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Age of Autism Awards 2010: Fox News' Alisyn Camerota Journalist of The Year

Posted Dec 30 2010 12:00am

Alisyn By Anne Dachel 

Fox News anchor Alisyn Camerota has been amazing over the past several months.  She’s done what reporters almost never do when it comes to the heated controversy over vaccines and autism—she’s given us BOTH SIDES.

I used to think that was to be expected when someone in the press covered a controversy,   Sadly, it’s not usually done when the issue is DO VACCINES CAUSE AUTISM?  Too many reporters assume health officials can be trusted to honestly present the science on vaccine safety and that they’ve got all the studies on their side.  Most of the time, they refuse to talk to experts who question the claims of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  They ignore any scientist whose work raises serious concerns about the safety of vaccines.  And they love to dismiss everyone in the autism community with the trite phrase, “Some parents believe vaccines cause autism but numerous studies show no link.”  Reporters who do these things are taking the easy way out.   They avoid the real work of honestly researching this issue. 

Alisyn is the exception.  She’s given us thorough coverage of the vaccine controversy.  I dare any reporter who thinks they’ve covered this issue to compare their work with hers.  And it’s not just one time, but seven recent reports that I’ve found and I’m quite sure she’ll be doing more of the same.

These are the stories she’s done.  These are the comments she’s made and these are the questions she’s asked.

September 12, 2010 -- Proof of Vaccine-Autism Link? HERE

Alisyn focused on the Hannah Poling settlement.  She called it “groundbreaking.”
“Finally a court has said yes, there is a connection between this vaccine and autism.”
She had Dr. Manny Alvarez, a senior managing editor at Fox News, as a guest.  He’s also the father of a son with autism.  Alvarez talked about the fact that “this little girl did receive at a single sitting multiple, multiple types of vaccinations.”  He pointed out that she has an “underlying mitochondrial disease” and he noted that it’s “a genetic disease that got exacerbated by the vaccines.”

Alisyn:  “Nobody knows how many other kids have that underlying mitochondrial …”

Alvarez:  “That is true.  It goes into the fundamentals. Autism for a lot of parents, they sometimes don’t even know when it comes on.  Was it right from the beginning?  My son has autism.  I got suspicious at the age of two but prior to that, when he was a year old, you know, he acted like a normal baby.  This is important.  I think this is going to bring out a lot of interest because perhaps this is going to create scenarios where now we have to test children a little more careful before we start giving them so many vaccines or exposing them to some types of diets. . . .

“The funny thing is, no one is saying that vaccines really created autism, so it’s ….”

Alisyn: “They use this very fishy legal language: It didn’t cause it, it resulted in it.”

Alvarez: “That’s exactly right because they don’t want an avalanche of other people …and many, many cases have been dismissed, by the way, by parents who’ve sued the pharmaceutical industry and they’ve gotten nowhere.”

Alisyn: “We’ll see if this sets a precedent.”

While one would expect that Manny Alvarez would advocate for testing autistic kids to see how many have the same condition that Hannah Poling does, he doesn’t.

While Alisyn called this hair-splitting “fishy legal language,” Alvarez was more concerned that “an avalanche of other people” might do what Hannah Poling’s parents did and sue over vaccine damage.

September 19, 2010 -- Damage from Child Vaccines HERE

Alisyn returned to the Hannah Poling case and asked about the strange finding that vaccines “didn’t cause [Hannah’s] autism, but resulted in it.”  She noted that there are 4,800 cases pending in federal Vaccine Court.  She found a real life autism parent, the wonderful Becky Estepp.  She introduced Becky as a mom who claims that her son got autism as a result of the vaccines he received.  She said Becky has spent 10 years researching this and she noted that there are a number of families who were also able to receive federal court settlements for vaccine damage as long as they didn’t use the word AUTISM when making their claim.

Becky stated that as long as parents use terms like encephalopathy or seizure disorder, but not autism, they could qualify for compensation. 

Becky stated that the whole vaccine injury compensation program is “federal attorneys defending a federal program using federal funded science …We don’t have a jury.  We don’t have regular rules of evidence.  And it ended up being a court that really the kids had no chance in.”

Next Alisyn had Dr. Marc Siegel on. 

Alisyn: “CBS News just did an investigation … that found that parents who used the words ‘encephalopathy’ or ‘brain damage’ won their cases.  Those who had the same symptoms, but used the word ‘autism,’ did not win their cases. There were 1,300 awards to families …again with brain damage.  Obviously, it sounds like the Department of Health and Human Services is fudging something.  They’re playing a semantics game here.  Why?”

