By J.B. Handley
Is Christmas already here? How else do I explain the gift of an email I just received from Donald McNeil, Medical Reporter for the New York Times?
Some background is in order:
It's last Friday. Somewhere around noon. I'm driving my ASD son to afternoon school. One hand on the wheel, one hand on a large Peet's coffee, Violent Femmes blaring in the background. My phone rings. The caller ID shows the weirdest phone number I've ever seen: 111-111-1111…
I pick up and it's Donald McNeil from the New York Times.
I conduct the interview while dropping off my son, who provides background entertainment with the new trick he's learned of yelling as loud as he can like a shrieking lamb while laughing at the same time. I consider the interview a success.
While later reflecting on the interview, I have some insights that I consider blog-worthy and decide to write about it Monday morning (HERE), and the rest is history.
With that as backdrop, I submit to you Donald McNeil's recently received email, appearing just as it did in my mailbox (my comments to follow):
From: Donald G. McNeil Jr. firstname.lastname@example.org
Sent: Tuesday, December 16, 2008 3:34 PM
To: J.B. Handley
Subject: Age of Autism
Someone at Age of Autism was nice enough to send me a reference to your post.
I don't mind being called completely and utterly clueless, a kool-aid drinker, and so on. Freedom of speech, "sticks and stones..." and all that.
But I did learn something about your own abilities as a journalist. If you'll trust my notes and want to correct these statements, you are welcome to:
1. I did not tell you I was writing a review. I told you I was writing an article about the book, and its effect on the debate.
2. What you said about the death threats and Offit was: "I've received, not death threats, but emails threatening my physical safety on numerous occasions. I just don't complain about them to all the world like a giant pussy." And you condemned them, as you say.
3. I did not say that "Looking at unvaccinated kids would be immoral." I said: "Leaving kids unvaccinated (ie, in order to study them) would be immoral." Sounds similar, but there's a huge difference. In an email to me, you accused me of saying the first. I cleared up the misunderstanding in my reply email. In your subsequent Age of Autism piece, you simply repeated the misquotation, because it made me look stupider than the truth would have.
* * *
First off, as Mr. McNeil mentions, I would place a hell of a lot more weight in Mr. McNeil's notes than my memory of our conversation. And, if it isn't obvious to you yet from reading many of the things I've written about at Age of Autism, let me be the first to break it to you: I'm no journalist.
On the substance of the corrections Mr. McNeil politely asks that I make, I offer the following, numbered to reflect his order above:
1. I take full responsibility for thinking Mr. McNeil was writing a book review. I regret the error fully and stand corrected: he's writing an article about what the book has done to the debate.
2. I am certain that Mr. McNei'ls notes are more accurate than my censored paraphrase of this portion of our discussion. To clarify further (and because its rare to have the p-word in print here at AoA):
I wrote in my post that I said:
"Many of us on our side of the debate get threats, too, we're just not wimps who whine about it. It comes with the territory."
I considered my representation of the conversation to be a paraphrase of what I'd said, and Mr. McNeil's notes are certainly more accurate. So, what I actually said was:
"I've received, not death threats, but emails threatening my physical safety on numerous occasions. I just don't complain about them to all the world like a giant pussy."
I deeply regret this error and vow never again to say I called Paul Offit a "wimp" when I actually called him a "pussy." AoA editors, please accept my deeply held apology. And, Mr. McNeil, I'm very sorry for any confusion or professional damage this may have caused you.
3. I am shocked by my own inability to handle the facts and I apologize deeply to Mr. McNeil. While I claim that Mr. McNeil said, "Looking at unvaccinated kids would be immoral," what he actually meant, as his email makes fully clear, is that, "Leaving kids unvaccinated (ie, in order to study them) would be immoral." The difference between those two statements? I haven't a fucking clue, but let the record show the Mr. McNeil was not only misquoted, but felt the misquote made him look "stupider than the truth would have."
So, AoA readers, I'm sorry to pull the curtain back on the Wizard and have you all see for yourself what a sloppy non-journalist I really am.
As for Mr. McNeil, I've tried to imagine what he would possibly have to gain by writing me the email he did and I really haven't figured anything out. I will tell you that it's become very clear to me that New York Times reporters do not like having the tables turned on them, as I have tried to do with Mr. McNeil.
I hope, and I can only pray, that the New York Times will print, for all their readers to see, that a father of a child with autism called Paul Offit a pussy.
J.B. Handley is co-founder of Generation Rescue and a contributor to Age of Autism.