Close followers of the autism debate know that George Stephanapoulos is regarded by "our side" like Dr. Nancy Snyderman and Anderson Cooper -- especially nasty avatars of the "no vaccine link" school. So it's hard not to have a bit, or more than a bit, of schadenfraude when he gets tripped up, as happened after his especially nasty interview with Peter Schweizer, author of Clinton Cash. Turns out George had donated $50,000 -- wait, make that $75,000 -- to the Clinton Foundation that he never thought to disclose.
As others have pointed out, the original sin in all this was probably hiring him in the first place. Was there no other person in the United States able to become the flagship anchor of a major news network than someone who had been a close adviser (with James Carville, the man who later came up with the stepped-all-over-us line to describe George's treatment of the Clintons in his autobiography) in both the Clinton campaign and presidency?
The answer was clearly no -- there was not no other person, so to speak. Hiring George as a commentator -- as Carville has been -- would be fine, but someone with so prominent a role, so recently, in politics really should have been disqualified. Now some may cite Diane Sawyer, who helped Richard Nixon in his exile, or Tim Russert, who worked for Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. But those were earlier and much lesser roles. And frankly, both of them were much better journalists than George.
Stephanopoulos is tainted because in his national political role, he visibly touched everything that is part of the political debate, including, I'm sure, health policy of which vaccines are an inevitable part. Hillary Clinton had much to do with enhancing -- increasingly the correct word is enforcing -- universal childhood vaccine coverage. What do you expect George to do when a supposed fraudster like Andy Wakefield is in front of him, seeming to threaten everything he has worked for? Attack, just as he attacked Schweizer.
These conflicts of interest are so ubiquitous in the media these days they are just about invisible. The pharma ads that prop up these network shows, the treatment of the CDC as superheroes saving us from certain death from, say, Hep B in infants (with tall, jut-jawed former CDC director Richard Besser as ABC's heath editor, for crying out loud!), the assumption that vaccines somehow have a lifetime exemption from the kind of scrutiny every other medical intervention is subject too -- all this tips the scales until the whole apparatus tumbles over into one-sided, intemperate propaganda.
The shills want to compare vaccine safety concerns to global warming denial, which is wrong-headed in so many ways that I continue to write about. The real contemporary comparison is the invasion of Iraq, fed by lies and hidden agendas. It is fascinating to watch the belated debate now playing out.
But the lessons here -- arrogance, uncritical press coverage, fear of stepping out of line -- never seem to get applied in time to stop the next rush to bad judgment.
Instead, we get the Wakefield Inquisition morning, noon, and night, carried out by people like Stephanopoulos who really don't belong on the same platform (and the same to you, Anderson Cooper and the now-departed Dr. Nancy, whose selfishness was on display when she violated an Ebola quarantine to make a food run). If any of these muckety-mucks got out of their offices and talked to their audiences -- parents who've seen their child regress after vaccination -- they would get the shock of their lives. Unfortunately, there's still plenty of time.
Dan Olmsted is Editor of Age of Autism.