Siegel:  “Because autism is such a politically charged word.  We don’t really know the cause is but multiple studies have shown, and there was just one recently released in the New England Journal of Medicine, a big study of a thousand kids that did not show a link between vaccines and autism.  We continue to study that.  A lot of attention has been put on that.  The question of thimerosal as a derivative, that’s actually been removed from the MMR vaccine….  There has been no proof shown.”

Siegel then told us how many kids’ lives have been saved by the MMR vaccine.

Becky Estepp returned to inform Dr. Siegel that THE MMR VACCINE IS A LIVE VIRUS VACCINE AND COULDN’T POSSIBLY CONTAIN SOMETHING AS DEADLY AS MERCURY.  She pointed out that her son had numerous vaccines that contained 25 mcg of mercury and that he received 40 to 50 times EPA standards for mercury exposure.

Becky raised concerns over the study cited by Siegel.  She noted that the study seemed to show that thimerosal, which is half mercury, had a “neuro protective effect on the children, which to me seems amazing, it’s neurotoxin.  It’s the second most toxic substance on earth.”

Siegel:  “Last point I want to make, more study needs to be done.  Even if an association is made, that’s not proof.”

September 25, 2010 -- Autism Correlation Cover Up? Vaccine claims rarely compensated by gov't  HERE

Here Alisyn talked about Hannah Poling’s case yet again and what it means for the thousands of other parents who have filed suit in Vaccine Court.  At the same time Hannah Poling’s compensation for vaccine-induced autism was announced, the Vaccine Court sent letters to the 5,000 parents with pending cases saying, ‘The three special masters assigned to hear the test cases ruled that there is no reliable evidence that vaccines caused ASDs   The courts that heard the appeals in the test cases all agreed with the special masters that there was no reliable evidence supporting vaccine causation.’

It’s hard to imagine a more irrational position than for the government to tell parents that their claims were invalid because there’s no proof of a vaccine-autism link at the very moment Hannah Poling gets millions in compensation because the government conceded that nine vaccinations at one time caused her to regress into autism.

Alisyn then brought on legal expert Mary Holland, who teaches at NYU Law School.  She talked about what parents are up against in Vaccine Court much like Becky Estepp did.  “We don’t think that that process is fair. This is not a normal court.  There is no normal judge. There’s no normal jury. There’s no rules of evidence.  There’s no rules of civil procedure.  It was set up to be an administrative proceeding and it now tries to function like a court.”

Next Mary Holland brought up the fact that officials now recognize that there are environmental triggers behind the explosion in autism.  “This story is not over.  The science is going forward and I believe at the end of the day, we will look back at this proceeding in shame.  And we will say that this was an opportunity to get at the truth and to find the real issues and we didn’t do it.  It was not a fair trial.”

October 2, 2010 -- Vaccines: Bad Combination? HERE

Incredibly, Alisyn wasn’t ready to move on from the subject of vaccines and autism.  In her next interview, she led off with the question: “Is there a connection between vaccines and autism?  Thousands of families with autistic kids think there is.  But the Centers for Disease Control has always maintained that no research supports a link.  Now one famous pediatrician has written a book saying the government’s research is woefully inadequate.”
Dr. Bob Sears was then given a chance to express his views on the safety of the vaccine schedule.

Alisyn: “Has the government ever studied the amount of vaccines that all of our kids get in one sitting?  You get measles, mumps, rubella.  Sometimes that’s coupled with even other vaccines.  Have they looked at the whole picture?”

Sears:  “Usually, simultaneous vaccination has not been completely studied for safety.  And that’s what we’re worried about.  Babies get as many as six or sometimes seven vaccines together and the CDC is admitting that they don’t always research them that way.  One prime example is the flu vaccine.  …It seems safe when it’s given alone, but the CDC has never researched the flu vaccine when you give it in conjunction with all the other infant shots.”

Alisyn then showed the recommended vaccination schedule and she asked, “Why isn’t the CDC looking at these combinations?”

Sears: “The CDC is just assuming they’re safe.”

Sears isn’t convinced.  He stated that he never gives more than two vaccines in one visit.  He added, “Twenty, thirty years ago, we only gave babies two vaccines at a time with a total of eight injections throughout their childhood.  Now we give babies six or seven vaccines each time and over 50 injections spread throughout their childhood.”

Then Sears challenged the CDC’s defense of the vaccination schedule.  “When you inject germs directly into the body, you bypass the immune system completely  … It’s a very unnatural type of germ exposure.”

