If the co-opting of CBS and HuffPo by liars-for-hire like Seth Mnookin was unfortunate, what happened at Salon was even worse. A year ago, the website decided to retract Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s piece, Deadly Immunity which exposed the government cover-up of harm caused by the mercury-based vaccine preservative thimerosal. Salon’s editor-in-chief, Kerry Lauerman, wrote at the time:
…subsequent critics, including most recently, Seth Mnookin in his book “The Panic Virus,” further eroded any faith we had in the story’s value. We’ve grown to believe the best reader service is to delete the piece entirely.
The retraction followed a rumor started by Seth Mnookin that Rolling Stone (Illustration by Ed Sorel from original RS article) which also ran the article, deliberately pulled it from the magazine’s website without telling anyone – the only “subsequent” criticism of Kennedy’s article in Mnookin’s book that Salon could have been referring to. It didn’t take long after Salon’s retraction of “Deadly Immunity” for Mnookin’s rumor to be dispelled by Rolling Stone, which told readers the link to Kennedy’s article was inadvertently broken during the website’s redesign. However, Mnookin’s false rumor that the article was purposefully removed from Rolling Stone led to its permanent removal from Salon.
Despite the thimerosal cover-up accomplices’ best efforts pick apart Kennedy’s article, no one has ever been able to disprove what it uncovered, as letters by Kennedy responding to hostility towards his article clearly show. IOM President Harvey Fineberg went so far as to libel Kennedy by accusing him of fabricating quotes. Dr. Fineberg even lied that none of the IOM panelists had any ties to the pharmaceutical industry or the CDC. (Fineberg himself has chaired a review committee for CDC since the 1980s, according to his C.V.). Yet, he couldn’t even refute the fact that his institute’s panel, and its chairwoman Marie McCormick, came to a preconceived conclusion at the behest of the CDC – namely that the IOM would never come down that autism is a true side effect of vaccines.
It’s no surprise then that Rolling Stone Magazine stands by the story, even after Salon pulled it. So what happened at Salon that did not happen at Rolling Stone? What does Salon have that Rolling Stone does not? The answer: close familial ties to Arthur Allen, the thimerosal cover-up’s original media accomplice.
David Talbot: CEO and Founder of Salon, Brother-in-Law of Arthur Allen
The retraction of Deadly Immunity came shortly after Salon Media Group appointed a new editor-in-chief – Kerry Lauerman. But his boss, Salon Founder and CEO David Talbot, who also happens to be brother-in-law to the vaccine industry’s original go-to guy Arthur Allen, may have planned the retraction even before Lauerman’s nomination. And Allen’s wife who is also Talbot’s sister, Margaret Talbot, was most likely the chief architect.
When Arthur Allen returned to the United States in 1995 after a career in foreign reporting for the Associated Press, his brother-in-law David Talbot started up Salon.com and became its editor-in-chief. The newly founded website was a nice little safety net for Arthur Allen while he restarted his career. Starting in 1996, he contributed dozens of articles to Salon. Just recently, Allen made his first contribution to Salon in nine years. In fact, there are perhaps few publications Allen has contributed to since 1995 that his wife had not previously contributed to, or that her brother had not previously edited and/or founded. Much of Allen’s success, it seems, has come from riding on the coattails of his more accomplished family members.
Arthur Allen rekindled “his undergraduate interest in biology by becoming a science writer,” according to his defunct HuffPo bio. He makes it sound like he was a seasoned science writer, but that wasn’t at all the case. After his return to the United States, he completely depended on the newly founded website of his brother-in-law, David Talbot. Allen’s best career move was marrying Talbot’s sister, Margaret Talbot - staff writer for The New Yorker.
An interviewer witnessed the couple’s off-balance power dynamic firsthand when he arrived at their home. Allen’s wife was so angry at the interviewer's visit that she kicked the two of them out of the house to go do their interview elsewhere. In his conversation with me, the interviewer summed up their marriage in one sentence:
“She wears the pants in that relationship.”
If Talbot was angry about an interview Allen gave in 2008, one could only imagine her rage in 2005. That year, David Kirby’s book “Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic, A Medical Controversy” was published, which plugged Allen’s 2002 New York Times Magazine Article critical of thimerosal, “The Not-So-Crackpot Autism Theory.” Allen himself also wrote Slate’s obituary for the late vaccine expert Dr. Maurice Hilleman that year, praising the late vaccinologist for warning the FDA about thimerosal, which the agency took no action to address.
