Author's Note: This post originally ran in 2011, after the vaccine lobby's hired gun Brian Deer received his second "Press Award," to explain why his second such award is as meaningless as his first. Later that same year, Deer won another "award" from the UK pharma front group "HealthWatch." Then just a few days ago, another front group in the UK run by pharma-backed "science" writer Simon Singh gave Dr. Andrew Wakefield - whose Lancet paper was vindicted by colleague Prof. John Walker-Smith's successful appeal earlier this year - a mock award for "quackery." In response, we are re-running this piece to remind readers that Brian Deer's "awards" are just as farcical.
By Jake Crosby
The UK’s “Press Awards” are not nicknamed the “Hackademy Awards” for nothing, especially in the case of Brian Deer. He has been given not one, but two such awards. The claim, made by Brian Deer, that the UK Press Awards are like the Pulitzer Prize is laughable and absurd.
The UK’s Society of Editors runs the Press Awards. Sitting on the Editors’ advisory council is Les Hinton, who recently resigned as CEO of Dow Jones in the wake of the Murdoch phone hacking scandal. Also on that committee is Rebekah Brooks, who resigned as senior executive of News International - which publishes The Sunday Times - and was then arrested.
For over a decade, Brian Deer's only award was based on a faulty premise. It was called “Specialist Reporter of the year.” The judges said Deer was “the only journalist in Britain that polices the drug companies.” However, during the year for which he won his award, 1998, Brian Deer wrote an article alleging that patients who suffered neurological injury from the DTP vaccine were not really injured and should therefore not have received legal compensation for their injuries. That is the exact opposite of “policing” the drug companies, but is instead harrassing the victims of defective drug company products. In 2004, Glenn Frankel reported in the Washington Post that one of Brian Deer’s specialties “was tracking down false claims of damage from vaccines.”
Weeks after the bogus premise behind his first award was reported on Age of Autism, Brian Deer was nominated for “News Reporter of the Year” and also for “Specialist Reporter of the year,” the latter of which he won at the ceremony in London’s Savoy Hotel on April 5th, 2011. That award was given to Deer for his smear campaign against Dr. Andrew Wakefield.
The measure of any great or even good journalist must be his independence. Journalism awards are supposed to be based on independent assessments of reporters’ work, otherwise they are meaningless. Furthermore, it seems too perfect that Brian Deer was nominated for a Press Award (that he would later win) mere weeks after Age of Autism revealed he had only won one award.
How surprising can this really be given that the Academy of Judges for this year’s awards ceremony included Richard Caseby, managing editor of The Sunday Times? Caseby became notorious for his exchange with Rosemary Kessick – one of the few parents of the Lancet 12 children that Brian Deer actually interviewed.
Following a 6-hour interrogation of Kessick by Deer in 2003, during which he falsely gave his name as “Brian Lawrence,” she complained to The Sunday Times executive editor John Witherow. The exchange is detailed by Dan Olmsted in his article, An Elaborate Fraud, Part 2: In Which a Murdoch Newspaper’s Deceptive Tactics Infect the British Medical Journal.
Unfortunately, Kessick might as well have been complaining to GlaxoSmithKline, the board of which has retained News International boss, James Murdoch, since 2009. John Witherow recently wrote in a self-congratulatory piece about The Sunday Times’ investigative journalism on July 17th:
There have, of course, been many other investigations, including Brian Deer's outstanding work on exposing the doctor behind the false MMR scare.
This sentence exposes a clear desire to try and shift the arguments off the ground of the Sunday Times and GSK and into a more general arena so showing that what happened to Wakefield was a result of universal investigating and popular will. In fact one of the most staggering things about the Wakefield case was that Deer carried sole responsibility for it prior to lodging it with the GMC; no other investigative journalist in the world uncovered or wrote anything original critical of Wakefield besides Deer.
Instead of Witherow responding to Kessick’s complaint, Richard Caseby wrote back:
Dear Ms Kessick,
Your email to the editor has been passed to me as managing editor so that I may investigate it. Once I have spoken to those involved I will be in contact next week.
Richard Caseby, managing editor, The Sunday Times
This promise, however, was never met. Fed up after writing Caseby multiple reminders, she wrote The Sunday Times lawyer, Alistair Brett, who would not comment on any of Kessick’s letters. He did, however, make the following assurance:
“…there is no intention to include you in anything we decide to publish on MMR.”
Yet another promise was not met. In Brian Deer’s 2009 Sunday Times article, he wrote he had cooperation from parents and mentioned his interview with Kessick. Exact quotes from Deer’s interview for The Sunday Times with Kessick would later be published in the British Medical Journal in January of 2011.
Richard Caseby’s embroilment in controversy does not stop with Brian Deer but also involves Paul Nuki, the conflicted Sunday Times “Focus” editor who assigned Deer to “find something big” on MMR. Nuki’s father Professor George Nuki sat on the Committee on Safety of Medicines while it was considering approval for the MMR vaccine that would later be banned for causing meningitis. Also on that committee was Professor Sir David Hull, who along with other committee members would ultimately approve the vaccine knowing it was dangerous as it had already been withdrawn in Canada. A decade later in 1998, as chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, Hull would be the first to accuse Dr. Wakefield of the “ethical” charges Brian Deer complained to the GMC about in 2004.
Richard Caseby and Paul Nuki were previously under fire in 2000 for publishing the confidential financial information of an English Lord, allegedly obtained by The Sunday Times through impersonators. Brian Deer is now facing parliamentary scrutiny for the acquisition of confidential medical records he obtained while working on the MMR project he was assigned by Nuki.
On the January 6, 2011 BMJ blog written by Brian Deer concerning his charges of fraud against Dr. Andrew Wakefield, Paul Nuki commented shortly before Deer’s award nominations:
Brilliant, Brian.... proof positive that investigative journalism of the highest standards lives on. Well done.
On his own personal online shrine, Brian Deer lauds his alter ego in the third person:
“…on 5 April 2011, Deer's personal journey found closure when he was named specialist journalist of the year in the British newspaper industry's annual Pulitzer-style Press Awards. Judges for the Society of Editors praised what they called his ‘outstanding perseverance, stamina and revelation on a story of major importance’. They said of his investigation: ‘It was a tremendous righting of a wrong’.”
What “wrong” was that, you might ask? Certainly not the vaccine damage to children that Brian Deer has energetically, with considerable stamina and perseverance, swept under the wall-to-wall carpet of corruption in British media.
Let’s hope the tremendous righting of Brian Deer’s wrong happens soon.
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.