By Anne Dachel
Read Anne's commentary and view the links after the jump. The Dachel Media Update is sponsored by Lee Silsby Compounding Pharmacy and OurKidsASD, an online supplement retailer for patients with special needs.
Sunday Feb 8, I looked at several news shows to see how the controversy over the measles outbreak and exempting parents was being covered. Everywhere I looked, it was the same: Vaccines are the greatest medical achievement in history, they don't cause autism, the one study linking the two was debunked as a fraud, and every child should be vaccinated. The only real issue seemed to be, who should mandate vaccines, the states or the federal government?
Meet the Press coverage of the issue is a good example of the spin. They had two segments on it.
Here MTP tried to make the inane comparison between smoking bans, seat belt laws and vaccine mandates. Missing of course was any acknowledgment that wearing a seat belt and not being allowed to smoke in a restaurant have never been declared "unavoidably unsafe" practices by the U.S. Supreme Court, as vaccinating has been.
Viewers were told, "How far government can limit personal freedom to protect public health is a familiar tug of war. . . .
"Now with confidence in public institutions near historic lows, the debate over the appropriate role of government has touched a public health issue where scientists are in near universal agreement: Vaccines."
MTP pointed out that "a small but significant segment of parents aren't listening." Seventeen states have vaccination rates below 90 percent.
Seth Mnookin gave a ringing endorsement of vaccines. "They've been a victim of their own success."
Mnookin was followed by Megan Heimer, an "anti-vaccine advocate" who said, "I believe many parents do not trust the CDC or the government or think that they are putting our best intentions first." Heimer and her husband aren't vaccinating their two children, although he gives vaccines at the clinic where he works as a doctor.
"The fact that the science is clear hasn't stopped politicians from pandering to this small minority."
"During the '07 and '08 campaign both candidates, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were cautious on vaccination, citing the concern about the autism link at the time. . . ."
Katty Kay (BBC) : "Look, the science is absolutely clear, if we want to keep the public safe, 92 percent of people need to be vaccinated against measles."
Stephen Henderson (Detroit Free Press): "This is a pretty clear public health issue. It is not a freedom issue. Think of the things the government mandates we do already. Lots of things. This is one of the ones that shouldn't be debated."
Social media was blamed for the controversy Viewers were told, "If you can't trust what the CDC says, we've got a problem in American," the inference being that of course, we have to trust the CDC.
David Brooks (NY Times) joked about the whole thing and added, "I wonder if there's a vaccine for pandering." Laughter followed.
The MTP panelists expressed their outrage over Rand Paul's statements on parents' right to choose. Collectively they seemed unable to understand why parents don't vaccinate. They did mention the lack of trust in government, especially among the young.
Actually, it's not just trust in government that is eroding away, it's also the growing suspicion among Americans that the media isn't being honest either.
A Gallup Poll released in September found, "Americans' confidence in the media's ability to report 'the news fully, accurately, and fairly' has returned to its previous all-time low of 40%."
This most likely explains why, despite endless years of pro-vaccine stories, the public hasn't bought the claim that vaccines are safe. Doctor after doctor, official after official have solemnly attested that all the science is in on vaccines in all the mainstream papers and national TV networks--and it hasn't worked. .
Nowhere in any of this coverage do reporters bring up the disclosure in 2011 that there are over 80 cases where the federal government has compensated for vaccine injury cases that included autism. No member of the media mentions the announcement in 2008 of the case of Hannah Poling, the Georgia girl whose claim of vaccine-induced autism was conceded by medical experts at HHS. The press doesn't want to ask troubling questions like: Who funded the study or what were the conflicts of the researchers? Autism, that mysterious condition that is a raging epidemic affecting one in every 68 children officially that no one in mainstream medicine can prevent or cure, wasn't even talked about on the Sunday news shows.
It's like members of the media are living on a separate planet when it comes to issues like this. Parents are scared. They know about the explosion of autism and the failure of health officials to do anything about it. It's a little hard to trust these people when there's no recognition of what's happening in the real world.
I did come across a bright light in the midst of all the media darkness. Recently veteran Emmy Award-winning journalist Sharyl Attkisson gave a ten minute talk on media bias and corruption at the University of Nevada.
Sharyl talked about how news outlets replace facts with fiction because of the power and influence of special interest groups. The scenario she describes is all too familiar to us involved in the controversy over vaccines and autism and the failure of the media to present this in a fair and balanced manner.
I have followed Sharyl’s outstanding coverage of the debate over vaccines and autism for over ten years. She is among the handful of reporters who have honestly reported on this issue.
This video makes it clear, fraud in the media is everywhere. Just as with the issue of vaccines and autism, it isn’t about “the science.” It’s about “their science” and how they’re able to convince us it’s the truth.
In this eye-opening talk, veteran journalist Sharyl Attkisson shows how Astroturf, or fake grassroots movements funded by political, corporate, or other special interests very effectively manipulate and distort media messages.
To show how the media operates, Sharyl brought up the example of a fictitious cholesterol-lowering drug called Cholextra. She said that the studies are out showing the drug is safe and effective and experts dismiss claims of side effects. Doctors are attending seminars that educate them about the benefits of this new drug. All kinds of sites have positive things to say about it.
"What if all isn’t as it seems?
“What if the reality you found was false, a carefully constructed narrative by unseen special interests designed to manipulate your opinion? . . .
“Complacency in the news media combined with incredibly powerful propaganda and publicity forces mean we sometimes get little of the truth. Special interests have unlimited time and money to figure out new ways to spin us while cloaking their role.”
