The saga of Seth Mnookin and his uncle, Robert Mnookin just gets weirder and weirder. First it has been revealed that Robert Mnookin is close colleagues with Linda Singer - the mother-in-law of pharma-funded wife, Alison Singer - and Michael Lewis, who sits on the board of her fake autism charity/pharma front group, “Autism Science Foundation.” (HERE)
Now, the latest installment of this bizarre tale comes in the form of a smear piece against Dr. Andrew Wakefield in The New York Times Magazine authored by a reporter named Susan Dominus. The title speaks for itself: “The Crash and Burn of an Autism Guru.” Apparently, the previous title, “Autism Guru Fights for His Reputation and Theory,” was too balanced for The New York Times, which has since changed the headline.
Then the title was revised to be more disparaging to Dr. Wakefield.
The article gives Seth Mnookin’s book a plug:
[Andrew Wakefield] is very good at what I call whack-a-mole arguments,’ says Seth Mnookin, author of ‘The Panic Virus,’ a history of the controversy over autism and vaccines.
But Seth Mnookin is not the first Mnookin to have received a favorable quotation in The New York Times Magazine by Susan Dominus. In a 2005 article she authored for the magazine entitled, “The Fathers’ Crusade,” she gushed:
Robert Mnookin, director of the Harvard Negotiation Research Project and a professor at Harvard Law School, is the rare expert who concedes that each side has legitimate concerns. A presumption of joint physical custody would have ‘’some nice symbolic attributes,’’ he told me; but he worries about how it would play out in practice. He notes that the parents whose custody negotiations end up going all the way to court tend to be the parents who fight the most. In those cases, he argues, forcing judges to implement joint physical custody is a bad idea for the kids, since it only perpetuates their exposure to the conflict. He contends, however, that if divorced parents know that a judge is disinclined to award joint physical custody in circumstances with a high degree of conflict, it creates an incentive for a parent who wants sole custody to create conflict. Mnookin says he doesn’t favor the presumption of joint physical custody, although he concedes that without one, the system gives mothers an advantage. ‘’In times of cultural transition like this,’’ he said, ‘’the law struggles.’’ (HERE)
Seth Mnookin’s uncle Bob liked this description of himself. In fact, he liked it so much that he listed a link to a special page containing the excerpt in the press section of his personal website. The chronology of the press list on his website suggests this was the first time he received such a favorable plug in the popular press. (HERE)
Now, in 2011, Robert Mnookin is in a position to pull his weight at The New York Times. He coauthored an article for The International Herald Tribune, a New York Times Company-owned newspaper, and just last year, his latest book received a glowing review in The International Herald Tribune which also ran on The New York Times website. Could Seth Mnookin’s uncle Bob have played a role – direct or indirect – in Susan Dominus’ current New York Times hit piece on Wakefield?
The Dominus Effect has apparently influenced other writers at The New York Times. In 2010, Dominus’ colleague Lisa Belkin posted a hostile screed against Jenny McCarthy by Liane Carter, a member of Alison Singer’s front group on a New York Times blog. When Dominus’ article on Andrew Wakefield was published online, Belkin publicized it on her blog, the subtitle of which read, “Why some still won’t accept that Andrew Wakefield is wrong.”
The piece was further publicized on MSNBC. In fact, Seth Mnookin tweeted about it:
Fortunately, Mnookin called in sick:
“Correction: I actually won't be on @msnbc at 3:30. I seem to have caught a bug. Susan Dominus still will be, though.”
There are people at The New York Times, however, who would probably promote Seth Mnookin with or without the connection to his Uncle Bob. Dr. Abigail Zuger, who as Katie Wright wrote, “is blinded by her adoration for the medical community” is one such example. Dr. Zuger sits on the advisory board of a journal called Clinical Infectious Diseases, which has a section on vaccines co-edited by Dr. John Modlin - the former chair of the ACIP (Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices) when its membership included millionaire vaccine industrialist Paul Offit.
According to the August 21, 2000 Majority Staff Report - Conflict of Interest in Vaccine Policy Making - by the Committee on Government Reform, Dr. Modlin owned $26,000 of Merck stock and sat on Merck’s Immunization Advisory board while chairing the ACIP as well as the Rotavirus working Group – voting “yes” eight times including the policy to routinely recommend the rotavirus vaccine Rotashield, later banned for causing intussusception.
Yet despite being The New York Times monthly “Books” columnist, Dr. Zuger does not mention her vaccine industry affiliations anywhere in The New York Times – only that she’s an “infectious disease physician in Manhattan.” To accompany her column, The Times published the entire introduction from Seth Mnookin’s book. Mnookin has written quite a few book reviews for The Times himself.
Still, the overarching theme at The New York Times remains – Mnookin seems to be steering the newspaper’s current reporting of this controversy. It is Susan Dominus who has done the hit-piece writing, this time against Dr. Andrew Wakefield. Even though Seth Mnookin says he has “mixed feelings” about the piece, he is certainly getting a lot of publicity out of it.
Even so, this has clearly not been a good week for the vaccine industry on the public relations front. With Robert MacNeil’s PBS NewsHour Series, his subsequent interview about it on NPR of all places, the indictment of Poul Thorsen, publicized by Reuters and other media outlets, UPI’s report that most doctors support spacing out vaccines and the report from the Orange County Register that Paul Offit lied about the CBS News coverage of his undisclosed conflicts of interest – the Dominus article is certainly a glimmer of light for big pharma in a tunnel of darkness.
A hit piece against someone the industry despises may not turn back this tide of events, but would certainly help, and The New York Times is more than happy to provide the ink. I’ll bet Seth Mnookin’s uncle Bob is proud.
Jake Crosby is a college student with Asperger Syndrome at Brandeis University majoring in History and Health: Science, Society and Policy, an intern at Northeastern University and contributing editor to Age of Autism.