By Dan Olmsted
As the fallout from the Hannah Poling case continues, several people have mentioned the same thing to me: They've noticed that Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN, arguably one of the most powerful arbiters of medical information in the world, has seemed honestly perplexed and cautious in his response to the case.
Unlike Gardiner Harris, Dr. Timothy Johnson, Dr. Nancy Snyderman and their ilk -- people whose careers are wrapped up in the defense of vaccines, and vaccine mercury, at all costs -- Dr. Gupta seems like a real reporter. What's the difference?
To quote an epidemiological maxim: "Assume nothing. Let the evidence speak for itself." And that's the mantra all journalists are taught: You know what happens when you assume? You make an ass-out-of-you-and-me. Real journalists question assumptions, including their own. What the others do is ass-ume that the scientific bigshots are right about the absence of a link between vaccines and autism, and then proceed to shamelessly shill for them under the guise of protecting the world from smallpox, polio etc..
(Maybe they should get honorary stripes from the Public Health Service to wear on their sleeves.) If you doubt it, read Clark Hoyt's misguided "Public Editor" defense of Harris et. al -- in which he enshrined a bias against the mercury-autism theory as the stated policy of the Times.
Dr. Gupta, several people have suggested, may be different. First of all, CNN broadcast the Poling press conference live, covered it all day, put David Kirby on CNN International, and gave it a huge bite of Larry King Live. If CNN's in-house doctor had cried foul, would that have happened?
People of my generation -- older boomers, but not elderly, not by any means! -- will remember when Walter Cronkite went to Vietnam and returned to tell America that the war was, in essence, unwinnable.
That was a key turning point. As Lyndon Johnson said shortly before tossing in the towel, "If I've lost Walter Cronkite, I've lost the country."
Who will break ranks with the ass-out-of-you-and-me "reporters" at the top of the media food chain, the ones feeding off the bogus studies and buddy-buddy relationships with public health officials? I really don't know, but I'm betting on Dr. Gupta.
In fact, I'm rooting for him.