On the cover of last week’s Newsweek issue was a photo of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, with a huge scowl on his face. On his forehead were the words, “EVERYTHING YOU THINK YOU KNOW ABOUT IRAN IS WRONG.”
Ahmadinejad received considerable attention for denying the Holocaust. He held a convention inviting well-known Holocaust deniers including former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, and launched a Holocaust denial cartoon contest. And yet, Oprah Winfrey was not portrayed any better on the cover of Newsweek’s latest issue, showing an outrageous photo of her, the title over her face reading, “CRAZY TALK.”
Newsweek will portray a prominent TV show host as horribly as it did a Holocaust denier, but will take the rather bizarre views of a neurodiversity proponent little known outside the autism community seriously. Two issues ago, the magazine gave coverage to the ND Ari Ne’eman, ignoring requests of other autistics including myself for an interview. I wrote a letter to Newsweek in anticipation of Ari’s’s article asking the magazine to give equal time to a non-ND autistic person, receiving nothing more than an automated response. I then submitted what I sent to the magazine as an open letter to Age of Autism thinking that might pressure Newsweek to at least publicly acknowledge the counterpoint to neurodiversity among autistic people. No such thing happened. Then the Ari Ne’eman piece ran online a week later and then in the May 25th issue, where he professed his anti-cure views while expressing an unfounded fear of the unproven idea that autism can be prevented through eugenics. (HERE)
Now Newsweek’s June 8th issue has solidified my worst fear: that my open letter to them had been written in vain. The cover article was a 9-page hit piece on Oprah Winfrey, of all people. (HERE) I read in Newsweek’s issue prior to the one where the Ari Ne’eman article ran that the magazine is operating in the red. (HERE) Now why would a faltering magazine write a smear issue of a celebrity who owns a net worth of several billion dollars and whose TV show is among the highest ranked in history? A big hint can be found in the subtitle, “Wacky Cures & You.”
Since Oprah has given Jenny McCarthy her own show, I can guess what one of those “Wacky Cures” would be. Sure enough, under the overblown title of the story that is even larger than the one on the cover, was the “wacky cure” I expected: “Eradicate Autism!” Strange the magazine would call this “wacky” after publishing an article two issues ago interviewing Ari, who not only fears an eradication of autism but that it will be done by eugenics, as if that’s anywhere close to being a possibility. And yet, the authors in the latest issue think it is “wacky” that Oprah interviews Jenny McCarthy who says she cured her son of autism with widely used treatments. Perhaps Newsweek takes the neurodiversity line that “autism is not a medical mystery that needs solving.” That would explain this discrepancy, though I tend to doubt it.
More likely, the explanation is that 10 of the 31 pages of ads are for pharma, 5 of them for Wyeth, including an inside-cover triple-page ad. Naturally, a failing magazine is going to want to receive more ad dollars by running more articles pleasing to sponsors. It seems practical and makes sense, though unethical, dishonest, defamatory and morally reprehensible all at the same time.
The first portion of the article slams Oprah for inviting Suzanne Somers on the show for promoting her own “natural” hormone replacement therapy. It involves hormones synthesized from plants rather than the typical horse urine, saying what Somers uses is not actually natural nor FDA-approved. Fair enough, I don’t have an opinion on the benefits or problems with HRT, but perhaps Newsweek can also run an article on the 5000 lawsuits Wyeth is facing for the damages attributed to its own, admittedly unnatural, FDA-approved version. If they did, it would help their case of proving Ms. Somers’ alleged belief wrong, that “the media” is “in the pocket of the pharmaceutical industry.” But I guess that’s about as likely as Newsweek interviewing me to balance out their coverage given to Ari Ne’eman.
After criticizing Oprah for interviewing Suzanne Somers came the expected criticism of her interviews with Jenny McCarthy. The very first thing the article makes clear is that she is a former Playboy model, as if having large breasts has to do with anything. I think a J&J manufactured, FDA-approved autism drug, Risperdal, growing milk-producing breasts on boys is more relevant, but that’s just me.
Then Newsweek makes the statement that “researchers” have not found a link between vaccines and autism. This, however, is hardly surprising, especially since Wyeth, a company that gave Newsweek ad money to run this piece was the same company to give grant money to the scientist-for-hire that led the most recent sham study obfuscating the vaccine-autism link published in Pediatrics earlier this year. Presumably, only the researchers who’ve received money from the same source as this magazine count. Hypocritically, the article then lamented that McCarthy’s views went “virtually unchallenged.” Leaving one-sided views “unchallenged” is precisely the problem with this magazine.
