From the moment I first learned that PBS was running a program about autism and vaccines, I knew it was not going to be good. It was not just because PBS is the NPR of TV, but also because I had watched a similar program that ran on PBS called “The Health Century” - a 1987 documentary that was a total puff piece of the vaccine industry, which also included Anthony Fauci of NIAID. Fauci was venerated as the eighties’ version of Jonas Salk, who would develop an AIDS vaccine that would save millions of lives. 23 years later, that still has not happened.
That was the same documentary that cut out almost an entire interview with vaccine inventor Maurice Hilleman. In one sitting, he admitted to importing AIDS virus, that the vaccine for yellow fever was contaminated with a virus that causes leukemia, and recounted old jokes that the US would win the Olympics because the Russians would all be loaded down with tumors due to contamination of polio vaccines with the SV40 cancer virus. All that, like the interviews of Drs. Jay Gordon and Robert Sears, was cut from a PBS documentary and left on the editing room floor.
Still curious, I decided to watch the preview for Frontline, and it only further solidified my thoughts of how the program will turn out. So I wrote a letter to PBS asking them to cancel what would essentially turn out to be an hour-long vaccine infomercial:
I am a college student with an autism spectrum disorder at Brandeis University and contributing editor to Age of Autism: Daily Web Newspaper of the Autism Epidemic, a consumer advocacy newsletter of the autism community.
I am writing to ask you to please not air the PBS Frontline special because I feel it would be horrifically biased, and will portray the controversy in a light that excludes the voices of consumers and portrays them negatively in comparison with government and industry, represented as "scientific." '
That could not be further from the truth, government and industry have conducted all the science that shows no link between autism and vaccines. It is tobacco science, plain and simple. Paul Offit, who you quote as claiming that "a dozen" studies show no link between autism and vaccines, has even admitted that he has no knowledge of autism beyond what he read in newspapers, suggesting he has not even read the tobacco science he is constantly promoting.
The fear of disease is largely unfounded and reduced to fears of measles, for which no safe, single-shot alternative exists - only the MMR vaccine, which has been strongly linked to regressive autism and bowel disease.
I therefore call on you to please cancel this special immediately.
Age of Autism, Contributing Editor
And here’s what they wrote back:
Thank you for writing and for sharing your thoughts and concerns with us. We will pass them along to our editorial staff. As of this date, the film will broadcast as scheduled.
At least they didn’t send me another bogus form letter. Disappointed, but not surprised, I responded with a few small requests:
Thank you for writing me back. I understand there is no going back on the film, however, it would be at least best if you reported the conflicts of some of your interviewees - namely those of Paul Offit and Arthur Caplan. Offit continues to make millions of dollars off a vaccine he co-patented through Merck, and Caplan has served as chairman of the advisory board of GlaxoSmithKline. Furthermore, Statens Serum Institut, where Anders Hviid works, is a conflicted agency, too, as it is the largest vaccine manufacturer in Denmark.
If you could at least be sure to disclose these conflicts in your film somehow, via announcement or subtitles, that would be greatly appreciated and you would be doing a major public service for your viewers.
Age of Autism, Contributing Editor
Though like Hilleman’s interview from “The Health Century” 23 years ago, PBS cut out Dr. Jay Gordon’s interview along with Dr. Sears’ the night before the infomercial was due to run, they did not even follow through on a couple small requests that would have only required adding in a few extra sub-titles.
Millionaire vaccine industrialist Paul Offit’s COI was disclosed already, but only because it had been disclosed many times before. PBS did its best to play down the conflict despite completely neglecting the fact that Offit is selectively deaf to anything pertaining to this issue that does not support his financial interests.
Even worse, neither of the others’ conflict of interest was disclosed. As someone who has written about Caplan and the atrocious influence he has had on this debate, I found the failure to disclose his conflict of interest especially dismaying. There were also no scientists interviewed whose research supported a link between vaccines and autism, one of whom – Professor Richard Deth – just gave a fabulous talk at my university for Autism Awareness Month, even though they outnumber the tobacco scientists like Hviid.
Then again, what more can one expect? The producers of the program never even mentioned their own conflicts - the main contributors to their show serve on the board of directors for the CDC Foundation and Johnson and Johnson. That said, this is anything but media, this is PR, no different from “The Health Century” 23 years prior that was entirely sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry.
Fortunately, unlike the untouchable “free press,” we have a place other than PBS to complain to. I recently filed a consumer complaint with the FCC, and I urge everyone who has not done so already to do the same. There were so many problems with what Frontline did it was a challenge just listing them all within the limited space provided. Filing these complaints is essential otherwise it is only a matter of time before drivel like “The Vaccine War” starts to spill onto respected networks. (HERE)
Jake Crosby is a college student with Asperger Syndrome at Brandeis University who is double majoring in History and Health: Science, Society and Policy, and is a contributing editor to Age of Autism.
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