The controversy began in November 1990, when CBS? "Eye to Eye with Connie Chung" charged that Dow Corning (a breast implant manufacturer) were callously marketing a dangerous product. Chung's broadcast featured emotional testimony from women who blamed their implants for compromising their immune systems and creating a variety of painful and even life-threatening ailments. The ensuing uproar led to high-profile Congressional hearings which created their own storm of controversy. .
Faced with a full-fledged media feeding frenzy, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David Kessler effectively banned silicone implants from the marketplace. Class-action lawsuits were filed against manufacturers, and the Dow Corning Corp. withdrew from the market and was forced into bankruptcy. The settlements paid to plaintiffs ran into billions of dollars, with many claims still outstanding.
There was certainly reason for concern in the early 1990s, when scientific evidence on the health risks of silicone implants was uncertain or incomplete. That void was filled by heart-wrenching news accounts of women who blamed their implants for debilitating diseases that ranged from arthritis and lupus to breast cancer and multiple sclerosis. Plaintiffs? attorneys took advantage of the resulting fears to press their case first in the court of public opinion and then in actual courtrooms. By the time the results of careful scientific studies began to exonerate implants from the most serious charges, the media's attention had shifted to newer health fears.
During the first two years of the controversy, the coverage averaged 18 stories per month at a dozen major news outlets, peaking at 90 stories when the FDA banned implants in April 1992. Thereafter the coverage dropped by nearly 60 percent, at precisely the time that the evidence began to contradict the earlier charges. This early phase of the coverage was also the most negative toward the implants and Dow Corning.