Sharyl explained the difference between “grass roots” and“Astroturf” campaigns. Astroturf is, according to Sharyl, “a perversion of grass roots, as in fake grass roots.”
“Astroturf is when political, corporate or other grass roots disguise themselves, and publish blogs, start Facebook and Twitter accounts, publish ads, letters to the editor, or simply post comments online to try to fool you into thinking an independent or grass roots group is speaking. The whole point of Astroturf is to try to give the impression there’s widespread support for or against an agenda, when there’s not.
“Astroturf seeks to manipulate you into changing your opinion by making you feel as if you’re an outlier, when you’re not.
Sharyl brought up the controversy over the name of the Washington Redskins. Despite all that’s been said, she reported that in truth over 70 percent of Americans don’t think the name should be changed.
“Astroturfers seek to controversialize those who disagree with them. They attack news organizations who publish stories they don’t like, whistleblowers who tell the truth, politicians who dare to ask the tough questions, and journalists who have the audacity to report on all of it. Sometimes Astroturfers simply shove, intentionally, so much confusing and conflicting information into the mix, that you’re left to throw up your hands and disregard all of it, including the truth. Drown out a link between a medicine and a harmful side effect, say vaccines and autism, by throwing a bunch of conflicting, paid for studies, surveys and experts into the mix, confusing the truth beyond recognition.
“And then there’s Wikipedia–Astroturfs dream come true. Billed as the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit, the reality can’t be more different. Anonymous Wikipedia editors control and co-op pages on behalf of special interests. They forbid and reverse edits that go against their agenda. They skew and delete information in blatant violation of Wikipedia’s own established policies with impunity, always superior to the poor schleps who actually believe anyone could edit Wikipedia, only to discover they’re barred from correcting even the simplest factual inaccuracies. . . .”
Sharyl went on to describe how Wikipedia was found to be in violation of their own policies offering paid-for services to manipulate information.
Next Sharyl again talked about Cholextra. “It turns out the Facebook and Twitter accounts you found that were so positive were actually written by paid professionals hired by the drug company to promote the drug. Wikipedia page had been monitored by an agenda editor, also paid by the drug company. The drug company also arranged to optimize Google search engine results, so it was no accident that you stumbled across that positive non-profit that had all those positive comments. That nonprofit was, of course, secretly founded and funded by the drug company. The drug company also financed that positive study and used its power of editorial control to omit cancer as a possible side effect. What’s more, each and every doctor that touted Cholextra, or called the cancer link a myth, or ridiculed critics as paranoid cranks and quacks, or served on the government advisory board that approved the drug–each of those doctors is actually a paid consultant for the drug company. As for your own doctor, the medical lecture he attended that had all those positive evaluations, was in fact, like many continuing education classes, sponsored by the drug company. And when the news reported on that positive study, it didn’t mention any of that.”
Sharyl gave the example of coverage she did for CBS News on a study from the National Sleep Foundation, a nonprofit, that found there’s “epidemic of sleeplessness” in the U.S., and people should talk to their doctors about it. She continued, “First, I recognized the phrase, ‘Ask your doctor,’ as a catch phrase promoted by the pharmaceutical industry. They know if they can get your foot through the door at your doctor’s office to mention a malady, you’re very likely to be prescribed the latest drug that marketed.”
As far as that Sleep Foundation study was concerned, Sharyl said,“It didn’t take long for me to do a little research and discover that the National Sleep Foundation Nonprofit and the study, which was actually a survey, not a study, was sponsored in part by a new drug that was about to be launched onto the market called Lunesta–a sleeping pill. I reported the study as CBS News asked, but of course I disclosed the sponsorship behind the Nonprofit and the survey so the viewers could weigh the information accordingly. All the other news media reported the same survey directly off the press release as written, without digging past the superficial. It later became an example written up in the Columbia Journalism Review, which quite accurately reported that only we at CBS News had bothered to do a little bit of research and disclose the conflict of interest behind this widely reported survey.”
Finally Sharyl gave her audience advice on how to separate propaganda and Astroturf from facts:
“Hallmarks of Astroturf include use of inflammatory language, such as ‘crank,’ ‘quack,’ ‘nutty,’ ‘lies,’ ‘paranoid,’ ‘pseudo,’ and ‘conspiracy.’
“Astroturfers often claim to debunk myths, that aren’t myths at all. Use of the charged language tests well. People hear something’s a myth, . . . and they instantly declare themselves too smart to fall for it.
“But what if the whole notion of the myth is itself a myth?”
“Beware when interests attack an issue by controversializing or attacking the people, personalities and organizations surrounding it, rather than addressing the facts.
“And most of all, Astroturfers tend to reserve all of their public skepticism for those exposing wrongdoing rather than the wrongdoers. In other words, instead of questioning authority, they question those who question authority. You might start to see things a little more clearly. . . . I can’t resolve these issues, but I hope that I’ve given you some information that will at least motivate you to take off your glasses and wipe them, and become a wiser consumer of information in an increasing artificial, paid for reality.”
I couldn't help but think of Sharyl's talk watching Meet the Press, especially her question, “What if the reality you found was false, a carefully constructed narrative by unseen special interests designed to manipulate your opinion?".
The Dachel Media Update is sponsored by Lee Silsby Compounding Pharmacy and OurKidsASD. Lee Silsby is one of the most respected compounding pharmacies in the country and is committed to serving the needs of the Autism community. OurkidsASD is an online retailer for nutritional supplements for patients with special needs. OurkidsASD carries thousands of products from more than 60 brands and offers free ground shipping on all orders.
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 is on sale now from Skyhorse Publishing.