Fake novel update

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(HOST) Last October, Commentator Philip Baruth wrote a piece about a thiller secretly commissioned by the pharmaceutical lobby. Not long after, he began to receive anonymous emails about the fake novel at the heart of the controversy and this is no playful satire. This is true. Here’s Philip.

(BARUTH) Back in October, I wrote a commentary about a story that died way too quickly: the pharmaceutical lobby actually commissioned a novelist to write a thriller in which terrorists use cheap imported Canadian drugs to poison unwitting Americans.

According to the New York Daily News, PHARMA, the drug lobby, offered the novelist, Julie Chrystyn, six-figures to write the book. Now, that sounds like a ton of money, but you need to keep in mind that importation of cheap drugs from Canada costs Big Pharmaceutical about one billion annually.

Not surprisingly, there were problems. PHARMA didn’t like Julie Chrystyn’s first draft. According to her eventual coauthor, the drug lobby, quote, “wanted it somewhat dumbed down for women, with a lot more fluff in it.” End quote. But they brought in a relief novelist, who successfully dumbed it down and fluffed it up. The real problem was that the media got hold of the story. Almost instantly, PHARMA offered Chrystyn a hundred thousand dollars to kill the project and keep it quiet.

Of course, it didn’t stay quiet: my piece was one of about nine thousand that picked up on it. I went for satire, pretending to be outraged that I hadn’t gotten the nod to write the fake book. And after the piece aired, I forgot all about it.

Until a month or so later. I was sitting at my desk when an email popped up on my screen. It was unsigned, no message, just an internet link. The return address included the name Julie Chrystyn,though, and I got curious. It turned out to be a news story in which one of the authors of the fake thriller defended himself against the charge of selling out. Obviously someone who might or might not actually be Julie Chrystyn wanted me to see this little bit of apologia.

Again, I forgot about it.

Until last week: another email pops up, anonymous, from the same Julie Chyrystyn address. It’s just an internet link. Now, this is all true, mind you. By now, though, I’m starting to feel as though I’ve fallen right into the middle of my own bogus tainted-drug thriller. And what I find is almost as disturbing as the original story: it’s a website advertising the fake novel, now available ironically from a Canadian publisher. And the controversy involving PhRMA’s tactics has been turned on its head to hawk the novel. The tagline reads, “What did PhRMA know and when did it know it?” And the plot has changed a bit: PhRMA is now one of the villains.

I shouldn’t be surprised, I know: fame and infamy are separated only by our attention to the difference between the two, and today we have non-existent attention spans. But it turned my stomach, I have to say, as someone who writes novels and worries about the role of money in the process. It’s not just that these people wrote a novel designed to scare Americans away from affordable, life-saving drugs; and it’s not just that they turned on Big Pharmaceutical when they thought they saw a way to make another quick buck.

No, what really turned my stomach was that the last time I checked, the fake novel was moving pretty quickly up the Amazon list, with no end in sight.

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