Saturday, February 28, 2009

Autism Reporting: Mainstream Media's Incompetent Handling of Autism Issues

One point that has become crystal clear in the recent discussion of the vaccine-autism war. The mainstream media, as a general rule, is not competent in its coverage of autism issues. The New York Times and the Globe & Mail (self promoted as "Canada's National Newspaper") have been brutally one-sided in their misrepresentation of vaccine-autism issues. They have largely abandoned their journalists' hats to promote the views of public health authorities and the vaccine industry.

CNN's Campbell Brown has also weighed in with a largely ignorant, mostly bull and lots of bias, attack on those who express concerns about vaccine safety and autism disorders. Contrary to Brown's ill informed opinion there is evidence in support of a vaccine autism link. Science has not "decided" the issue. The question, according to at least 3 very senior and credible health authorities, doctors Healy, Gerberding and Alexander, is still very much open and should be studied further. On other autism issues Canada's CBC, the New Yorker, and many other major media outlets have pandered to the Neurodiversity movement's misrepresentation of autism and persons with autism.

There have been exceptions. The Vancouver Sun did an excellent series, Faces of Autism, on the diversity of autism spectrum disorders and was not afraid to show and describe the realities of life for a severely autistic girl and her vamily. Faces of Autism, with its balanced, honest portrayl of autism was everything in terms of responsible journalism that the CBC's Positively Autistic series was not. Likewise CBS (and US News and World Report) have done some excellent work on the vaccine-autism war presenting the very learned, well informed views of Dr. Healy that the existing studies are not specific enough to address population subsets that might be more vulnerable to autism exposure.

The reality today is that those actively informed about autism issues and seeking more perspective on autism issues are more likely to find them on the blogosphere. The Huffington Post has featured the autism vaccine issues on its Autism News page. It has provided an outlook for both sides of the debate, with David Kirby and Robert F. Kennedy featured on the same page as vaccine patent holder and industry spokesperson Dr Paul Offit. The Age of Autism is not as balanced as the Huffington Post but is an excellent site for information from the perspective of those who believe that vaccines cause or contribute to autism disorders.

Informed, balanced blogs are now being written by academics and professionals interested in autism issues. One of my favorites is Autism Research Blog: Translating Autism authored by Nestor L. Lopez-Duran Ph.D. a clinical child psychologist and neuroscience researcher working at a large Midwest university-based child psychiatric institute. The Lovaas Institute and the Center for Autism and Related Disorders also have blogs.

There are many fine parent blogs of which this blog is the best (just kidding). Many are listed on the side bar of this blog. There are also blogs by autistic persons, including Jonathan Mitchell's autism's gadfly and a blog by autistic artist Stephanie Lynn Keil.

The Neurodiversity movement with its anti-treatment, anti-cure, social construct model of autism has many blogs including the neurodiversity page at authored by Dora Raymaker and Kristina Chew and Kevin Leitch's LB/RB. The latter site can offer provocative discussion on important issues at times but often degenerates into smears, name calling and insults of those who do not share a neurodiversity perspective. Autism by Lisa Jo Rudy is a corporate blog written by a parent who shares a neurodiversity perspective but tries honestly to present all sides of autism issues objectively and with impeccable courtesy.

The mainstream corporate media really showed its colors with its grossly unbalanced reporting of the Autism Omnibus hearings jumping up and down in the air and declaring that science has spoken and that vaccines do not cause autism. The same media ignored the 2007 decision in Bank v HHS for which compensation was announced recently for a decision in which the Special Master accepted a claim that vaccines led to ADEM in a child which resulted in PDD-NOS, an autism spectrum disorder. The same corporate media, in announcing that vaccines did not cause autism also ignored the Poling case in which government acknowledged that vaccines caused "autism like" symptoms (autism currently is diagnosed by symptoms there being no accepted biological test). As stated above, the mainstream media largely ignored the views of former NIH head Dr. Bernadine Healy, recent CDC head Dr. Julie Gerberding and Dr. Duane Alexander an NIH agency head that more research on vaccine autism issues could and should be done preferring instead to regurgitate pejorative descriptions of parents who describe their own first hand observations of their children's regression after vaccine treatment.

Autism reports in the mainstream media should be taken with a huge grain of salt not because of the existence of a conspiracy, although conspiracies a la Madoff and Enron do exist, but because of the widespread ignorance of many in the media and their increasingly ill informed, imbalanced, and unobjective journalism.

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shakingsystem said...

Harold, your points about media's ignorance are right on the nose.

Two main points you may have over looked are the millions being spent by Pharma on advertisements. Media can't help but look in the other direction when the topic of autism/vaccs comes up. God forbid, they lose out on the few extra millions,bringing them in, profits from their ads . Meanwhile back at the ranch, the thousands of families dealing with the every day struggles of autism ,are expected to grin and bare it.

Secondly,some reporters who wish to express the realities of autism,may sometimes be disallowed,discouraged or even threatened to not side with the truth.

Sadly,they are fooling themselves.They are creating a disservice to the autism community,by not being forthright,and honest.After all, isn't journalism supposed to be all about being objective and telling the story like it is?

Anonymous said...

in my opinion i dont think that vaccines are the cause of the autism.. because most of us had our vaccines and thank goodness nothing is wrong. therefore i feel that Autism and even dyslexia are all potential pitfalls when a child doesn't have proper child development. I think all families should be wary of this.