Broadcast journalism has landed many low blows before when it comes to alternative views about medicine. I was eight months pregnant with our first child when we launched WDDTY, and a few moments before I was due to have a live debate with a media doctor, he leaned over and murmured, sotto voce: ‘Did you know that your obstetrician was up on charges for malpractice?’
It wasn’t true – my doctor is well-known natural birth specialist – but who does this to a pregnant woman? Answer: somebody with an agenda.
And that’s exactly the point about Dispatches show on Channel 4 last Tuesday, one of the trashiest pieces of broadcast journalism I’ve ever seen, an object lesson in what exactly is fake news in the media and why.
Yet more on Wakefield
Dispatches had decided to take on Andrew Wakefield, the MMR vaccine and Donald Trump, and in its official news release about the show Dispatches trumpeted the fact that for three months it has been investigating Andrew Wakefield’s ‘great American comeback.’
Wakefield, you will remember, was the gastroenterologist who carried out a small study of 12 of his pediatric patients who seemed to develop both serious gastrointestinal issues and autism right after receiving the MMR vaccine. For simply raising questions about the MMR, Wakefield was demonized by the UK press until, in a kangaroo court of the General Medical Council, his license to practice medicine was revoked.
After being struck off for his ’misleading claims about vaccinations and the MMR scare,’ said Dispatches’ PR release, ‘Andrew Wakefield has reinvented himself and claims to have the ear of the President of the United States.’
It’s hard to know where to start, in terms of how much this offends my sense of good journalistic practice. Here are Dispatches’ major allegations, with my comments:
‘Wakefield’s increasing prominence in the United States coincides with weakening confidence in vaccinations from the American public and a subsequent rise in cases of preventable and lethal diseases,’ said Channel 4. Minnesota is currently facing the largest outbreak in Measles in almost 30 years. Ergo, this must be Wakefield’s fault for spreading lies about the vaccine.
As American Dr. Toni Bark, an integrative specialist and regular witness in vaccine damage trials patiently explained to the Channel 4 journo grappling with the story, there are random outbreaks of measles every year. They occur amongst the unvaccinated and the vaccinated alike; for instance, one outbreak occurred among a school population, 99 per cent of whom had had the live measles vaccine. The vaccine has a consistent failure rate.
Oops – here’s the story
Dispatches then went on to attempt to discredit Wakefield for his ‘wacky’ theories about the MMR and autism, which appeared in his movie VAXXED.
In the movie, you have whistleblowing researcher Dr. William Thompson from the Centers for Disease Control, who worked on the major study designed to end speculation about MMR and autism once and for all, prepared to be filmed on camera providing evidence that the CDC manipulated data in their study to make the giant increase in autism among African American boys disappear.
In other words, the very government agency charged with determining vaccine policy in the US is guilty of gross scientific malpractice, of lying to the American people, saying something was safe when they knew it was not, and of potentially being responsible for damaging an untold number of children.
Believe it or not, Channel 4 didn’t even refer to any of that. As the reporter said to Wakefield: ‘The whistleblower has concerns about - he has concerns about one case. What about the 17 studies that debunked your original 1998 study?’
Call me old fashioned, Channel 4, but the whistleblower and the CDC: THAT’S THE STORY. In fact, it’s a story of Watergate proportions. If the CDC is prepared to massage their data, what else have they massaged? Evidence about all vaccines? And therefore how legitimate are any of the other studies? Even the British Medical Journal has admitted that three-quarters of all medical studies are in some way manipulated.
Follow the (little) money
Undeterred, our intrepid Dispatches reporter then moved on to Dr. Wakefield’s ‘lucrative’ finances, the $300,000 he’s taken over six years ($50,000 per year average – less than the median annual income of most minorities in America) from Strategic Autism Initiative, a charity he set up to promote research in autism and neurological disorders. To prove how he’s milking this charity, they even did an aerial shot of his house in Texas.
The show largely relied on the testimony of Dr. Paul Offit of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to debunk Wakefield and the CDC whistleblower. Dr. Offit, one of the US’s chief apologists for vaccines, has earned millions of dollars as part of a $182-million sale by the hospital of its worldwide royalty interest in the Merck Rotateq vaccine.
Offit’s personal stake in the royalty interest is estimated to be somewhere between $30-$46 million. That’s 100 times what Wakefield got from his charity.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Offit was formerly on the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, and voted yes to putting the rotavirus on the schedule of vaccines considered mandatory for children. By managing to get the vaccine on a schedule of shots given to nearly every baby born in America, ACIP turned Offit into a millionaire overnight.
If you’re going to do investigative reporting particularly on vaccines, you have to be prepared to dig deep into the swamp, and the swamp is very murky indeed – murkier than you can possibly imagine. You have to be prepared to have your investigation take you to a place you weren’t prepared to go to. And most of all your job emphatically is not to be an apologist for the pharmaceutical industry.
Real reporting, and not fake news, usually all comes down to one simple truism: follow the money and reveal it, don’t defend it. And the big money, believe me, isn’t chasing Andrew Wakefield.