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Issue #80

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Mercury Rising
Big Media Buys the Pharm
by Allan Uthman

 
Taibbi Come Lately
Beast Founder Discovers Ohio
by Matt Taibbi
 
In Defense of Stupidity
Krauthammer: Down with Thinking
by Allan Uthman
 

Misadventures of Boy Wonder
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by Allan Uthman

 
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Mercury Rising
Big Media Buys the Pharm
By Allan Uthman

Robert Kennedy, Jr., is a paranoid nut. So are the mothers of autistic children. At least that’s what I’ve been told by ABC, The Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times this month. And hey, they wouldn’t lie to us, right?

Kennedy dropped a bomb on June 16th, when his article, “Deadly Immunity,” was published simultaneously by Rolling Stone and Salon.com. The piece tells the story of a strong causal link between the use of thimerosal (a mercury-based preservative) in children’s vaccines and autism, and a cover-up of evidence of this link involving the pharmaceutical industry, Center for Disease Control (CDC), and the Institute of Medicine (IOM), among others. The article is a shocker, even for a longtime cynic like me, due to the horrible nature and global reach of the scandal. A hell of a story, and it’s clearly in the public interest that big media outlets should not only cover it, but investigate it further.

And so, at first, it appeared it would be. ABC, having read drafts of the article, made an exclusive agreement with Kennedy to run the story immediately after its publication. They taped interviews and produced a piece; it was “in the can” and set to be aired on their “Nightly News,” a well as “Good Morning America.” But on the eve of their airing, they were cancelled by “high-level ABC officials.” No explanation was given.

After the story of the cancellation got out, angry e-mails flooded into ABC, and they decided that they would run a “re-cut” version of the story, which turned out to be one of the most obvious whitewashes ever aired, faeturing “expert” scientists from the very organizations Kennedy had accused, the CDC and IOM, to “debunk” his allegations. An actual participant in the IOM committee which, according to Kennedy, had been instructed to find no link between thimerosal and autism, appeared in the segment, but not identified. ABC’s own Dr. Tim Johnson recited entire sections of an IOM press release, calling the agency “impeccable.”

Viewers were reminded at least twice that Kennedy was not a doctor, or a scientist, and told that the “medical community” dismisses the story as utterly untrue. We were told that, since the removal of thimerosal from most domestic vaccines (it’s still in flu shots), autism rates hadn’t gone down, but the phase-out of the substance only began in 2001, autism isn’t diagnosed in children for 3 or 4 years, and numbers actually are starting to come down in California, which has the most consistent measurements of autism.

Kennedy was portrayed as “anti-vaccine.” Basically, the idea that injecting mercury into babies could be harmful was laughed off by ABC’s experts. To add insult to injury, the segment was sandwiched between pharmaceutical commercials.

A June 24th editorial in the Wall Street Journal, unsurprisingly, favored the industry’s version of reality, ridiculing Kennedy as a conspiracy theorist and comparing the thimerosal-autism theory to UFOs. Michael Fumento, an obvious think-tank spawned shill, falsely corrected Kennedy’s article, and described ethyl mercury as “benign.” Again, the very IOM report which Kennedy’s article soundly discredits was cited as unquestionable proof of his wrongness. It could have been written by Eli Lilly’s CEO himself.

The next day the New York Times outdid even the Journal, by reporting these smears as news, not opinion. In the Times piece, mothers of autistic children are portrayed as emotional, angry, and irrational, while establishment scientists are shown as beleaguered, weary, and wise:

    Kristen Ehresmann, a Minnesota Department of Health official, had just told a State Senate hearing that vaccines with microscopic amounts of mercury were safe. Libby Rupp, a mother of a 3-year-old girl with autism, was incredulous.
   "How did my daughter get so much mercury in her?" Ms. Rupp asked Ms. Ehresmann after her testimony.
   "Fish?" Ms. Ehresmann suggested.
   "She never eats it," Ms. Rupp answered.
   "Do you drink tap water?"
   "It's all filtered."
   "Well, do you breathe the air?" Ms. Ehresmann asked, with a resigned smile. Several parents looked angrily at Ms. Ehresmann, who left.
    Ms. Rupp remained, shaking with anger. That anyone could defend mercury in vaccines, she said, "makes my blood boil."

After poor Kristen manages to escape from the bloodthirsty “mercury moms” with her life, we are told that Ehresmann herself has an autistic child, but isn’t concerned about thimerosal:

    Public health officials like Ms. Ehresmann, who herself has a son with autism…

If this sounds like a hell of a coincidence, it isn’t. It seems nearly every reporter writing a story on this subject just happens to come a across a detractor of the thimerosal-autism link who not only has an autistic child, but also ties to the vaccine industry—what are the odds?