The hypocrisy doesn’t end as Newsweek then accused Oprah of doing to CDC officials exactly what it did to me in anticipation of its article for Ari Ne’eman: not inviting someone representing the counterpoint for equal coverage. Only in my case, I requested equal time and was ignored. It is true that Oprah read a CDC statement to offer an alternate viewpoint instead of having a guest from the agency appearing on her show, but blaming her for that is blatantly absurd and ignorant.
Anyone following this controversy long enough, no matter what opinion they have, knows the CDC has a track record for silence. Even Peter Hotez, quoted in Paul Offit’s book and head of the Sabin Vaccine Institute that receives millions in annual funding from Merck, Wyeth, Sanofi-Pasteur and GlaxoSmithKline, knows this. He is a vocal denier of any kind of link between autism and vaccines, but complained of how silent the CDC was on this controversy. If blatant ignorance could not explain Newsweek’s mischaracterization of the CDC as willing to participate in interviews, then dishonesty will.
On Gardasil, the HPV vaccine linked to at least 32 reported deaths, and thousands of adverse events including seizures and paralysis, Newsweek is no better. The magazine once again criticized Oprah for inviting a medical professional, Christiane Northrup, onto the show to express her concern over the safety of Gardasil, using the CDC and the FDA’s party line to say the deaths are unrelated. Yet, when compared to a control vaccine for meningitis, Gardasil had 3 times as many emergency room hospitalizations and 30 times the number of side effects. Newsweek didn’t report this fact, or what the CDC and FDA had to say about it. Though if it did, they would surely decline an interview. Instead, the magazine attempted to discredit the Gardasil skeptic by mentioning her superstitions involving “tarot cards.”
Yet Newsweek strangely had nothing to say of the person serving as CDC director who presided over the childhood vaccine program when I was born, James Ostermann Mason. He is currently a member of the board of trustees for religious group: “Evergreen International.” Its mission is to help homosexuals “diminish same-sex attractions and overcome homosexual behavior,” by the faith of Jesus. Ultimately, it attempts to cure homosexuality, and not with vitamins, chelation, or even hormone treatment, but with religion. But like Ari’s eugenics fear, it did not make Newsweek’s category of “wacky cures,” I wonder why…
In a classic case of double standards, the role of Newsweek quickly changes from prophet to tabloid the instant subjects change from the CDC to Oprah. One gimmick no good tabloid reporting can go without is the use of paparazzi photography to smear the targeted celebrity. The front cover says it all, with a huge close up of Oprah revealing tears in her eyes, then another photo of her in red curlers, followed by another in which her hair dominates the image, as if to say she is all hair and no brains.
I could only imagine the number of photos there are of Oprah, and the kind Newsweek has chosen are the kind that would fit perfectly well in the National Enquirer, a tabloid. With Newsweek losing money as conceded in the May 18th article entitled, “Reinventing Newsweek,” this is apparently what the magazine is reinventing itself into.
Newsweek not only takes on the role of a tabloid in its targeting of a particular celebrity, but also in its promoting information of the same level of absurdity as they accuse Oprah of publicizing: neurodiversity, eugenics fears, FDA-approval for drugs such as the apparently still dangerous HRT and Risperdal that grows milk-producing breasts on young boys, as well as the stance of a public health division that was once directed by a man who now devotes his life to “curing” homosexuality with the help of Jesus. One can therefore argue this magazine has been doing plenty of “Crazy Talk.” Of course, what is taken seriously versus what is dubbed “wacky” by this news-turned-tabloid magazine has no bearing on what actually is wacky versus what isn’t.
What matters is if Newsweek’s articles fit its agenda. In a magazine filled with pharma ads, accused in 2001 by five consumer groups of breaching journalism ethics by working with the lobby group PhRMA, having a special advertising relationship with pharmaceutical corporations and allowing its publication to be used by pharma lobbyists for public relations purposes, Newsweek’s agenda is no secret. One consumer advocate described Newsweek as “an infomercial masquerading as medical news” and “an example of corruption in journalism. Newsweek has surrendered its professional credentials by shamelessly engaging in disease mongering aimed at increasing profits for the mental health industry.”
Newsweek doesn’t report medical facts, it attempts to define them, even accusing others of the same bias and absurdity it perpetrates. It considers the help Jenny McCarthy gave her son “wacky,” but takes Ari Ne’eman’s fear of eugenics seriously. Similarly, Newsweek baselessly accuses Oprah of not inviting anyone from the CDC on her show to debate Jenny, but had no problem ignoring my request for an interview to balance out the coverage it gave Ari. This will no doubt add to the media-distorted public perception of how autistic people view their condition, not that Newsweek cares. Newsweek has become Newspeak.
Jake Crosby is a history student at Brandeis University, and a Contributing Editor of Age of Autism.
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