have an agenda, and it is certainly not a secret: to protect the right of every person to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That agenda doesn’t require a team of investigative journalists to unveil. We wear it as a badge of honor. We are proud that countless lives have been improved due to Right to Try and our other efforts.

Nonetheless, in channeling their inner Chicken Little, USA Today and The Republic are bound and determined to claim the sky is falling if people have the opportunity to try to save their own lives. In reality, these newspapers are virtually the only voices left that actually refuse to acknowledge that Right to Try is a much-needed, bipartisan solution to a long-broken system.

One need only ask father-of-three and former Navy pilot Matt Bellina. He was diagnosed with ALS in 2014, had exhausted all FDA-approved treatment options, and couldn’t qualify for a clinical trial. Yet just as he fought to protect the rights of his fellow Americans when he was in the Navy, Matt fought for terminally ill patients by advocating for Right to Try across the country—even as he grew sicker and sicker and began to lose the ability to stand and speak. When Right to Try became the law of the land, Matt finally got access to an experimental treatment. Just a month after the start of his treatment, he no longer needed a breathing machine at night, he could speak and swallow, and he could pull himself up to stand. That’s why Matt and his family feel they “have been given a gift” with the passage of Right to Try.

If the USA Today and Republic authors had an ounce of shame, they would concede that, even if they don’t agree with all of the Goldwater Institute’s positions, our work is immensely beneficial to a large number of people. But that concession will never come, because the sad reality is that they have no shame. USA Today long ago substituted journalism for puff pieces. And The Republic, which was once a news-packed journal and the home of people of integrity on both the left and the right—such as John Kolbe and Jon Talton—is now a shell of its former self, as slim (and useful) as a sheet of toilet paper.

The authors claim it took them two years, 32 reporters, and the help of a computer algorithm to publish a 5,400-word article that “uncovers” the secret recipe to writing and passing legislation—a “secret” that occurs out in the open thousands of times a year in cities and states across the country. And after all of that effort, their “investigative” report misses the biggest story of all: Right to Try is an example of how state-based policymaking works for all Americans—and it’s one we will forever be proud to stand behind.

Victor Riches is the President and CEO at the Goldwater Institute.

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