Just months later, the website Margaret Talbot’s brother founded ran Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s exposé of the thimerosal cover-up and Congress’ attempts to shield its manufacturer, Eli Lilly, from related litigation. Two months after Kennedy’s article ran, Arthur Allen responded in Slate, this time coming out strongly in favor of the neurotoxic substance. But what caused Margaret Talbot to influence Arthur Allen when she did?
Margaret Talbot is not just a Staff Writer for The New Yorker, but is also a Senior Fellow for the “New America Foundation,” a think tank that “that invests in new thinkers”. New America is deeply entrenched in the vaccine industry. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is among its biggest financial backers, and a McKinsey Senior Partner, Lenny Mendonca, sits on New America’s board of directors. McKinsey’s connections to the vaccine industry are numerous and run deep. One could only imagine the pressure New America Senior Fellow Margaret Talbot was under when David Kirby’s book came out, followed by “Deadly Immunity” on Salon.
So this pressure on Margaret Talbot, in turn, must have translated to pressure on her husband Arthur Allen who went from exposing vaccine risks to covering them up.
The professional jealousy Allen felt towards David Kirby after his book came out may have also played a role in pushing him to the other side. Evidence of Harm became a New York Times bestseller and won Kirby an appearance on Meet The Press with journalism legend Tim Russert, while Allen’s own book Vaccine was still in development. This jealousy was overtly expressed in Allen’s Slate piece now defending thimerosal, in which he dismissed Kirby’s book as “written from the perspective of SafeMinds,” while Allen elevated himself as the first person to write about the thimerosal debate in-depth. Though Kirby’s book plugged Allen’s 2002 thimerosal piece, the star of Allen’s article – former Advisory Council on Immunization Practices member Dr. Neal Halsey – complained that the title misrepresented him as being open to the possibility that thimerosal could cause autism. In fact, he never was.
Dr. Halsey was more accurately represented in Kennedy’s piece as another congressionally reprimanded policymaker who held conflicts of interest. Allen’s article also played down the incrimination of the Simpsonwood Meeting of government officials seeking to cover-up evidence of harm from thimerosal, which was instead represented as scientists just looking over their shoulders while they work. The incriminating information about Dr. Halsey and Simpsonwood in Kennedy’s article was not in Allen’s 2002 article and could have only served to remind him that his New York Times Magazine article lacked the investigative depth of Kennedy’s.
To top it off, The New York Times, which originally ran Allen’s 2002 piece that gave some credence to thimerosal concerns, ran an article in 2005 by ethically bankrupt Gardiner Harris and his junior colleague Anahad O’Connor backing the CDC’s cover-up of thimerosal’s harm. The article, titled “On Autism’s Cause: It’s Parents vs. Research,” was plugged in Allen’s Slate defense of thimerosal, “Why Thimerosal is Safe.” Perhaps Harris’ hit piece was the final development that sent Allen over to pharma’s side.
The publications in which Allen defended thimerosal possessed the same conflicted ties as his wife’s think tank. Gates’ company, Microsoft, originally founded Slate - one of the websites Allen wrote for. It was eventually bought by The Washington Post, but not before Melinda Gates joined the paper’s board of directors. The Washington Independent, another website Allen contributed heavily to, was owned by the Center for Independent Media. But the think tank was anything but independent, because serving on its board is none other than Eric Braverman – McKinsey Partner since 1997.
New America Foundation – Not a New Problem
Just recently, Allen’s old stomping grounds, Slate, posted an article by another New America Fellow named Evgeny Morozov saying that vaccine injury should be covered up in Internet searches, using public health as a pretense. But this was hardly the first time the think tank has publicly backed the vaccine injury cover up.
The New American Foundation has been a supporter of CDC’s cover-up for a long time. New American Foundation Senior Fellow Dr. Atul Gawande included the malicious hit piece, “On Autism’s Cause: It’s Parents vs. Research” in the Best American Science Writing 2006. (Four years later, an editor with pharmaceutical ties included Amy Wallace’s Wired Puff Piece for Paul Offit, “An Epidemic of Fear,” in the Best American Science Writing 2010 edition.)
