Exhibit A in why Robert MacNeil’s “Autism Now” series has been reckless and irresponsible is a press release issued by Alison MacNeil and SafeMinds* titled, “Daughter of Journalist Robert MacNeil States that Son Regressed Into Autism After Vaccines.”
Notice that it does not say “Alison MacNeil believes that son regressed into autism after vaccines,” or “Family member featured on Newshour believes son regressed into autism after vaccines.” Instead, it invokes a trusted, even revered, newsman and links his name to the “statement” that a child’s autism was called by vaccines.
The rest of the press release contains a drum-beat of half-truths presented as fact (the U.S. has the most aggressive vaccine schedule in the world, the U.S.’s vaccine schedule is a “grand experiment”), either-or fallacies and rhetorical sleights of hand (“are we trading the elimination of childhood disease for a lifetime of disability?”), non sequiturs (“one-fifth of all U.S. children take at least one prescription medication”), and scare tactics (“I have never met a family willing to sacrifice their child for the good of the herd”).
Obviously, any group (or person) has the right to release a statement that makes all sorts of claims. The problem here is that by framing the first hour of his autism special the way he did, Robert MacNeil opened himself (and Newshour) to charges that he’s actually promoting a scientifically disproven (and dangerous) theory. I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of this in the days to come.
* SafeMinds is an acronym for Sensible Action For Ending Mercury Induced Neurological Disorders. It is a parent-advocacy group founded in the wake of fears that an ethyl-mercury based preservative used in some childhood vaccines was causing autism. That preservative, thimerosal, was shown in numerous studies not to cause autism; it was also removed from childhood vaccines a decade ago.