Investigative journalist talks about career, ethics

The Daily Pennsylvanian
November 19, 1998

Investigative journalist talks about career,

Investigative journalist talks about career, ethics

Photo by Claudia Tam/The Daily Pennsylvanian

Freelance journalist Stephen Fried discussed everything from drugs to his role as an unofficial detective Tuesday night in an address to about 12 people at the Kelly Writers House. The Philadelphia native and 1979 College alumnus began by discussing his most recent book, Bitter Pills, a report on the legal drug industry in America. He began the book as an article as a result of his wife's adverse reaction to an antibiotic. Fried noted that he was appalled by the procedure by which the Federal Drug Administration approves medication. "God, this is how they approve drugs?" Fried remembered asking himself after beginning his research. From that point on, he said, what had initially been "a cry for help" was transformed into a much more ambitious project. "The idea was to produce a book, in English, that I would want to read" about the legal drug industry in America, Fried explained. What resulted, according to Pennsylvania Gazette editor John Prendergast, who introduced Fried, was "an objective, even-handed book" that was "scary."

In addition to discussing other topics pertaining to the life of an investigative journalist, Fried spoke about the difficulties of remaining objective while writing a story which stemmed from such a personal tragedy. This has been a busy year for Fried, who has been promoting his book by touring and appearing on NBC's Today Show and Dateline. Aside from Bitter Pills, Fried's article in Philadelphia Magazine about Philadelphia resident Marie Noe has garnered the most attention of all his work this year. Noe, who alleged her 11 children died as a result of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, more commonly known as crib death, was once considered "the most pitiful woman in America" and "a national symbol of crib death." Fried, however, uncovered evidence that led to Noe's indictment in August for the murder of 11 of her children in the 1960s. As a freelance writer Fried, 40, said that "this year's been cool because "things have been accumulating." Fall-out from the Noe article and Bitter Pills has kept the writer busy over the last 11 months. But he warned students of the difficulties of making a living writing creative non-fiction. "Hardly anything I told you about I get paid for," Fried said, explaining that he received the same amount of money for the Noe story, which took months of research, as he would for a piece it took three weeks to produce. Despite Fried's warnings, College sophomore Lia Fantuzzo said she remained "interested in the idea of non-fiction" as a career after the speech.