Just last November, Joe Colucci - primary blogger for New America’s New Health Dialogue blog - wrote:
The overwhelming majority of anti-vaccine messages (claims that the MMR vaccine caused autism) were based on junk science, and posed an irresponsible risk to public health.
Arthur Allen’s Thimerosal Defense – A Look Back
Since 2005, Arthur Allen has vigorously defended thimerosal’s perceived safety. On a televised debate in 2007 with David Kirby, Allen claimed that a survey by the CDC showed that only 2% of childhood vaccines contained thimerosal by early 2002 as evidence that thimerosal was removed quickly and has no relationship to the increasing rates of autism in young children reported in California’s and the Department of Education’s autism statistics.
“Well, I’d like to see it,” Kirby responded skeptically.
What Allen didn’t say was that it was data from a convenience sample of a tiny fraction of pediatric clinics scattered throughout the country, merely recorded into the minutes of a public meeting held by the Advisory Council on Immunization Practices. Since convenience samples cannot be generalized, and since the clinics most convenient for the CDC to inspect for thimerosal-containing vaccines were likely the most convenient for the CDC make sure was free of thimerosal, Allen’s numbers are as good as useless.
The Council of State Governments’ 2005 Vaccine Safety Brief conceded that thimerosal was still in routinely recommended childhood vaccines as late as early 2004. In 2001, the American Academy of Pediatrics published recommendations of early screening for children with developmental disabilities – thus driving down the age of diagnosis. The policy was later revised in 2006 to demand children be specifically screened for autism spectrum disorders at 18-24 months, undoubtedly driving down the age of diagnosis eve more so and artificially driving up the prevalence in younger children – the premature increase of which was continuously used to defend the neurotoxin. The California Department of Developmental Services similarly published guidelines in 2002 for the early evaluation and diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders. In spite of all this, Dr. Mark and David Geier published research that suggested the increase in autism cases in California were starting to slow down following thimerosal’s removal. Similarly, one of the coauthors behind the fudged Danish research attempting to show no correlation privately admitted to her colleagues (including indicted fraudster Poul Thorsen) of the autism statistics following thimerosal’s removal:
“I need to tell you that the figures in the manuscripts do not include the latest data from 2001. I only have these figures as a paper version and they are at work......(redaction).... But the INCIDENCE AND PREVALENCE ARE STILL DECREASING (emphasis added) IN 2001. …the incidence and prevalence are still decreasing in 2001.”
Meanwhile, the latest CDC figures of 1 in 110 having autism are in children born entirely before thimerosal’s phase-out.
Allen’s blunders didn’t stop there. In his 2008 article in Mother Jones Magazine (for which his brother-in-law David Talbot used to be senior editor), “Vaccine Skeptics Vs. Your Kids,” Allen complained that the concerns voiced by protesters at the Washington, D.C. “Green Our Vaccines” Rally that too many shots are given too soon was a new concern. (Mother Jones since did something similar to Salon’s retraction by posting an “Editor’s Note” denying a vaccine-autism link to an old 2004 story about thimerosal).
Allen concluded that the rally’s “too many too soon” argument represented a shift away from presumably older concerns like those about thimerosal. What Arthur Allen either forgot to mention or lied about was that eight years earlier, he had written a Salon article saying that Congressman Dan Burton believed his grandson’s autism was caused by too many vaccines given at once:
Burton believes that a combination of 11 shots overwhelmed the immune system of his grandson Christopher, causing him to become autistic.
Congressman Burton was also one of the featured speakers at the rally, held in front of the capital where he once held congressional hearings on vaccine safety.
Salon After Kennedy: a Mouthpiece, a Crony and a Gawker
The Talbot connections suggest Kennedy’s exposé was the first and last honest article about vaccine risks that Salon ran. As more evidence built up against the vaccine industry, Salon defended it more vigorously. Following the leaked Hannah Poling decision by David Kirby, AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) Fellow Dr. Rahul Parikh surfaced at Salon, claiming that the government should unseal the child’s confidential medical records. The following year, David Talbot’s longtime Salon colleague, Mary Elizabeth Williams, expressed her bizarre obsession with Jenny McCarthy by attacking her in every article Williams wrote about this controversy.