From an AP story on the same day:

"I think this issue has persisted, despite a boatload of scientific evidence…because there are no answers for parents of children with autism," said Dr. Sharon Humiston, a University of Rochester pediatrician with a foot in both worlds. She once worked for the government's National Immunization Program, and she has a son whose autism she refuses to blame on vaccines.

Another AP story from July 19th:

    A scientist who also has a 12-year-old autistic daughter joined the government in urging that the focus shift to hunting the real culprit and a good treatment.
   "We need a war on autism, not a war on childhood vaccines," said Dr. Peter Hotez of George Washington University, who said he may rail against his daughter's grueling brain disorder but is sure that it "had absolutely nothing to do with vaccines she received."
    Hotez is a microbiologist attempting to develop a vaccine against hookworm, which attacks children in developing countries.

This is an organized PR effort by the people who have the most to lose if the thimerosal-autism link gains a real foothold in the public consciousness. Using actual parents of autistic children to shill for the thimerosal cover-up is cynical, exploitative, and just shitty, but it’s to be expected from the same companies and government agencies who are responsible for this mess in the first place.

Ehersmann also sows up in the AP report:

“It doesn’t seem to matter what the studies and the data show,” said Ms. Ehresmann, the Minnesota immunization official. “And that’s really scary for us because if science doesn’t count, how do we make decisions? How do we communicate with parents?”

Well, let’s talk about what the data show, shall we?

*  *  *

  • Autism was first identified in children born soon after thimerosal was first introduced to babies in 1931.
  • In 1930, Eli Lilly injected 22 meningitis patients with thimerosal—all died within weeks. This “finding” didn’t make its way into their report, which declared the cost-saving substance safe.
  • In 1935, vaccine maker Pittman-Moore declared thimerosal “unsatisfactory” for use in dogs, when half died after test vaccinations. They warned Eli Lilly of their findings, to no avail.
  • In 1971, an Eli Lilly study found that a hundredth the typical amount of thimerosal in a vaccine was toxic to tissue cells.
  • In 1977, a Russian study found that doses of ethyl mercury far lower than those given to American children still led to permanent brain damage. Soon after, thimerosal was banned from children’s vaccines there.
  • In 1991, the FDA considered banning thimerosal from animal vaccines. But that same year, the CDC and FDA recommended three additional vaccines containing thimerosal be given to infants, including one on the day of their birth. Since then, autism rates have increased from 1 in 2,500 to 1 in 166. At two months, infants often received three thimerosal-based shots in a single day. The chairman of the CDC advisory committee which made these recommendations was a paid consultant for the majority of major vaccine makers, and at least one other person on the committee was a researcher for these companies.
  • In 2000, without public announcement, the CDC privately invited 52 industry experts to the Simpsonwood conference center in Norcross, Georgia. This is where Kennedy’s article begins. Dr. Thomas Verstraten, a CDC epidemiologist, after examining the records of 100,000 children, presented some difficult-to-ignore findings to his colleagues. Here are a few quotes from the transcript of the secret meeting:
    Dr. Bill Weil, American Academy of Pediatrics: “There are just a host of neurodevelopmental data that would suggest that we’ve got a serious problem… To think there isn’t some possible problem here is unreal.”

    Verstraeten: “...we have found statistically significant relationships between the exposures and outcomes for these different exposures and outcomes. First, for two months of age, an unspecified developmental delay... Exposure at three months of age, Tics. Exposure at six months of age, an attention deficit disorder. Exposure at one, three and six months of age, language and speech delays… Exposure at one, three and six months of age, the entire category of neurodevelopmental delays, which includes all of these plus a number of other disorders.”