Amazingly, Alisyn then brought up the Danish studies that supposedly show it’s safe to inject mercury into babies and announced,  “Now the lead investigator is being investigated. Why?”

Sears: “He was kind of double-dipping… He was taking money from the CDC to do his research.  He was also under salary from the Danish University to do his research and that was against his contract.  Now, according to Danish newspapers, he’s skipped town with two million dollars in Danish research money, so it calls into question the validity of his research.”

Alisyn ended by reminding parents that they can ask to spread their children’s vaccinations out “and perhaps that would make it safer.”

Sears: “Absolutely.”

October 9, 2010 -- Whooping Cough Shot Mandatory? HERE

Here Alisyn told about the whooping cough outbreak in California that’s led to recommendations for booster shots for all seventh to twelfth graders.  She brought on two people with opposite views on this shot, a mother who planned to exempt her child and Dr. Marc Siegel once again.  The mother, Moira Giammatteo, told about her son’s bad reaction to his DPT shots which preceded his regression into autism.  She plans not to have her daughter vaccinated.   And she told parents how they can exercise their philosophical exemption to the vaccine.

Siegel came on to tell us how he believes in a mother’s intuition, “A mother knows their children better than any scientist and any doctor.  She’s totally entitled to this belief.”
Then Siegel called for other environmental research because vaccines have been “studied and studied and studied.”  He also warned that we need herd immunity.  And strangely after he dismissed a vaccine link, he said, “There may be some people who may be more susceptible or vaccines don’t work for them.  …The science isn’t there yet.  We need more genetic understanding to know who tolerates vaccines and who doesn’t."

While Siegel told us we need mass vaccinations for herd immunity, Moira said, “I just don’t want my son to be collateral damage.”

December 4, 2010 -- Controversy Over PSA Push for Mercury-free Vaccines  Lyn Redwood HERE

In December, Alisyn weighed in on the controversy over the SafeMinds PSA scheduled to be run in a number of movie theaters.  The short PSA was intended to alert the public to the presence of mercury in many of the flu vaccines available.  It urged them to ask for a mercury-free shot.  Alisyn let Lyn Redwood explain what the PSA was all about, something I did not see from any other media source that covered this issue.

December 27, 2010 -- Autism in Her Own Words HERE

Finally, this week Alisyn again covered autism—this time in an interview with Temple Grandin, an accomplished autistic adult and author who’s been the subject of a recent popular movie.  Grandin was featured as an advocate for children with autism who may lose needed services in our tight economy.  Alisyn focused on the increase in autism asking Grandin, “Are there more children suffering from autism or are they being over-diagnosed?”  Grandin talked about the spectrum and the real increase in children on the severe end.

Alisyn: “You know there’s lots of controversy about vaccines and autism—whether or not childhood vaccines actually are the catalyst to autism developing.  Where do you stand on that?"  

Grandin: “I think there is a broader thing with environmental insults interacting with genetics.  There’s that new UC Davis study where being next to a highway… and people being next to a plastics factory and things like this …

Something in the environment interacts with genetics.”


Alisyn Camerota, mother of three young children, knows vaccine safety is a major concern for parents.  She’s not willing to give us the standard message that autism is some genetic mystery that scientists are working on.  She isn’t satisfied to give health officials a free ride by just accepting the claim that there is no link between their ever-increasing vaccination schedule and the epidemic increase in autism.  For anyone in the media to give this kind of attention to autism clearly shows she’s aware that this is a health care emergency.  The issue is never going to go away no matter how often the standard denials and dismissals are given to the public.

Members of the media don’t seem to get this.  I’ve had reporters tell me that they would like to do more on autism, but they weren’t allowed to.  One said his editor had “autism fatigue” because they’d already done two autism stories that month.  A reporter who did a poor job covering a new book about autism, wrote to say he only had a half hour to look over the book before writing his review.  Others have thanked me for the information and contacts that I sent and they assured me that they’ll save it, “in case I ever write on this topic again.”

It’s easy to give us Manny Avarez and Marc Siegel and let them tell people that vaccines save lives and officials are sure they don’t cause autism.  It’s another thing to find people like Becky Estepp, Bob Sears, and Mary Holland who raise serious concerns that the issue isn’t settled.  That’s real journalism.  Alisyn Camerota is dedicated, courageous, and honest.  I wish there were a hundred like her at other major networks and newspapers in the country.  I hope other reporters will learn from her work.


Anne Dachel is Media Editor of Age of Autism.

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