And finally, following the retraction of Kennedy’s article, Salon writer Alex Pareene – who previously wrote for the gossip site Gawker –promoted the IOM’s latest whitewashed report. Gawker’s founder, editor and chief proprietor, Nick Denton, runs the operation out of his SoHo apartment in New York City, and has covered this debate from the vaccine industry’s perspective since 2008, the same year Seth Mnookin began working on his book defending the vaccine industry.
In old photos from a party held by Gawker in 2006, Seth Mnookin (L in photo) can be seen having a drink with Denton (R in photo). In the same article where the photo was posted, Gawker wrote that the only difference between the two was that Mnookin was able to kick his drug habit. Gawker, which heavily promoted Mnookin’s novel upon its release and called him a “Gawker pal,” seemed to imply that its own editor was on drugs.
Gawker’s pal is Salon’s friend. That’s what Salon editor Kerry Lauerman called Mnookin following the retraction of Kennedy’s article. Lauerman disclosed that he considers Mnookin a “friend” of his as well as a friend of Salon’s. It was at Salon where Mnookin got his start as a journalist, ironically by writing about his troubled past dealing drugs, committing burglary and biting a police officer. His article “Harvard and Heroin” won him respect at Salon, which included it among its “Best of 1999” series.
Seth Mnookin’s Rolling Stone Rumor – The Perfect Pretense
Seth Mnookin’s rumor helped give Salon the excuse it needed to strike Kennedy’s article from its website.
Though Mnookin brought nothing to the table that could discredit “Deadly Immunity,” he did make one finding that he was able to distort in his favor – a distortion he used in his book. In early 2010, the Rolling Stone website was undergoing some major housekeeping. In this process, Kennedy’s article was accidentally deleted from the website and later became available online only to subscribers.
But Seth Mnookin suggested more conspiratorial mechanisms – that Rolling Stone was ashamed of the piece and secretly deleted it from the website (perhaps his only original contribution in his entire book of pre-existing pharma talking points). As Mnookin’s manuscript reviewer, Arthur Allen no doubt vetted this rumor.
Margaret Talbot’s brother David was not CEO at the time RFK Jr.’s article was retracted, but David Talbot still played a major role in Salon’s affairs. As the site’s founder, he served on both Salon Media Group’s board of directors and the nominating committee – the committee that nominates Salon employees like Lauerman to high-ranking positions. Eight Months after Lauerman’s appointment to editor-in-chief, Talbot become CEO of Salon Media Group – a position he held for the first decade of the online news enterprise’s existence. Lauerman was the first to hail his master’s return as Chief Executive Officer, perhaps because of Talbot’s role in Lauerman’s promotion.
And so, following his promotion, Lauerman posted an official retraction of Kennedy’s piece in a possible effort to mimic The Lancet’s now-discredited retraction of Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s paper the year before. And Salon’s reason for doing so was what it cited as the new criticisms of Seth Mnookin, which was actually just the Rolling Stone Rumor that he had started.
Kennedy was not the only one who suffered from Lauerman’s new appointment. When he was promoted to Salon’s new role as editor-in-chief, his predecessor Joan Walsh was demoted to editor-at-large. She had been editor-in-chief of Salon at the time of Deadly Immunity’s publication, and she stood by the story even after Harvey Fineberg and friends tried to nitpick every canard in the article they could find, but could not undermine the exposé. Much of the supposed criticism boiled down to the age-old accusation that Kennedy dishonestly quoted “out-of-context” for providing succinct quotes rather than the entire paragraph-long passages from which they originated – an impossible expectation for any magazine article.
Even after a 2007 Senate “investigation” by Senator Mike Enzi – who received the bulk of his campaign contributions from the healthcare/pharmaceuticals industry – attempted to whitewash the corruption that happened at places like Simpsonwood, Salon stood by the story.
Only after Walsh suffered professionally did she claim to regret publishing Kennedy’s piece. In an apparent attempt to make her demotion look voluntary, she had said she was going to work on a book.
Rolling Stone Sets The Record Straight, Dispels Seth Mnookin’s Rumor
Weeks after the retraction of Deadly Immunity (which took place five days after the release of Seth Mnookin’s book), Rolling Stone Magazine posted a clarification that dealt a stunning blow to the credibility of Salon’s retraction. Rolling Stone posted an editor’s note dispelling Mnookin’s rumor that the magazine secretly retracted Kennedy’s article. Rolling Stone stood by the story, saying that the site was undergoing a makeover and that the article was deleted by accident:
Editor’s Note: The link to this much-debated story by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. was inadvertently broken during our redesign in the spring of 2010. (We did not remove the story from the site, as some have incorrectly alleged, nor ever contemplated doing so.) The link to the original story is now restored, including the corrections we posted at the time and the subsequent editorial we published about the ensuing controversy.
