Earlier this year, I wrote about New York Times journalist Gardiner Harris - the conflicted reporter who did not disclose his ties to the pharmaceutical industry, thereby violating the “Ethics in Journalism” policy of The Times. Unfortunately, Harris is not the only reporter in mainstream media to have undisclosed ties through a brother to the pharmaceutical industry.
John Stossel is a reporter for Fox Business Network, with his own syndicated talk show Stossel where he portrays himself as a skeptic looking out for consumers. Unfortunately when it comes to autism, the only thing he is looking out for is the pharmaceutical industry.
While Fox News has done some excellent investigative reporting lately, particularly the folks at Fox and Friends, John Stossel serves as a dire warning that not everybody at FOX is our friend.
He recently wrote on his Fox Business Blog, to promote this week’s episode of his show Stossel:
“When people see a pattern, they attach meaning to it …even when “chance” is the most likely explanation. That's a reason why 27% of Americans believe in ghosts, 25% in astrology, 26% in psychics, 33% that the government planned 9/11, and 25% of parents believe vaccines cause autism.”
Read more: HERE
Why would a national reporter resort to such blatant manipulation?
Perhaps the answer best lies with the details surrounding his older brother, Dr. Thomas P. Stossel, a hematologist and professor at Harvard Medical School with direct ties to the pharmaceutical industry, which Dr. Stossel has heavily supported in controversies where it has been on the receiving end of well-deserved criticism.
When a courageous group of Harvard medical students started a campaign to lessen the influence of the pharmaceutical industry on their professional education, The New York Times reported:
“A smaller rival faction among Harvard’s 750 medical students has circulated a petition signed by about 100 people that calls for ‘continued interaction between medicine and industry at Harvard Medical School.’”
“Encouraging them is Dr. Thomas P. Stossel, a Harvard Medical professor who has served on advisory boards for Merck, Biogen Idec and Dyax, and has written widely on academic-industry ties. ‘I think if you look at it with intellectual honesty, you see industry interaction has produced far more good than harm,’ Dr. Stossel said. ‘Harvard absolutely could get more from industry but I think they’re very skittish. There’s a huge opportunity we ought to mine.’” (HERE)
“ACSH has no credibility since it is primarily, as critics charge, a front for industry. I have seen it directly.”
Martin also called ACSH’s president and co-founder Elizabeth Whelan, “the junk food queen.”
ACSH emerged in the seventies from a project Whelan was assigned to by Pfizer to critique laws banning carcinogens in food, drugs and cosmetics. Since then, the group has sided with industry religiously on everything from the mercury in your fillings to the asbestos in your house, right down to decrying Michelle Obama’s organic garden for not using pesticides.
Another co-founder, the now-deceased Dr. Frederick Stare, heavily supported tobacco industry spokesman, Carl Seltzer, by petitioning that he receive funding and academic credentials to support his “research” and boost his perceived credibility with the public.
ACSH’s medical/executive director Dr. Gilbert Ross had his medical license revoked in New York for professional misconduct. He has even served jail time for his involvement in a scheme that defrauded Medicaid out of $6 million. Upholding decisions by the DHHS to ban Ross from Medicare and Medicaid programs for a decade, a judge called him a “highly untrustworthy individual” who committed “medically indefensible” practices.
In spite of all this, the ACSH hired Ross as a staff assistant and eventually promoted him to medical/executive director – a position he has held since 1999.
This is just a summary of Dr. Ross’ incriminating past. (HERE)
On the ACSH’s board of trustees, listed above Dr. Stossel on the members’ list is none other than millionaire vaccine industrialist and spokesman Dr. Paul Offit. He even thanked John Stossel in the acknowledgements of his upcoming book among a list of journalists we’ve come to know but not love “for their willingness to stand up for the science of vaccine safety independent of the cost.” (HERE)
In fact, John Stossel has been an enthusiastic supporter of the ACSH, which honored him at its 25th anniversary dinner the same day a column he wrote lauding the ACSH was published in The New York Post, entitled “The Anti-Junk Scientists.”
