I've been listening to CNN covering the tragedy in Japan. Anderson Cooper and Sanjay Gupta are there giving us up-to-the-minute reports on what's going on. Gupta has been talking about the dangers of radiation exposure. Cooper has been citing personal stories of survival.
I am impressed that Gupta and Cooper are right there in the midst of a horrific disaster. They're working hard to uncover the facts. Cooper and Gupta express heartfelt feelings over the unimaginable suffering they're seeing everywhere. I feel like I'm getting honest, in-depth coverage.
CNN is also very concerned about the safety level of our nuclear plants. They question the assurances by the government that the same thing that's happening in Japan couldn't also happen here.
As I watched the current news unfold, I couldn't help but think about how CNN and especially Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta covered the news about Andrew Wakefield in January. (HERE) There, Cooper didn't seem so concerned with getting the facts. He accused Wakefield of falsifying "a study" on vaccines and autism in 1998. None of it was true. It wasn't a study; it was paper. It was about the bowel disease he was finding in children who also had autism.
Cooper included U.S. Congressman Dan Burton in the report and Burton said, "We've had leading scientists from around the world come and testify before my committee who are certain that one of the major causes of autism is the mercury in vaccines."
Instead of including any of the scientists Burton referred to, Cooper merely said that mercury was removed in 2001 and the autism rate has continued to rise. He told viewers that he'd "confronted Dr. Wakefield earlier by Skype." We got to watch the interview as he questioned Dr. Wakefield while repeatedly interrupting him as he tried to answer.
Never once did Cooper acknowledge that Wakefield is a gastroenterologist and his work involved a novel bowel disease he was finding in autistic children--children whose parents reported to him that the onset of their problems came after receiving the MMR vaccine. In his interview of Wakefield, he seemed amazingly unconcerned about the epidemic of autism happening everywhere, an epidemic no official can explain. It never comes up. Dr. Wakefield suggested that Anderson Cooper should read his book. Cooper doesn't answer, leaving the audience to wonder if he had read any of it before this interview. Cooper only said that he'd read Brian Deer's book and that he wasn't interested in having Wakefield "pitch" his book on the air.
Cooper didn't talk to a single parent of any of the children Wakefield had as patients. Not one. He simply accepted Brian Deer's allegations. Cooper called Wakefield’s work "a lie" and referred to his book as "a lie."
Wakefield said his work has been replicated in five studies around the world. Cooper answered him by saying no it hasn't been. Incredibly, Cooper wasn't able to say that he'd checked into any of the five duplicated studies that Wakefield said have been done.
Wakefield told Cooper, "I suggest you do your investigation properly before making such allegations." It was clear that Cooper hadn't bothered to look into Wakefield's work. He merely read Deer's book and believed every word.
Sanjay Gupta also interviewed Wakefield. He said they'd "extensively" look at two of Wakefield's patients mentioned in the Lancet article, but he never mentioned having actually talked to anyone involved. Dr. Wakefield tried to make it clear that he and his colleagues were looking at these children's bowel problems and that the parents had cited the MMR as a factor. He said the MMR's role was "irrelevant." "THEY HAD BOWEL DISEASE. THEY HAD BOWEL PROBLEMS. THAT IS WHY THEY WERE THERE."
Wakefield said "an expert pathologist reviewed the biopsies blindly" and he made the diagnosis of bowel disease when Gupta claimed that according to Deer, the hospital had no records of those children having bowel problems. Wakefield added, "[The diagnosis] was not made by me." Gupta had no response. He didn't say he'd talked to the "expert pathologist" Wakefield mentioned. Instead, he moved on making personal attacks on Wakefield, charging him with fabricating data. Wakefield urged him to "READ MY BOOK." Again, Gupta never said he'd read it, leaving us to assume that he hadn't bothered to look into Wakefield's position before he interviewed him.
I couldn't help but contrast these two examples of CNN coverage.
I thought of two possible scenarios..............
What if CNN covered had covered the Brian Deer/Andrew Wakefield story back in January like they're doing with the tragedy in Japan?...............
If they had, Cooper and Gupta would have gone to Britain and talked to the Lancet parents. They'd have shown us videos of the children living with the horrible results of chronic bowel problems. They'd have had the parents recounting how they saw the damage following the MMR vaccine. We'd have seen Gupta interviewing the pathologist who did diagnosed those children with bowel disease. They would have included Dr. Peter Fletcher, former Chief Scientific Officer in the UK, who agrees with the claims of Andrew Wakefield. They would have brought up the issues covered in Wakefield's book.
CNN would also have included information on autism and expressed alarm over the exponential increase. They'd have speculated on possible motives for covering up a vaccine-autism link. They'd have been looking into Brian Deer's background too. They'd also be calling in top toxicologists to find out just how safe it was to ever have mercury used in vaccines. They'd want to know how thimerosal could ever have been approved by the FDA and they'd express outrage over the fact that it never was.
Finally, what if CNN were currently reporting on the disaster in Japan like they did with the news involving Andrew Wakefield?.......
Lots of things immediately come to mind. First of all, neither Anderson Cooper nor Sanjay Gupta would have actually gone to Japan. They'd have taken a lot of people's word for what's happening. They be saying that radiation isn't really harmful. They might even refer to it as "safe radiation." They'd be showing absolutely no concern over the number of people who've been killed, injured and left homeless. In fact, they might even suggest that this has typically been happening with earthquakes in Japan, it's just getting a lot more publicity. And of course, no one at CNN would be worried that the Japanese government isn't telling us everything about the damaged nuclear power plants. We'd also never get to see actual victims and hear their stories. If CNN used the autism model, the Japanese earthquake, tsunami, and power plant danger would all be explained away. CNN would happily move on to something more important.
Anne Dachel is Media Editor of Age of Autism.