    Dr. David Johnson, State public health officer in Michigan, member of the ACIP vaccine policy committee: “This association leads me to favor a recommendation that infants up to two years old not be immunized with thimerosal… My gut feeling? It worries me enough… I do not want [my] grandson to get a Thimerosal containing vaccine until we know better what is going on.
    Weil: “The number of dose related relationships are linear and statistically significant. You can play with this all you want. They are linear. They are statistically significant…I think you can’t accept that this is out of the ordinary. It isn’t out of the ordinary….The increased incidence of neurobehavioral problems in children in the past few decades is probably real…
    Dr. Robert Brent, a pediatrician at the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children: “…we are in a bad position from the standpoint of defending any lawsuits if they were initiated and I am concerned.”
    Dr. John Clements, World Health Organization's Expanded Program on Immunization: “…I really want to risk offending everyone in the room by saying that perhaps this study should not have been done at all, because the outcome of it could have, to some extent, been predicted… there is now the point at which the research results have to be handled, and even if this committee decides that there is no association and that information gets out… that will be taken by others and will be used in ways beyond the control of this group. And I am very concerned about that…”
    Dr. Roger Bernier, CDC's National Immunization Program: “We have asked you to keep this information confidential… I think it would serve all of our interests best if we could continue to consider these data… in a certain protected environment… So too basically consider this embargoed information. That would help all of us to use the machinery that we have in place for considering these data and for arriving at policy recommendations.”
  • In 2001, after the Simpsonwood conference, the CDC instructed the Institute of Medicine to produce a study to allay fears of thimerosal causing brain disorders. Some quotes from the official transcript of a closed meeting on January 12th of that year:
    Dr. Marie McCormick, Chairman of the Immunization Safety Review Committee: “[CDC] wants us to declare, well, these things are pretty safe on a population basis.”
    Kathleen Stratton, Ph.D., Study Director for the Committee: “We said this before you got here, and I think we said this yesterday, the point of no return, the line we will not cross in public policy is to pull the vaccine, change the schedule…Even recommending research is recommendations for policy. We wouldn’t say compensate, we wouldn’t say pull the vaccine, we wouldn’t say stop the program.”
    Dr. McCormick: “We are not ever going to come down that it is a true side effect...”

All of these statements were made before the committee had considered any evidence.

  • Stratton refers also in the transcript to “Walt” and “what Walt wants,” referring to Dr. Walter Orenstein, the CDC’s National Immunization Program director.
  • Confronted in 2004 at an autism conference by Dr. Andrew Wakefield with a transcript from this committee and the charge that the CDC had instructed the committee as to what its findings should be, Stratton did not deny the charge, but simply said to Wakefield that the transcript “was not to be shared with you.”
  • In April of this year, UPI’s Dan Olmstead, in search of a ‘control group’ of children who had not been exposed to thimerosal, looked for autism in the Amish community of Lancaster County, PA (the Amish don’t vaccinate their kids). According to statistical levels, he figured there should be 130 autistic children there, but could only find four—one who had been exposed to mercury from a power plant, and three had, indeed, been vaccinated.

*  *  *

Despite all of this, the pharmaceutical industry, and its dependent “scientific community,” maintains that Kennedy and his supporters are “conspiracy theorists” who don’t understand science. In a way, this is true: they are not on the payroll of those who would stand to lose a lot of money due to legal liability if the thimerosal-autism link were conclusively proven. “Most scientists” are, as are corporate media outlets like ABC, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

But why? Why would vaccine makers go to such lengths to keep injecting ethyl mercury into babies? Money, of course. Thimerosal made vaccines half as expensive to produce. That’s a lot of green, all told.

It’s called risk/benefit analysis. When Ford figured out that Pintos were going to blow up in rear-end collisions, they figured the money they would lose by implementing a safer design ($11 per car, or $137 million) against the money they calculated they would have to pay out for an estimated 180 deaths ($49.5 million). Of course, they went for the cheapest option. It happens all the time. Unfortunately, that’s not a crime.

It’s terrible, sure, but it is the nature of business, especially big business, to act unethically in the pursuit of profit. That’s why we have regulatory bodies, like the CDC and the FDA. But when these agencies act in concert with industry, and actively facilitate their exploitation and deception of the public, it falls to the media to expose this criminal corruption. But what if the media’s in on the plan, too? Then, well, we’re just screwed.

“Junk science” is the typical charge leveled against those who would hold industry accountable for its abuses, or would even suggest that they clean up their act at the expense of the bottom line. But the real junk science is Exxon-Mobil funding 40 different organizations which “debunk” hard data on global warming as a “hoax” to raise funds for environmental groups, as Mother Jones reported recently, or the chemical industry funding scads of Mad Cow research which has yet to reproduce the disease in a lab, as long as an alternate theory of cause involving organophosphate pesticides is ignored. Junk science is tweaking the FDA’s standards so that American obesity levels suddenly “drop,” or the American Diabetes Association’s top medical official claiming “there is no evidence” that sugar has anything to do with diabetes, weeks after Cadbury Schweppes gives them millions of dollars. Junk science is industry’s stock in trade, but it wouldn’t work if politicians and “respected” news sources weren’t willing to go along.

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