Yet just this past Thursday on the Fox Business Network, John Stossel interviewed Michael Shermer: professional cyclist, executive director of the Skeptics Society, editor of Skeptic Magazine and scientific advisor to the ACSH.
Perhaps it might be relevant for viewers to know that the industry front group Shermer is a scientific advisor for is the same front group that John Stossel’s brother is a trustee of, and that John Stossel himself resolutely supports. But none of this was disclosed.
The Michael Shermer whom Stossel interviewed is the same Michael Shermer who in his 1998 book, “Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time” (referenced by Paul Offit in “Autism’s False Prophets”) disputed a study showing breast milk was better than infant formula, despite widespread acknowledgement in public health that it is.
Similarly, when Shermer disputed an autism-vaccine connection in Skeptic Magazine almost ten years later, he wrote:
“Despite the lack of scientific evidence for a connection, however, do not expect this controversy to disappear, as the power of anecdotal thinking cannot be dismissed. Remember always that we are pattern-seeking primates who are especially adept at finding patterns with emotional meaning — in this case, the parents of autistic children are understandably seeking a causal link that provides them with an opportunity to right a wrong, in this case fixing the problem through changing the body’s chemistry, diet, nutrition, toxin load, etc. Sadly, it appears at this point that the causal vector(s) probably lie elsewhere.”
A few months later, David Kirby broke the Hannah Poling story and vaccine court’s concession that she developed autism as a result of her immunizations back in 2000. She received 50 mcg of mercury at once, twice the amount given at any one time during the 1980s. And yet, on the show, Michael Shermer said “The bottom line is this: the mercury was taken out of the vaccines in 2000. Ever since then rates of autism have been going up.” And yet, vaccines preserved in thimerosal are recommended for everyone from pregnant women, to infants, to geriatric patients.
There is also no source which supports his contention that autism rates are continuing to rise – California’s reporting system (the “gold standard” among administrative autism databases) which studied very young children was overhauled nearly three years ago and its data is likely skewed by earlier diagnoses as I wrote in March. Yet it was still in the process of leveling off. (HERE)
The latest CDC national prevalence statistics do not include children born any later than 1998. There is also now evidence to suggest the IDEA autism prevalence data is starting to level off, too. Allison Singer’s pharma front group - the Autism “Science” Foundation - is already trying to come up with excuses for why that may be.
Then Shermer took a swipe at Jim Carrey and Jenny McCarthy when he was reminded that 25% of parents believe vaccines cause autism: “Are we to believe that all medical breakthroughs like this are announced by actors and ex-playboy bunnies on television?”
John Stossel ranted that the reason Jenny McCarthy is successful at allegedly getting 25% of Americans to believe in a vaccine-autism link is because Shermer is “less sexy” than she is and “in a suit” – yielding some snickers from the audience. Stossel never even bothered to mention that McCarthy’s son was diagnosed with autism and has a seizure disorder, which almost ended his life and did not exist before his MMR vaccine, nor did his autism.
For John Stossel and Michael Shermer, her posing for Playboy was more relevant. Apparently, a business reporter and a bicycle rider both think they are more qualified to speak on autism-related topics than someone in the autism community itself.
Autism, however, was only a small portion of the program, sandwiched between conspiracy theories that the Bush Administration caused 9/11 and claims that evil spirits were causing men’s penises to shrink.
Even though autism was not talked about for most of the show, its entire premise seemed to rest entirely on obfuscation of the autism issue. A hugely critical question about whether the fastest growing life-long neurological disorder is linked to shots every pediatrician gives is treated with the same level of importance as psychics, ghosts, astrologers and magic bracelets.
Experts did come on during the show to debate some of the other issues discussed – an economist, a business news reporter, a priest and a magician. Michael Shermer, while debating the priest over the existence of God, was even booed by the audience after saying Nazi Germany under Hitler was Catholic (Actually, Hitler was staunchly anti-clerical).
However, no one in the autism community, involved in autism research or autism reporting was invited to give the counterpoint. “Avoiding false balance,” the pharmaceutical industry’s standard lie to justify censorship, was clearly invoked for the show.
