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The Inconstant Gardiner:The New York Times’ Fervent Disconnect Between Drug and Vaccine Reporting

Posted Mar 15 2010 12:00am

The Inconstant Gardiner Harris A Gamondes By Adriana Gamondes

“Everything is permitted the hero”.  ~Jean-Paul Sartre, “No Exit”

The film “The Constant Gardener”—starring Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz, and directed by Fernando Meirelles from the book by John le Carré—is the story of sacrifice and moral constancy against the corruption of fictional corporate giant KVH, maker of pharmaceuticals and pesticides. It’s a beautiful film in many ways, and terrifying; a cross between reality check and forecast.

The book and the film were said to be loosely based on Pfizer’s deadly Trovan trial in Nigeria, which led to the injuries and deaths of over 200 children. The case was since settled for $75 million in civil and criminal penalties 

But if the film’s protagonist, Justin Quayle, had been loosely based on New York Times’ public health reporter Gardiner Harris, the whole thing would have been over in fifteen minutes. As soon as it turned out that the gorgeous activist was concerned with a dangerous pharmaceutical product having anything to do with controlling contagion, Quayle would have called her a fervent conspiracy theorist, while her laptop might have mysteriously slipped into the clutches of KVH. She’s dead, he plays golf, roll credits.

No one could ever accuse Gardiner Harris of being haunted by the “hobgoblin” of consistency (foolish or otherwise)—not in terms of his reporting on pharmaceutical products. On the one hand, when the same companies producing vaccines and drugs engage in cover ups of certain drugs’ side effects, Harris is all over them like a rash, exampled by his latest reporting on Avandia .  In fact, some of his reporting on fraud and corruption in psychopharmaceutical marketing is quite good, such as his coverage of Harvard’s Biederman scandal, illegal marketing to children, drug front groups, FDA capitulation, media ties to drug makers and much more .

Harris has undeniably shown some spine when it comes to drugs. Maybe not as much as Times colleague Alex Berensen, who actually engaged in risky legal maneuvers with activist attorney Jim Gottstein to expose secret Eli Lilly documents showing the company hid the dangers of its blockbuster antipsychotic, Zyprexa  — a report which led to Lilly quickly having to settle $500 million more in injury claims to top off the $1.2 billion in Zyprexa settlements already lost  . All the same, at least in regard to select pharmaceutical products, Gardiner Harris reports news generally fit to print. 

But when it comes to rates of vaccine injury, vaccine-defenders’ conflicts and potential vaccine research fraud—all of which is virtually identical in pattern to that stemming from certain prescription drugs— fit to print becomes s*** to print without so much as a blink. He’s been suffering from this biformity for a while  .

In Harris’s recent report on the Lancet retraction  , he demonstrated his grasp of the concept of inconsistency when he painted vaccine injury proponents as virtual flip-floppers regarding  autism causation theories
 “After Dr. Wakefield’s study, vaccination rates plunged in Britain and the number of measles cases soared.   

In the United States, anti-vaccine groups have advanced other theories since then to explain why they think vaccines cause autism. For years, they blamed thimerosal, a vaccine preservative containing mercury. Because of concerns over the preservative, vaccine makers in 2001 largely eliminated thimerosal from routinely administered childhood vaccines.
But this change has had no apparent impact on childhood autism rates. Anti-vaccine groups now suggest that a significant number of children have a cellular disorder whose effects are set off by vaccinations.”

First off, I assume the unnamed “cellular disorder” in this article is mitochondrial disorder, which Harris himself reported on in 2008 when he covered the Poling concession. Secondly, if I don’t want to fill my kids’ sippy cups from the Hudson River, am I “anti-water”?

