USA TODAY medical reporter Liz Szabo has long denied everything about the autism epidemic. She's especially adamant that vaccines aren't a factor. She's done such a good job attacking the autism community that vaccine developer Dr. Paul Offit personally thanked her in his book, Deadly Choices.
Here are some examples of what she says about autism and the autism vaccine controversy. You'll notice she often cites Offit and is untroubled by a story of a family with four sons with regressive autism.
"In some ways, vaccines are a victim of their own success. Today's parents have never seen the diseases that terrified their grandparents, says Paul Offit, chief of infectious disease at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia 'We've not only eliminated these diseases; we've eliminated the memory of these diseases,' Offit says."
"[The autism-vaccine claim] became one of the greatest myths in modern medicine, says Offit, author of Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All. He points to nearly two dozen studies showing no link between vaccines and autism."
"Doctors can reassure parents that one thing doesn't cause autism: vaccines, says Paul Offit, chief of infectious diseases at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Nearly two dozen studies have failed to find a link between autism and vaccines, whether given alone or in combination."
If you're like me, you have to wonder what science she could possibly be talking about since most news reports on autism are happy to declare that as far as autism is concerned, there's no known cause, cure, universally effective treatment, and no way to prevent a healthy new baby from ending up on the autism spectrum. Autism is the perpetual medical mystery.
In the story, Szabo wrote,
"Across the country, researchers are scanning the brains of hundreds of autistic children like Nicky, looking for insights into a condition that has proved frustratingly hard to understand. Autism, which now afflicts more than 1 million children in the USA, is associated with a spectrum of disabilities, including repetitive behaviors and problems socializing and communicating.
"The quest to unravel the mystery - and get children and families the help they need - has become more urgent as autism has become more widely diagnosed. The condition now affects one in 88 children, according to a report last month from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."
I'm not sure what the great strides in autism really are as Dr. Thomas Insel, head of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee created by Congress to deal with autism was quoted telling us, 'Even when you look at a child who has no language, who is self-injuring, who's had multiple seizures, you would be amazed at how normal their brains look. It's the most inconvenient truth about this condition.'
Szabo talked about the difficulties in mapping the autistic brain and the work being done around the country. She cited Dr. David Amaral from the MIND Institute at UC-Davis who said, 'It would be great if there were a grand unified theory of autism, but we're far from that right now.'
Actually, it's hard to get excited over any of the research Szabo presented. It seems to be more of the same old science we've seen for years.
In this story she wrote about four boys in a single family with regressive autism.
"Each boy began like any other infant, smiling, cooing and returning his parents' gaze. Each child changed, however, sometime after his first birthday - a common pattern in autism. Its brain signatures appear to be present soon after birth, but it may not cause noticeable behaviors until toddlerhood, new research shows."
In truth, there's more to her April 2, 2012 story and it reveals a lot about the mindset of many reporters in the mainstream press. Recently, the mother of a seven year old boy with severe autism talked to me about a meeting she had with Szabo just before her April 2 story was published. Jackie Murphy of South San Francisco was asked to give an interview with Liz Szabo and she talked to her in person for over two hours, presenting her son's personal story and what she understands from her perspective as a registered nurse. Jackie tried to get Szabo to consider that there are actually two sides to this controversy. I talked with Jackie about what was said.
Q. Why did you get in touch with USA Today reporter, Liz Szabo?
A. My son and I participate in autism studies at UC Davis MIND Institute.
The MIND Institute asked if I would be willing to speak with Ms. Szabo.
I told them that I wanted to talk to Ms. Szabo in person as I feel it is difficult
to describe to someone over the phone just how sick many of our children
on the spectrum are. Instead, I flew to Washington DC at my own expense
so I could personally share all my son's medical records with Szabo. I also
brought all kinds of articles and books reflecting both sides of the controversial
Q. What was the study like that your son participated in at UC-Davis?
A. The study is quite in depth. It is longitudinal, so it takes place over
a period of time. We participated over a three year period. Fintan had
blood draws, behavioral evaluations, yearly MRI's and EEG's. The Autism
Phenome Project is compiling information that may show the different "kinds"
Q. When you flew to Washington D.C. from California to meet with Szabo,
what kind of information did you give her?
A. I gave Ms. Szabo a lot about about vaccine concerns. I am not
anti-vaccine, but I do believe vaccines can be a challenge with serious
side effects for some of our children. I don't think the press has done
an adequate or accurate job of covering both sides. I gave her a current
study the MIND Institute is doing on vaccines and the response of the immune
system of a child on the spectrum as compared to a control group. The
question of vaccine safety has not been answered for a very large group of
children. I provided books offering concerns on both sides. I
also gave copies of a report about Danish researcher Poul Thorsen
and the charge that he embezzled millions from the CDC while doing
vaccine research related to autism. His work constitutes the Denmark studies
are still used to reassure parents that vaccines are not linked to autism..
