My wife and I subscribed to the Chicago Tribune soon after moving into the area a little over three years ago. Recent articles led us to the conclusion that their editorial bias hindered, rather than aided a productive debate on the most important issue in our household: our response to the growing autism epidemic. We therefore took that most American of steps; we cancelled our subscription and made sure the paper knew why we did so. Here's the letter:
Mr. Tony Hunter
Chicago Tribune Company
435 North Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611
Dear Mr. Hunter:
A few days ago, we called the circulation department to cancel our subscription to The Chicago Tribune. We thought it appropriate to write and explain why we thought this necessary. Put briefly, the Tribune’s continuing written assault on the autism community and those who serve us has caused us to lose the high degree of respect we once held for your newspaper.
Specifically, articles written (or co-written) by Trine Tsouderos have, in our opinion, strayed from the principles of balance, fairness, and the truth.
By way of background explanation, our family is one of the hundreds of thousands in this country who have felt the impact of the autism epidemic.
We are part of a growing number of people who have chosen not to meekly embrace our son’s disability, but rather to seek biological explanations for the clinical manifestations that led to the diagnosis and to utilize the best medical treatments to treat the underlying physical conditions. We are not alone on this journey, and like most of the parents who embark on this course, we are well-educated. Both of us have professional backgrounds (including a background in mainstream medicine).
Each case of autistic spectrum disorder is unique from a standpoint of both cause and treatment. We have utilized some so-called “alternative” therapies together with more traditional treatments. The continued improvement of our son’s clinical manifestations has been nothing short of remarkable. Our story is not unique; there are many of us who have seen first-hand the success that can result from treating underlying physical conditions instead of just the symptoms by which autism traditionally has been defined.
Many in our community have attempted to speak to Ms. Tsouderos about the healing we have seen in our children, but she has shown little interest in exploring our perspectives. Instead, she chooses to rely on the same talking points we have so often heard from groups and individuals with vested interests, while ignoring scientific studies providing a basis for the treatments.. On those occasions when she does quote someone – whether a parent, a practitioner or a scientist – that quote is invariably taken out of context and is either inaccurate or incomplete. For example, an article this past November, mined several quotes from Dr. Martha Herbert, a distinguished neurologist at Harvard. This was Dr. Herbert’s response to the Tribune, which your paper chose to ignore:
I did a rather long interview with the Tribune to explain my thoughts on chelation and additional approaches to solving the health issues connected to autism. The only consequence of my interview is that you use a solitary quote to make me sound contentious and defensive. Is there a reason you chose not to use something I said that would actually illuminate the discussion surrounding chelation and other medical treatments for medical compromises that may exist in these children?
To be sure, this is a complex and often controversial subject. The Tribune’s editorial stance on autism treatments, however, seems inconsistent with other positions it has taken. Recently, your paper printed an exposé on overuse of drugs at nursing homes, a worthwhile subject. Why is the only focus of your autism coverage upon so-called “alternative” treatments? Why is no attention paid to the frighteningly large number of physicians who want to treat autistic children under the age of five with dangerous stimulants and psychiatric pharmaceuticals? And why does the Tribune not show outrage at the fact that the American Academy of Pediatrics endorses that off-label usage of pharmaceuticals in their published treatment recommendations for autism?
The Tribune has run recent articles on rising numbers of allergies (including one noting the difficulties the Army is having in filling its ranks due to high incidences of allergies and asthma). Is your paper at all interested in exploring the interrelationship in the alarming rise of various auto-immune disorders: childhood cancer, asthma, allergies, ADHD and autism spectrum disorders (although not unanimous, more and more scientists are acknowledging that disorders in the immune system can cause clinical manifestations of autism)?
Our kids are the canaries in the coal mine. Something is going wrong with an entire generation, and it is rooted in environmental causes: adulteration of our food supply, chemical pollution, contamination of our water, overuse of antibiotics, and quite possibly a public vaccination schedule gone haywire.
It’s not just scientific research that’s needed to put these puzzle pieces together; we also need the illumination of the questions in order to solving the questions a public priority. The role of the press is to present the issues in such a manner as to fairly raise the questions. In that, the Tribune has fallen well short of its duty.
The articles by Ms. Tsouderos were given front-page treatment, including the latest, which came at a time when every other organ of the press was focused squarely on the recent tragedy in Haiti. The lack of proportionality in that is summed up in one question. Why did the Tribune not show equal alarm with a major front-page article last month, when the Centers for Disease Control announced new autism statistics? According to the CDC, autism spectrum disorders effect one-in-110 children (one-in –every-seventy boys), which is a dramatic increase from the one-in 150 the CDC announced just two years ago.
This country is facing a public-health crisis of catastrophic proportions, in which too many families are having to make difficult decisions. Instead of amplifying the seriousness of the situation, the Tribune has chosen to blindly criticize some of the scientists and clinicians who are searching for the answers.
We have no doubt that the loss of our subscription will have little economic impact on your company. Further, the publication of the articles in question will have little adverse impact on the Tribune’s reputation – at least not immediately. What the Tribune has lost, however, is far more precious. It has lost the integrity upon which the paper’s reputation was built through generations.
Sym and Wade Rankin
cc: Samuel Zell
Chairman, Tribune Company
Wade Rankin and his wife, Sym, are the proud parents of a 10-year-old son, who is well on the way to recovery. His on-again/off-again blog is called Injecting Sense.