It’s really hard to understand the uproar over Chili’s plan to donate 10 percent of its proceeds on April 7 to the National Autism Association’s efforts to prevent wandering. Too often we see the tragic stories of autistic children wandering away and dying, especially by drowning. This is an especially critical work since the leading cause of death among those with autism is drowning.
In fact, in all the heated mainstream coverage of this, no one talked about NAA’s role in protecting the lives of these children. All that mattered was putting the “anti-vaccine” label on an autism organization.
Emily Willingham at Forbes wrote, “Chili’s had made a particularly poor choice” in deciding to give money to NAA.
Willingham quoted from the NAA website:
‘While mainstream science discounts vaccinations as a cause, members of the National Autism Association feel vaccinations have triggered autism in a subset of children, and that an overly aggressive vaccination schedule coupled with toxic adjuvants in vaccines could affect individuals who have a family history of autoimmune disorders specifically. As with any medication, adverse events do happen, and vaccinations are no exception. Research to investigate, and reduce, adverse events in immunized individuals is currently nonexistent.’
Acknowledging that there are parents who believe that vaccines triggered autism in their children hardly makes the NAA an anti-vaccine group, but according to Willingham, it doesn’t matter.
She took issue with the fact that the NAA states the following on its website,
‘Vaccinations can trigger or exacerbate autism in some, if not many, children, especially those who are genetically predisposed to immune, autoimmune or inflammatory conditions.
‘Other environmental exposures may trigger, or exacerbate, autism in certain children, especially those who are genetically predisposed to immune, autoimmune or inflammatory conditions.’
Willingham didn’t agree that there were any ‘environmental exposures’ that were found to be linked to autism. “Their list consists of factors that have been correlated with autism risk, not established as causative or contributing, with some more compelling than others.”
It was noted that the Forbes article had been first posted at 8:10 PDT on April 6 and at 2:30 PDT, Willingham added this update: “I have received the following emailed statement from a representative of the parent company of Chili’s Grill & Bar, Brinker International:
‘Chili’s Grill & Bar is committed to giving back to the communities in which our guests live and work through local and national Give Back Events. While we remain committed to supporting the children and families affected by autism, we are canceling Monday’s Give Back Event based on the feedback we heard from our guests. We believe autism awareness continues to be an important cause to our guests and team members, and we will find another way to support this worthy effort in the future with again our sole intention being to help families affected by autism. At Chili’s, we want to make every guest feel special and we thank all of our loyal guests for your thoughtful questions and comments.’
“I appreciate their decision.”
It says a lot about Forbes influence that Brinker International would notify Willingham directly about their decision. It makes one wonder if the decision was based on “feedback …from our guests” or pressure from news sites like Forbes.
In the eyes of the media, the National Autism Association ceased being an advocacy group for parents with disabled children, and according to hundreds of news reports, the NAA was instead “an anti-vaccine charity.”
The Los Angeles Times said, “The National Autism Assn. promotes that nonexistent linkage. Its ‘Causes of Autism’ Web page states its belief that ‘vaccines can trigger or exacerbate autism in some, if not many, children.’ It adds, ‘though published mainstream science fails to acknowledge a causal link’ to vaccines and other ‘environmental’ causes, ‘it’s important that parental accounts be carefully considered.’
“It's impossible to understate how destructive this approach is to the health of children. As we've reported, anti-vaccine sophistry has contributed mightily to new outbreaks of measles in California and the East Coast. Chili's blindly walked into this same quicksand.”
According to the LA Times, the very fact that the NAA mentioned that parents out there believe vaccines caused their children’s autism, makes them a dangerous organization.
In their coverage of the Chili’s story, ABC News said that in addition to linking vaccines to autism, the National Autism Association was also guilty of promoting the use of chelation on their site. Removing heavy metals as a treatment for autism, is ‘unfounded and illogical’ according to a 2013 study cited by ABC News.
Of all the media coverage of this, TIME Magazine was the worst. On April 7, an opinion piece by Jeffrey Kluger appeared on Google News with the title, “Chili's Burns Anti-Vaxxers: That's What Happens When You Kill and Maim Kids.” It seemed that it wasn’t enough to label the members of the NAA as “anti-vaccine,” TIME was also calling them murderers. I’m sure TIME must have had a lot of response after publishing a headline that sounded like tabloid rhetoric at best, short on content, long on sensationalism, because within a couple of hours, it was replaced with “Chili’s Burns Anti-Vaxxers — and Probably Saves Some Kids’ Lives.” Kluger called the NAA “anti-vaccine kooks” and added that the National Vaccine Information Center was “far more odious.”
Since the vast majority of reporters do no investigating before they make any of their pronouncements about autism, there was no absolutely no mention of the fact that in February, 2012, Autism Speaks, the world’s largest autism advocacy organization, announced that it awarded $30,000 to the National Autism Association in order to provide 1,000 of their “Big Red Safety Boxes” to families of children who were at risk for wandering.
Autism Speaks vice president of Family Services, Lisa Goring, was quoted saying, ‘The National Autism Association has taken on a leadership role in raising awareness about the dangers of wandering and elopement for some individuals with autism. NAA’s Big Red Safety Boxes provide the necessary resources to help prevent potentially dangerous situations, and we are proud to partner with the NAA to fund more of these valuable tools for families across the country.’
It’s hard to understand why a similar action by Chili’s provoked such outrage from the media. Why didn’t Emily Willingham call on Autism Speaks to reconsider their actions in 2012? Why didn’t the LA Times criticize AS like they did Chili’s?
The lifesaving work of NAA didn't matter. The message to any business wanting to donate to an autism group—make sure they don’t support the claim of a link between vaccines and autism. The message to autism groups was also clear: you can hold walks for awareness and light things up in blue each April, but you’re not allowed to bring up the cause—if it has anything to do with vaccines.
Maybe the big difference between the fact no one attacked Autism Speaks in 2012 and the vendetta against Chili’s in 2014 is the issue of vaccine safety itself. The claim that vaccines have serious side effects, including autism, can’t be stamped out, no matter how many well-credentialed experts appear on network news shows or are covered in the New York Times saying there is no link. By 2014, it's now time to crush any opposition and use the media to do it. The fact that Paul Offit was the keynote speaker at the Association for Health Care Journalists
advising them not to give balanced coverage to those worried about vaccine side effects in March 2014 and a week later, every major news outlets expressed their outrage that a restaurant chain would donate money to “an anti-vaccine” organization seems to show that members of the media have their marching orders and they're following them.
The Dachel Media Update is sponsored by Lee Silsby Compounding Pharmacy and their OurKidsASD brand. Lee Silsby Compounding Pharmacy is one of the largest and most respected compounding pharmacies in the country. They use only the finest quality chemicals and equipment to prepare our patients’ compounded medications and nutritional supplements. Customizing medication and nutritional supplements for our customers allows them to achieve their unique health goals.
Anne Dachel is Media Editor for Age of Autism and author of The Big Autism Cover-Up: How and Why the Media Is Lying to the American Public, which goes on sale this Fall from Skyhorse Publishing.