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Generation Rescue and Change.Gov

Posted Jan 07 2009 4:39pm

Sometimes you put off a project and it goes stale.  The moment has passed, the project never gets done.  Then again, sometimes you put off a project and it gets more interesting

Such is the case of a comment I saw on Change.Gov. I saw it and thought I’d include it in a future blog post I am considering (let’s see if I write it before it goes stale!). But, instead of missing the window to blog it, enough has happened that it is even more interesting.

Change.Gov
is the Obama transition team’s website. In the spirit of open government, they are allowing people to submit questions for review. Other citizens (not only US, by the way) can vote on how important a topic is and, one assumes, the subjects with a lot of votes will get noticed by the transition team.

Given that, I was not surprised to find a question submitted by Generation Rescue’s Kelli Ann Davis. The question is copied below:

“Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey were named 2008 Couple of the Year (www.ageofautism.com) due to their advocacy work for Generation Rescue. Why hasn’t the Transistion Team made autism a top priority and sat down with the leaders of this organization?”
Kelli Ann Davis, Reno, Nevada

Since I first saw this, Orac has blogged about it. Not only did he blog it, but he did a very uncharacteristic move: he called for a poll mob ala P.Z. Myers. Yep, Orac got people to log in to Change.Gov and vote on Ms. Davis’ question. Given that one has to actually register before voting, the effect is impressive. At this point, 200 people are voting against Ms. Davis’ comment vs. 137 pro. I don’t recall the numbers from when I first saw it, but I do know that the votes were more “pro” than “con” when I first saw it.

This has not gone unnoticed by the good people at Generation Rescue. Kim Stagliano recycled not only the Age of Autism’s methods (name calling) but recycled an old post by Mark Blaxill as well. Frankly, I am amused. I found the original post by Mr. Blaxill amusing (not in the way he intended, I am sure), and I find it amusing still.

But, that is not enough to really blog about, at least in my book. Rather, I think it is worth taking the time to put in public why I opposed Ms. Davis’ comment.

Go back and read it again. The first thing that strikes this reader is the disingenuous nature of the comment. Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey were named couple of the year by the Age of Autism? Huh? I guess if they figure that the Obama (or, as Ms. Davis spelled it for some time, “O’Bama”) team doesn’t know the history of their blog, that might work. However, for those of us who know the Age of Autism as a rebranded “ Rescue Post”—the blog of Generation Rescue —it is an odd move, to say the least:

Generation Rescue, which they call “Jenny McCarthy’s Autism Organization” voted Jenny McCarthy and her boyfriend “Couple of the Year”. Were I, a blogger on LeftBrain/RightBrain, to name Kev “LeftBrain/RightBrain’s pick of autism leader of 2008”, would you be impressed? See what I mean?

But, the disingenuous nature of Ms. Davis’ question is just the symptom, not the real problem. Actually, I see two big problems with Ms. Davis’ proposal. (1) It has all the appearance of self promotion, both for Generation Rescue and for Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey. And, (2) No surprise, I am sure, but I find Generation Rescue’s “Couple of the Year” to be highly inappropriate representatives of the “autism community”.

Let’s look a bit closer at these concerns, shall we?

First, keep in mind that Generation Rescue is an organization led by business people and PR people. Even without that, it’s pretty clear that they want to break out into being accepted as a mainstream autism organization. What better way than to say that they are advising the administration on autism issues? As to Jenny McCarthy, is there anyone who doubts that she has been rebranding herself as an autism “activist”?

Still wondering about the self promotion angle? Imagine the talk show circuit next year (and as many years into the future as Jenny McCarthy autism books sell):

“Oh, yes, Oprah, as I was just saying to Barack….”

In addition to Jenny McCarthy potentially cashing in on any meeting, how long before Generation Rescue would be touting themselves as advisers to the administration?

We are talking about the people who grossly inflated the number of people who attended the Green Our Vaccine Rally for effect. I’ve heard estimates of 500 to 1,500 attendees from people who were actually there. GR claims 8,000. If they would do that, they would play a meeting with the Obama team to the hilt.

Keep in mind, these are the people who publish blog posts claiming that HHS Secretary Leavitt stated in public that of course the government knows vaccines cause autism. To back that up, they claimed that someone overheard a conversation outside a church (if I recall correctly). If it were journalism rather than cheap blogging, that would be in the running for irresponsible story of the year. But, instead, it is just an example of the extreme lengths Generation Rescue and their team are willing to go to in order to keep their story alive. What would happen if they were able to talk about closed door meetings with people close to the Obama administration?

Moving on to my second concern: are Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey really appropriate as advisers to the transition team? Leave out the obvious questions of the whether people who propagate bad science and, in so doing, are endangering public health. I don’t have the space here to go into what has already been covered so well by Kev on this blog (and many, many others on other blogs, e.g. AutismVox or I Speak of Dreams ). Let’s just say I’d rather have Mr. Obama listening to the sources Mr. Bush used to formulate the decision to go to war with Iraq than listening to Jenny McCarthy on autism.

For example, remember how Jenny McCarthy’s story about her encounter with Barbara Walters changed dramatically between her book version and her interview version? Can we really have someone talking to advisers to the President of the United States and then “remembering” the exchange in whatever way puts her in the best light?

Consider that hypothetical Oprah show quote I had above. Flesh it out:

“Oh, yes, Oprah, as I was just saying to Barack, vaccines caused an epidemic of autism. I could tell he was listening and understood all too well, but I think that even he is afraid to admit the truth in public”.

As to Jim Carrey…well, remember his major stumble at the Green Our Vaccines rally? When asked what vaccines could be left out of the schedule, he said “tetanus”. Seriously, he had just spoken at a rally, but he hadn’t even done the homework as to what his own side thought. Sorry, he isn’t an expert who should be advising the administration, he is still at the level where Generation Rescue people should be being coaching him on what to say. Somehow I am flashing on the stories that have been leaked about coaching sessions with Sara Palin ( Africa is a continent?). No, no, no. This is not a man I would want representing me even if I did subscribe to the Generation Rescue story. He just doesn’t have the depth of knowledge to meet the task.

To conclude, let’s answer one of the questions implicitly raised by Kim Stagliano’s blog post—why are people voting against Ms. Davis’ question? My answer: people aren’t voting against Ms. Davis’ question because it’s Kelli Ann Davis. They aren’t voting against it because it is promoting Generation Rescue or Jenny McCarthy (even though those are valid reasons). They aren’t voting against it because Orac told them too. They are voting against it because what Ms. Davis is proposing is a bad idea.

At least, that was my reason.

[Note: I made minor changes in this post shortly after publishing it]

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