Seth Mnookin took credit for starting the rumor, but showed no remorse when it was disproved:
I’m pretty sure I’m the “some” who were “incorrectly alleged” that the magazine had removed the piece — or at least I haven’t found anyone else who brought it up.
But Mnookin seemed to have found a new pretense for why Rolling Stone should still retract the article - the recent suspension of Dr. Mark Geier’s medical license by the Maryland Board of Physicians, even though the brief mention of him in the article had nothing to do with the reasons cited for his suspension. And later that year, the medical board that suspended him came under fire from the state legislature, which accused the board of flouting fairness statutes for doctors.
Nonetheless, Mnookin still tried to breathe whatever life he could back into his old rumor that Rolling Stone secretly deleted the story, by sending the magazine some “questions” about the piece’s inadvertent removal. One read:
*Why did it take four months from the time when Salon retracted the story (and I pointed out its absence from rollingstone.com) for the magazine to re-post it online?
Had he bothered the read the date on the editor’s note, he’d know that it was not posted four months after Salon retracted the article. It was posted mere weeks later. Stunningly, Seth Mnookin just didn’t notice it until four months later.
But pitiful pretenses aside, it is quite comical that Seth Mnookin thinks he holds any sway at all with a magazine that recently published a clarification to specifically dispel a rumor that he created. Though with all the attention he’s received already, it’s easy to see how Mnookin could delude himself into thinking he can influence any media publication he wanted.
Yet while Mnookin may have a bubble of cronies within mainstream media that will promote him at every turn, his credibility outside that bubble is practically non-existent. Arguably, nothing demonstrates Mnookin’s lack of influence among outside journalists better than Rolling Stone’s courageous defense of Kennedy’s article following its retraction by the website run by Arthur Allen’s brother-in-law.
Will Seth Mnookin Allow His Own Credibility to Be Sacrificed like Arthur Allen’s Was?
If history is any indicator, Seth Mnookin’s bubble might soon pop.
At first glance it’s hard to believe that Arthur Allen, thrown under the bus on national television by the Department of Health and Human Services, was the number one media accomplice to vaccine-injury cover-up. But for years, Allen’s purpose has been to defend HHS honchos like Sebelius and keep them out of trouble. So he did the only thing he could do – nothing, allowing her to wreck his credibility. When I emailed him asking if the statement he attributed to Kathleen Sebelius was true in which she encouraged media censorship of vaccine damage– a statement her people claimed not to remember her saying - he ignored my email altogether.
But would Seth Mnookin, who has undoubtedly taken on Arthur Allen’s role in this controversy, allow his own credibility to be sacrificed in order to defend powerful people like Sebelius? Having met Mnookin, questioned him, and been thrown out of a public conference by him, I can attest that he does not take well to having his credibility undermined. If anything, he will go to desperate lengths to make himself seem credible. Whether it’s trying to prove he loves autistic people after booting one out of his own event or lobbying a magazine to retract an article after falsely claiming it was retracted by the publication, one has to wonder what Mnookin won’t do to boost his public image.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s Thimerosal Article Still Stands
Despite the efforts by Arthur Allen, Seth Mnookin, Kerry Lauerman, Joan Walsh and the Talbots to undermine Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s thimerosal article, his exposé is as valid today as it was upon publication in Rolling Stone and Salon over five years ago. That Salon would retract the article based on a rumor spread by Mnookin about a national magazine - with no fact checking by Salon to verify if it was correct – shows how special interests trump the truth, and how far Salon.com and the people behind it are willing to go to cover-up vaccine injury. Rolling Stone continues to value facts and is not under the conflicted influence of the thimerosal cover-up’s accomplices.
Jake Crosby has Asperger Syndrome and is a contributing editor to Age of Autism. He is a 2011 graduate of Brandeis University with a BA in both History and Health: Science, Society and Policy. He currently attends The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services where he is studying for an MPH in epidemiology.