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Getting to the Heart of the Merck-Abbott Embargo Break

Live TV is best when things are happening and news is breaking right now. It's immediate and often, hopefully, more compelling.

That's why I and the "Squawk Box" producers were happy with theAmerican Heart Association'splan to lift the news media embargo on the Abbott versus Merck study at 8 a.m. ET this morning. That'd be right in the middle of their show. Breaking and potentially stock-moving news about huge drugs made by a Dow component. It had all the elements, including controversy about the results.

But it wasn't to be. Sometime Sunday afternoon a major wire service transmitted its embargoed story on the Zetia versus Niaspan study results. It was sent with the usual notation that the piece is under embargo until a certain date and time.

But apparently someone at a relatively small, local midwestern TV station didn't see the admonishment and posted the wire story on its Web site.

After catching or being told about the error, the station took it down almost immediately. But it was too late. "Google Alerts" grabbed it and so did other Web sites. The info was out there for everyone to see. The embargo had been inadvertently broken.

After a meeting of the minds between AHA, "The New England Journal of Medicine," and the two companies involved, it was decided that the embargo would be lifted for everyone else at 6 p.m. ET Sunday.

Reporters for other wire services and media outlets suddenly had to scramble to get their finished stories out a good 14 hours sooner than planned. And with data as important and sensitive as these, that kind of rush job isn't necessarily a good thing.

The upside, perhaps, is that it gave Wall Street analysts several hours to digest and comment on the results for their investor clients, rather than the hour-and-a-half they would've had before the opening bell if the embargo lifted at 8.

This isn't the first time an embargo has been broken and it won't be the last. If the circumstances were different, the AHA and NEJM would likely put the reporter or news outlet that broke it in the naughty corner.

This appears to be an honest mistake.

But it could have been and should have been avoided. I ain't perfect and there but for the grace of God go I, but I don't understand why a major wire service pushed out a story around 18 hours before an embargo lifted. It opens wide the door for an embargo break.

There's no reason that I can see to justify copy going out so early, especially in today's push-button news transmission world.

It needs to stop.

Questions? Comments? Pharma@cnbc.com and follow me on Twitter at mhuckman

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