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FDA COMMISSIONER KESSLER AS MEDIA STAR

Executive Summary

FDA COMMISSIONER KESSLER AS MEDIA STAR was commented on by talk-show host Larry King during an Oct. 24 interview with the commissioner on the Larry King Live television interview show. Observing that Kessler was the subject of a "rather glowing" front-page story in The Washington Post that morning, King asked the commissioner: "How do you like all the attention you've gotten?" Kessler initially disclaimed the notoriety: "It's a little awkward; I'm a pediatrician." Kessler quickly, however, shifted the attention he has been receiving to the rest of the agency. "The reason why" the publicity is "important," he said, is because it is "important for the public to understand what the FDA does. It is also important for the people at the agency: there are 8,000 people who are there protecting and promoting the public health, who believe in the mission." Responding to a reference by King to the "Eliot Knessler" nickname that alludes to his role in the agency's increased regulatory vigilance, Kessler said: "Honesty in the marketplace; making sure of truth in labeling; these are the things that I believe in; these are the things the agency stands for." He maintained that FDA is trying not to be "heavy-handed" in its enforcement activities. "Fairness," he declared, "is very important in any regulatory agency." As Kessler continues to draw media attention, he is playing effectively to a wide public constituency. That perception of broad support and the good graces of the national media are presumably sheltering him in the short-term from any second- guessing of his enforcement initiatives within the Bush Administration. However, there already have been signs that some of the more traditional Republican constituencies among the regulated industries have expressed displeasure about the Kessler FDA to the administration. At least once, those groups have appealed successfully above FDA to soften a position advocated by Kessler - - on the initial draft of the enforcement bill. When and if Kessler and a rejuvenated FDA becomes a stale story to the lay media, the commissioner may be faced with the challenge of fence- mending within the administration.
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