When Stossel was debating the other FOX reporter who was arguing in favor of managed stocks, John Stossel did say, “Let me reveal my conflict of interest,” and then stated for the second time that the economist he invited onto the show was his former professor.
John Stossel believes sympathizing with the views of a professor he has not had for over 40 years is a “conflict of interest” worthy of disclosure. Yet, when he was ranting with Michael Shermer about autism, he never mentioned that his own brother was on an advisory board of Merck – a vaccine maker, is on the board of trustees for industry front ACSH, that Shermer serves under Dr. Stossel on the ACSH’s scientific advisory board, or that John Stossel himself is a major supporter of the ACSH. Not only is John Stossel guilty of violating journalism ethics for not disclosing such a blatant conflict of interest, but also by perpetrating a double standard evident throughout his show.
Perhaps this double standard was perpetuated the most at the end of the show when John Stossel told his audience the one thing they needed to be skeptical of the most:
“Whether you believe in God — or psychics, or global warming — that’s your business. I may think you’re stupid, but if you waste your money on, say, a ‘strength’ bracelet, you only harm yourself.
But being gullible about government hurts everyone. Government is force. When it sells us bunk, we have to pay even if we don’t believe in or want it. If we don’t pay up, men with guns will make sure we do.
It’s good to be skeptical. It’s really good to be skeptical about government.”
Say that again?
“But being gullible about government hurts everyone.”
Being gullible about government hurts everyone? Good to know you admit to hurting everyone, John.
“Government is force. When it sells us bunk, we have to pay even if we don’t believe in or want it. If we don’t pay up, men with guns will make sure we do.”
This is a feeling the autism community certainly knows all too well. This bunk includes tobacco science and also worthless genetic studies that repeatedly look in the general population for the magic causes of autism and turn up cold, yet continue to receive the majority of the funding for autism research. Then there are the eye gazing studies, not to mention the studies that say autistic children miss social clues, those that say autism mothers have high anxiety, and that autism fathers have no preference for curvy women over skinny and fat women. These are studies that tell us what we already know at best, and are conflicted junk science or just downright ridiculous at worst. Thanks for reminding us, John!
“It’s good to be skeptical. It’s really good to be skeptical about government.”
Hey John, we couldn’t have said it better ourselves. The previous director of the CDC is now president of the Vaccine Division for the very company your brother advised, Merck. How ironic that on your blog two months ago you cited the government-chartered IOM Immunization Safety Review:
“No good studies show that vaccines cause autism and the National Academy of Sciences has reviewed the evidence and ruled out causal links.”
Read more: HERE
You must not have done your homework as an investigative reporter, John. According to leaked transcripts of a meeting of IOM reviewers in January 2001, including those by the Review Committee Chairwoman Marie McCormick and Study Director Kathleen Stratton before any evidence was submitted to them:
Dr. McCormick: ...[CDC] wants us to declare, well, these things are pretty safe on a population basis (p. 33).
Dr. Stratton: ...The point of no return, the line we will not cross in public policy is pull the vaccine, change the schedule. We could say it is time to revisit this, but we would never recommend that level. Even recommending research is recommendations for policy. We wouldn't say compensate, we wouldn't say pull the vaccine, we wouldn't say stop the program. (p. 74).
Dr. McCormick: ...we are not ever going to come down that [autism] is a true side effect...(p. 97) (HERE)
Two months later, Stratton stated in another meeting:
“And is there a benefit to putting [the debate] to rest no matter what (p. 120-121).” (HERE)
That should give you some reasons to feel skeptical of the government-sponsored report you cited, John.
If you want evidence that the case for the vaccine-autism link is far from closed, you can click below and scroll down to my letter to Clark Hoyt, public editor of The New York Times: HERE
If Fox Business Network cared one iota for its credibility as a news source, it would block John Stossel from spewing more misinformation about autism issues on both television and the web. We should encourage them to do so.
To contact Fox Business Network, send your e-mail to this address firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jake Crosby is a college student with Asperger Syndrome at Brandeis University majoring in History and Health: Science, Society and Policy and contributing editor to Age of Autism.