If you’re wondering just how Big Pharma is trying to justify its outrageous price hikes on life-saving prescription medications and getting away with marketing defective medical devices and dangerous drugs, just look to the Corporate Mainstream Media.

The dirty little secret is that board members of virtually all major pharmaceutical corporations also sit on the boards of major media companies – broadcast and Internet news, print media, public relations firms and even social media companies. They have one job: to make Big Pharma look good. Furthermore, faculty members of major universities are now getting in on the scam.

This is significant during a time that Big Pharma is drawing fire from both the public and lawmakers over predatory pricing while also facing growing litigation over defective products. It is necessary for Big Pharma to have control over the messaging and the propaganda – ergo, they must have representatives on the boards of those corporations that have the big mouthpieces. They also need “credibility” – so they’re bringing academia on board as well.

The marriage between Big Pharma and the mainstream corporate media has been a textbook example of a symbiotic relationship. Big Pharma depends upon Big Media to present a positive image of the industry, while Big Media receives billions of dollars from Big Pharma for advertising.

Over the past five years, Big Pharma’s advertising budget has gone up a whopping 62 percent. In 2016, pharmaceutical companies spent over $6 billion on multimedia advertising. Jon Swallen, head researcher for a company that tracks advertising trends, said “Pharmaceutical advertising has grown more in the past four years than any other leading ad category.”

With that kind of revenue at stake, what major media corporation is going to bite the hand that feeds it? But just in case, Big Pharma hedges its bets by making sure it has representatives sitting on the boards of corporations like NBC, ABC, FOX, and even Facebook and Twitter to keep them in line.

It’s worth noting that there are only two nations in the world that even allow pharmaceutical companies to engage in direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising. One of them is New Zealand. The other is the United States, where such advertising has only been legal since 1985, and has really exploded since 1997, when the FDA watered down rules requiring drug companies to provide details about side effects.

But here’s another dirty little secret: according to American Medical Association Chairperson Dr. Patrice Harris: “Direct-to-consumer advertising also inflates demand for new and more expensive drugs, even when those drugs may not be appropriate.” The AMA called for a ban on such drug advertising in 2015 – but thanks to efforts by pharmaceutical lobbyists (many of whom also sit on those boards), those efforts have gotten little traction. Big Pharma argues that such a ban is a violation of free speech, and claims that DTC advertising provides “valuable information” to health care consumers.

The good news is that increasingly, consumers aren’t buying it. Results from a recent Gallup survey shows that less than one-third of Americans trust the mainstream corporate media. That trust has been steadily declining for a dozen years – and it’s not getting any better as increasingly, people in the U.S. turn to alternative media sources for their information. At the same time, a growing number of doctors are now starting to “de-prescribe” medicines, taking their patients off of drugs that are useless and even harmful.

And how is Big Pharma reacting to this? They’re doubling down on buying legislators. Since 1998, annual lobbying by Big Pharma has nearly quadrupled; last year, the industry spent nearly a quarter-billion dollars influencing members of Congress and purchasing favorable legislation.

Of course, that itself is not going to quell the increasing outrage over Big Pharma’s unconscionable price hikes. Now, the industry is also recruiting economics professors at leading universities to convince health care consumers that such price increases are justified and necessary. This is turning the hell-born marriage between Big Pharma and Big Media into an unholy trinity that now includes “academia for hire.” These are cut from the same cloth as the “biostitutes” that are paid by the fossil fuel industry to convince Congress that there is no global climate change, or that such climate change is somehow a “good thing.” These biostitutes will soon be going on television, radio, and Internet outlets in a massive campaign to convince an increasingly skeptical public that Big Pharma’s price gouging is simply the function of a healthy marketplace.

The question now is: will a low-information public swallow these lies, enabling Big Pharma to continue to keep its fangs in our collective throats?

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.