By Jake Crosby
Chicago Tribune journalist Trine Tsouderos recently co-wrote an LA Times blog post that said:
Advocates of a vaccine-autism link immediately seized on the announcement [that a researcher denying a vaccine/autism link stole $2 million] as an indicator that the whole research program was corrupt…Thorsen may be a crook, but there were lots of other scientists involved in the research, and their integrity is not being contested.
Thorsen was the second highest listed co-author from the university that led the Danish study on the MMR. He was also second highest listed co-author from the university department that led the Danish study about thimerosal.
Of course, Tsouderos ignores the fact that the data behind the Danish research on the MMR vaccine indicates that the younger the child is immunized with the vaccine, the more likely that child is to develop autism. What’s more, when the reporting bias is removed from the data behind the Danish research on thimerosal, autism rates fell after removal of the preservative.
What’s most shocking of all is that Trine Tsouderos, along with her partner Patricia Callahan, recently won an award from the Association of Health Care Journalists for their Chicago Tribune “reporting” of alternative autism treatments. Their stories can be summed up as dismissing hundreds of pages of scientific evidence and the doctors and scientists who provided it. Tsouderos and Callahan also favorably quoted drug industry researchers without providing any balance to these views. Another focal point of the articles was an autism father’s lawsuit against ARI doctors. What was omitted was the fact that the prosecuting attorney was a lawyer for “Quackwatch,” a basement-run organization led by a psychiatrist, Stephen Barrett, who did not pass his board certification exams and is a listed advisor to the national industry front group – the American Council on Science and Health.
Tsouderos and Callahan’s stories also showed tacit support for “mainstream,” off-label treatment of children with autism with psychotropic drugs that, unlike the alternative treatments for which the evidence of harm is totally lacking, have been found to cause milk-producing breast growth in boys, obesity, diabetes and death to name just a few side effects. In other words, Tsouderos and Callahan are tobacco journalists.
And yet, they won an award for drug company propaganda. In fact, they took the top prize from the Association of Health Care Journalists. What is the AHCJ? This is its website description:
The Association of Health Care Journalists is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing public understanding of health care issues. Its mission is to improve the quality, accuracy and visibility of health care reporting, writing and editing. There are more than 1,000 members of AHCJ.
AHCJ calls itself an “independent, nonprofit organization,” but just how independent is it? Its Vice President is Karl Stark, journalist for Paul Offit’s hometown newspaper, the Philadelphia Inquirer. Stark favorably quoted the millionaire vaccine industrialist in one of his articles.
Apparently, the AHCJ is controlled by a think-tank, the Center for “Excellence” in Health Care Journalism (CEHCJ). According to the Center for “Excellence” in Health Care Journalism’s website:
The Center is classified as a supporting 501(c)(3) for AHCJ, Inc. The purpose of the Center for Excellence in Health Care Journalism is to ensure that journalists are properly trained to cover news events, trends, and issues in all aspects of health care journalism, including the business of health care, public policy, medical research, medical practice, consumer health issues, public health, health law, and ethics.
On a list of “grantors” of the CEHCJ, we see the CDC Foundation, which has actually been supporting the center for the last two years. Also on that top-tier list of donors is none other than the “Chicago Tribune Foundation,” the only newspaper on the list. Hence, with help from the CDC, the Chicago Tribune bought its own award.
Even more disturbing are the events the Association for Health Care Journalism will host. On its homepage, the AHCJ announces, “Sebelius, Frieden to brief reporters at Health Journalism 2010.” That’s Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, and his boss Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, who just last month said in an interview:
There are groups out there that insist that vaccines are responsible for a variety of problems despite all scientific evidence to the contrary. We have reached out to media outlets to try to get them to not give the views of these people equal weight in their reporting to what science has shown and continues to show about the safety of vaccines.
Sebelius denies evidence that shows vaccines are unsafe, expects others to believe the tobacco science that claims they are safe, and is manipulating the media to report this narrative for her. And yet, the AHCJ is encouraging its reporters to get briefed by her, and her CDC underling. The event will be held in Chicago, and is being sponsored by the Chicago Tribune Foundation.
It goes without saying that health journalists should not be rewarded for cranking out drug industry propaganda, but if doing so can win awards, why not? It worked for Trine Tsouderos and Patricia Callahan.
Jake Crosby is a college student at Brandeis University who is double majoring in History and Health: Science, Society and Social Policy, and is a contributing editor to Age of Autism.