Sharyl Attkisson, the Benghazi truther criticized by Media Matters for her role in pushing various right wing hoaxes at CBS News, has been doing the punditry circuit to shore up her tattered reputation with nonspecific charges of liberal bias. Her conspiracy theory about her reduced airtime in recent years got the endorsement of the John Birch Society, but she was tripped up yesterday by Mika Brzezinki, who applied her own experience at CBS to debunk Attkisson’s narrative.
Brzezinski stays on Attkisson to give specifics, asking her “If you’re not saying, at this point, what stories were blocked, could you say what shows or who blocked them?”
The Stonewalled author would only single out The CBS Evening News, but Mika circled back to ask her, point blank, if she had a problem with CBS News Chairman Jeff Fager or CBS News VP Chris Licht, and Attkisson deflect to a nebulous “collective” in New York. Mika threw in a pitch-perfect bit of passive-aggression, telling Attkisson “That’s why I’m confused. I can’t wait to read your book.”
Along the way, Brzezinski also provided a plausible alternate theory of Attkisson’s slide into frustrating obscurity, in the form of Brzezinski’s own trajectory at CBS. “They were going to fire me,” she said, “so they felt that what’s the point of putting her on the air. She is someone we want to ease out. And so I went from 100 miles an hour to zero in the course of a week.”
Attkisson’s book is being published by Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp. But we suggest the best window on Attkisson’s agenda, and her decline at CBS, is not her shabby journalism on Benghazi, or Obamacare, or Solyndra, or her home computer getting hacked by the government, but her favorable reporting on anti-vaccine quackery. At CBS, Attkisson pushed an anti-science agenda that has had a huge impact on public health by incorrectly linking vaccines with autism.
Since the late 1990s, a growing number of American parents have become convinced — against all scientific evidence — that the risks of immunization outweigh the benefits. Their fears are rooted in a now-discredited 1998 study by a British doctor, Andrew Wakefield, who claimed that the onset of autism in 12 British children was linked to their being vaccinated for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR). But subsequent studies failed to replicate Wakefield’s findings, and an investigation found that his study was “an elaborate fraud,” with deliberately falsified data. Nonetheless, Wakefield’s bogus study started a wave of apprehension and confusion that continues to spread. In some states, from 5 to 8 percent of parents got a “personal belief” exemption to prevent their children from being vaccinated in 2012. Overall, more than 10 percent of parents are either delaying when their children are vaccinated or not getting the shots at all. “Every year, the number of kids getting exempted [from vaccines] grows,” said Dr. Lawrence Madoff, director of epidemiology and immunization for Massachusetts. “When immunization rates fall, it doesn’t take long, even in a developed country, for diseases to resurge.”
Is that happening?
Unfortunately, yes. In recent years there have been multiple outbreaks of measles, whooping cough, and other childhood diseases that not long ago were virtually wiped out by vaccination. In 2012, about 50,000 Americans contracted whooping cough (pertussis), a highly infectious respiratory illness that causes convulsive coughing for weeks and can be fatal to infants. It was the largest outbreak of that bacterial illness in more than half a century, and at least 18 people died. About 190 measles cases were reported in 2013, triple the previous year — virtually all in communities where there were large numbers of unvaccinated people. The Anti-Vaccine Body Count website, which is based on federal statistics, says that since 2007, 128,000 Americans have come down with preventable illnesses due to lack of vaccination, with 1,336 deaths.
Attkisson seems to have been spouting anti-vax propaganda since at least 2007, when she was pronounced “a crank” by blogging surgeon David Gorski. In 2008, when she was concern-trolling about financial ties between vaccine manufacturers and the advocates who spoke out against anti-vax pseudoscience, Gorski accused Attkisson of sharing network correspondence with anti-vax crusaders. Three years later, Gorski declared her the most important mainstream media representative of the anti-vax movement.
After all of Attkisson’s pandering to the anti-vaccine movement and promoting its message, one huge question remains. Why does CBS News tolerate Attkisson’s horrible reporting on vaccines and other scientific issues? I can’t speak about her other reporting, but when it comes to science, Sharyl Attkisson is a crank par excellence. She has an agenda; and she tortures the evidence to make it seem to agree with her biases. All of this wouldn’t matter so much if she weren’t a national correspondent for CBS. Unfortunately, there her crank magnetism allows her to engage in fear mongering on a national level.
In 2011, Seth Mnookin, author of The Panic Virus, a book about anti-vax crusaders, pronounced Attkisson “one of the least responsible mainstream journalists covering vaccines and autism” and called her reporting for CBS “an embarrassment.” All of this came before Attkisson says the network reduced her airtime, suggesting that editorial integrity was to blame, not political bias. The final straw may have come last year, when Attkisson did a highly controversial piece exploiting the murder of an autistic boy to puff up the discredited scientist at the heart of the anti-vax movement.
Alex Spourdalakis was a human being deserving of proper care and dignity, instead he was exploited to garner attention for the most execrable excuses for humans, one being his own mother. Ms. Spourdalakis and her new-found mouthpieces Lisa Goes and Andrew Wakefield plead for help; she received several offers but only wanted an attorney. There are so many inconsistencies in events leading up to Alex’s death yet Ms. Attkisson and CBS exercised absolutely no due diligence verifying and fact-checking any facet of Wakefield’s faux documentary.
But that is not even the worst of Ms. Attkisson’s and CBS’s offences; they have given a platform to a group of people who routinely de-humanise autists and presented them as though they speak for the autism community. These people are the same who say that children are better off dead than autistic. Alex Spourdalakis was purposely shown nearly naked and restrained. What kind of parent would not only allow such exploitation of her own child but stage it for ghouls like Wakefield to film and shop around for wider distribution? Ms. Attkisson and CBS have promoted the dangerous idea that disabled people are expendable and their murderers are sympathetic characters to be pitied for their burdens and admired for their sacrifices.
More interviewers ought to ask her about this, because her answers are incredibly revealing. Attkisson’s reporting has helped bring back diseases that had been utterly conquered in America, so it is no exaggeration to say that she is likely responsible for more dead Americans than the Benghazi attackers. So far, Attkisson has only been asked about this one time on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” program this Sunday, when she told Brian Stelter that her anti-vaccine reports were “some of the most important stories I’ve done.”
Well, you can believe that, I’m not here to fight doctors, I’m just saying that, factually, I’m not here to advocate for one side or the other. I’m just saying factually, there are many peer-reviewed published studies that do make an association, and the government itself has acknowledged the link, and again, people can do their own research, they don’t have to believe me or even one doctor over another, I think they need to dig deep and look for themselves.
And there you have it: nothing that Attkisson just told Stelter is remotely true. Actual scientific studies have never reproduced Andrew Wakefield’s research on a link between vaccines and autism, which is why Wakefield was eventually discredited for “an elaborate fraud.” The United States government does not recognize a link between them anywhere in the nation’s public health infrastructure. When she says that people should make up their own minds, she is once again framing a debate between falsehood and reality as if they are merely opinions with the same value. That is deeply irresponsible reporting, and it says a great deal about the other conspiracy theories she has been entertaining at CBS.
Video: Sharyl Attkisson defends her anti-vax reporting to Brian Stelter.