I discussed the study Fintan is in. I also shared with her two large
medical files I have kept on Fintan over the past five years. When my son
began to regress developmentally, he also had some very serious medical problems.
He had strange immune system responses, severe diarrhea and threw up frequently.
I told her that we had to pay out of pocket and seek out specialists willing to look at my son,
as I could not get a mainstream pediatrician to take my concerns seriously.
I wanted Ms. Szabo to see that these children have very serious health issues
and parents' concerns are being dismissed by mainstream medicine, leaving
children in pain and untreated.
Q. What did you tell her about your son?
A. I informed her about my son's complete medical history. All of
his problems were only discovered when we paid for medical care ourselves.
These were very serious medical issues including a
gastrointestinal ulcer. I even provided a picture of the ulcer my son had at age
two and a half and I thought that this would be compelling enough to motivate
her to look into the serious immune system/GI system problems common in
autistic children. I told her about how Fintan would press his stomach on tables and chairs
because he was in such severe abdominal pain and that Dr. Krigsman had informed us that this is
common in autistic children and it's referred to as "posturing."
I also gave her the record of my son's last administration of
vaccines. Six vaccines were given at a time when he was recovering from an upper
respiratory tract infection. My son who was already having problems, became
extremely ill and lost all ability to communicate. To this day he has almost no
expressive language and no understanding of what's being said to him.
Q. What was the response from Liz Szabo?
A. Ms. Szabo seemed genuinely concerned. I was hopeful. My intent was not
to have our personal story shared, but to show her that what happened to my son
is the story of thousands of children. We have a serious health care
crisis. As a nurse and a parent I have been astonished at the lack
of integrity among physicians acting on behalf of our children. I also
expect from more from journalists. That was the purpose of my trip from
California to Washington.
Q. When the story came out, did Szabo write about your son?
A. We were not included in the story, and as I said, that was not our goal.
I was however, disappointed in the quote Ms. Szabo used by Dr. Offit in her
article. I think it is misleading to parents and discourages necessary
conversation about vaccine safety between parents and caregivers. She ignored the
fact that studies are ongoing. She did give a limited report on research at the
MIND Institute, but the studies there are so vast and have gathered so
much information that it seems unlikely anyone could cover this information
accurately without dividing the report into a series. Unfortunately, her piece
oversimplified the issue of vaccine safety and ignored so much that is happening in
the area of autism research.
(Jackie Murphy and son Fintan are shown in this 8 min video, "Unlocking Autism.". Jackie sent this link to Liz Szabo.)
I'm appalled that a mother should have to make this kind of effort to try to and get a member of the press to do her job responsibly and ethically. The fact that nothing that Jackie said or presented to Szabo made any real impression is very frightening. Just how much are reporters willing to overlook when writing on autism?
Szabo's unfailing loyalty to Paul Offit means that she's untroubled by the fact that he made millions of dollars from the rota virus vaccine that he helped develop and therefore is hardly an unbiased source. She doesn't feel compelled to mention his pharma ties in any of her stories where he's cited as an expert. Furthermore, her selective reporting means that while citing Dr. David Amaral. she's willing to ignore what he said on PBS in April 2011.
When asked about the link between vaccines and autism, Amaral responded,
"If the child had a precondition, like a mitochondrial defect. Vaccinations for those children actually may be the environmental factor that tipped them over the edge of autism. And I think it is incredibly important, still, to try and figure out what, if any, vulnerabilities, in a small subset of children, might make them at risk for having certain vaccinations. . . . And I frankly don't think that there's going to be a large group of children that - their autism is caused by their standard immunizations. But you know, it could be a small subset."
It's clear that for many members of the press, there is only one side worth covering in the debate over vaccine safety--the side of those with everything at stake if it becomes accepted that an unsafe, unchecked vaccine schedule is behind the exponential increase in autism and a host of other disabilities and chronic conditions plaguing over half of our children. Szabo and others like her have little left to report on this topic. Telling us about yet another inconclusive study leaves the reader with more questions than answers. Parents are tired of reporters endlessly saying no one knows anything for sure about autism. The demand for legitimate science is growing and as this issue becomes ever more critical, the public will seek out sources that provide such information. Stories about pretend science will be increasingly irrelevant.
Reporters like USA Today's Liz Szabo should remember one thing: the truth will come out. There will be answers to vaccine safety questions. There have to be since public distrust of vaccines is now so prevalent. When all the facts that have been so thoroughly covered up are recognized, those who produced story after story denying the truth will be remembered.
Anne Dachel is Media Editor for Age of Autism. Subscribe to her newsfeed at AnneDachel.com