By Jake Crosby
"There are groups out there that insist that vaccines are responsible for a variety of problems despite all scientific evidence to the contrary. We have reached out to media outlets to try to get them to not give the views of these people equal weight in their reporting to what science has shown and continues to show about the safety of vaccines,” (HERE) according to HHS Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, in her interview with Arthur Allen for The Reader’s Digest, on February 5th of this year. Sebelius basically admitted to pressuring media outlets to report disinformation to the public in place of information that does not support the safety of the government’s most heavily promoted drug. As shocking as this statement was the first time I read it, I honestly could have predicted such a scenario.
One year ago, I wrote a short post for Age of Autism entitled “History Suggests HHS Candidate Not Unbiased on Thimerosal-Vaccine Issue,” amidst the Brian Deer-concocted hysteria and the flurry over autism cases in vaccine court. It was written in response to a number of disturbing things I read at the time about members of her staff dismissing concerns about thimerosal when she was Governor of Kansas. I was disappointed with the lack of mobilization in response to my post, though the timing of her nomination was very unfortunate. What was especially disappointing was that she replaced Senator Tom Daschle, who helped kill the Homeland Security Rider that would have protected thimerosal manufacturers such as Eli Lilly from litigation.
Worst of all, I was right. When I first saw her interviewed for CBS by Katie Couric last year, Sebelius confirmed that she was biased when she insisted thimerosal was safe. I was disappointed, but not shocked. Now as it turns out, she not only believes thimerosal is safe, but is getting the media outlets to say so for her. The New York Times, The LA Times, The Chicago Tribune, USA Today, The Washington Post, TIME, Wired…I can only guess!
It goes without saying that the government is no more entitled to its share of media coverage than consumer groups are. That news reporters are even following through on the government’s demands is unacceptable and in violation of journalism ethics.
Government officials like Sebelius have also launched a very successful two-pronged campaign so far. The first is one of positive publicity and self-promotion, selling themselves as the “experts” in autism. In reality, public health officials are not experts in autism at all, and Sebelius’ specialty is in insurance, which means her background does not even give her the most vague knowledge about autism. Meanwhile, Paul Offit feigns authority in a favorite argumentative technique claiming, “Science is best left to scientists.” Yet the real scope of his knowledge is made clear on posts he had written for “Science”Blogs, in which he said he learned about autism primarily through newspapers and lay people with personal connections to the disorder.
Looks like he’s not much of a scientist after all. So we are the real experts on autism, the ones who actually take the time to educate ourselves about this disorder and actively pursue relevant information about the condition. That’s not to say having an MD cannot be a huge plus, though it can also be a huge minus, simply that actively pursuing information about autism, be it in books or on the internet, not passively reading about it in the news, is what really counts. As the consumer voice on this issue we should have every bit as much of a say as does government. The second PR game of the government’s is a negative publicity campaign against the consumer advocates. It basically builds on its previous tactic of feigning credibility and expertise where it has none, and from that they develop their claim that by daring to disagree with them, we are unreceptive to criticism. This is exactly the kind of argument officials like Sebelius have been making. What more can one expect from a government official whose pet healthcare plan has received an $80 billion pledge from the drug industry? In reality, it is nothing more than a bizarre brand of newspeak the government and industry has been engaging in for some time: being unreceptive to all criticism of the blatant tobacco science defending vaccines, and then proceeding to stifle that criticism by projecting their lack of reception onto their critics. Needless to say, if Sebelius and the rest of the government really had science on their side they would not have to go to great lengths of telling media outlets to stifle evidence unfavorable to them. In fact, nothing would serve their viewpoint better than an article that stacks up their arguments next to our arguments and allow readers to draw their own conclusions, if they had the facts on their side that is. Perhaps that is why they despised David Kirby’s book, “Evidence of Harm,” so much.
On the bright side, at least Sebelius’ quote explains why the past year has been a particularly terrible one in terms of media coverage. We need to send our own message out to the media, to not listen to this conflicted government that shields drug companies from vaccine litigation, and promotes vaccines in a way unlike any other drugs. They need to be pressured to do their jobs as the media watchdogs of public health, not lapdogs as even The New York Times’ Nicolas Kristof admits, who then proves his own point by saying the vaccine-autism link has been “discredited.” The government’s easily debunk-able myth that all scientific evidence points to vaccines being safe must be dispelled with scientific evidence that some vaccines are not safe, especially the government’s own court concessions that vaccines cause autism to show it is doing one thing, while saying another.
In the meantime, lessons must be learned so another Sebelius-type does not get assigned to a position in the Presidential Administration. The Senate confirmation of Ari Ne’eman to the National Council on Disability is still pending. We have to do all we can to resist this and pressure our senators to reject his nomination outright.
Jake Crosby is a history student with Asperger Syndrome at Brandeis University, and Contributing Editor to Age of Autism