Remember, Harris is not reporting his own beliefs in the above excerpt: he’s supposedly reporting what he understands of vaccine injury proponents’ beliefs. He knows the vast majority aren’t “anti-vaccine”; and there’s good reason to suspect Harris is only feigning confusion about ways in which vaccine injury science has integrated cause hypotheses.  In 2008, I was copied to an email exchange between the Times’ public editor and others in which Harris and this editor were informed in no uncertain terms what vaccine injury scientists and proponents generally believe regarding immunomodulatry interactions between heavy metals, injected viruses and mitochondria. And the theory integration hasn’t exactly  been kept secret 

At least Harris presently opts for more ambiguous phrasing when describing that autism rates are still “going up” despite thimerosal being “largely” removed from vaccines, rather than arguing—as he has in the past—that thimerosal has been entirely removed from the childhood schedule.

Not to get into the trap of focusing solely on thimerosal (or to bore those who already know the drill)—after all, there are plenty of vaccine ingredients aside from ethylmercury which have  never been studied for safety in infants or in combination  . But the issue of ethylmercury is a trap for vaccine defenders too: it’s never been independently investigated for safety in infants or in comparison to unexposed populations; there’s always that missing original Verstraeten data and Simpsonwood; it’s also fascinating how defense of it relies so much on misreporting.  And in light of recent reports of something rotting in Denmark, some existing studies of vaccine mercury—upon which the CDC strongly base their thimerosal-doesn’t-cause-autism mantra— appear to be more deeply compromised than anyone previously suspected  .

As usual, Harris fails to mention that many infants could still get a full, 1990’s complement of vaccine mercury from regular shots as well as the then-newly recommended full mercury flu shot as late as 2003 or even 2006.  Parents were still seeing full-thimerosal vaccines in pediatrician’s offices in 2006 and beyond  . GlaxoSmithKline’s Hepatitis B vaccine, Engerix B, was produced with full thimerosal until 1/30/07  , though the thimerosal-preserved version of the vaccine continued to be distributed well into August, 2008. Harris doesn’t report that children born after 2003 (not to mention those born after 2006) were below the age of ascertainment when autism rates between age groups were last compared 
I’m terrified to find out what happened to the under-ascertainment-age infant “cohort” from last year’s mostly mercury-preserved swine flu shot fest. Certainly the recommended and massively increased uptake of seasonal flu shots in pregnancy and for six month old infants which began in 2002-2003—much of which is also still full mercury—made the timing of exposure far more dangerous. The addition of swine flu shots may “put off” yet again the moment when we can see what this supposed reduction in vaccine mercury has afforded. Sadly, there could be a “novel” disease scare every year which somehow leads to the “emergency measure” of adding an extra dose or two of mercury to the infant/prenatal load.  And reporters like Harris can always be counted on not to do the math, check dates or the timing of exposure as they continue to euphemize that thimerosal has been…“largely removed”.

As for other inaccuracies in the recent article, Harris falsely validates speculations that the Lancet study was funded by attorneys and parents as part of a lawsuit—when, in actuality, the Legal Aid Board research grant was intended as a separate study, the money for which was not made available until after the Lancet study had already been published. The LAB grant was then donated to the Royal Free to build a gastroenterology care and research center which never materialized because Dr. Wakefield was forced out. Presumably, the Royal Free then kept the money. 

Harris also parrots an empty rumor generated by Brian Deerest, which was quite bizarrely taken up by the GMC— the idea that Dr. Wakefield had patented a measles vaccine in 1997. In point of fact, Dr. Wakefield had looked into a type of transfer factor in the hopes of relieving discomfort in patients with chronic intestinal viral infections; and the patent belongs to the Royal Free  . It was used once with parent consent, showed neither benefit nor adverse effect and was then abandoned. Even the government’s own Glaxo-conflicted witness Peter Lachmann was forced to defend Wakefield on the issue, arguing that this transfer factor could never constitute a vaccine  .

Harris predictably fails to mention that uptake of measles, mumps and rubella vaccinations in England didn’t plummet after Dr. Wakefield publically recommended monovalent vaccines until more was understood. Instead, demand for monovalent vaccines for the three diseases rose—upon which the government swiftly withdrew approval for these single shots. And it was at that point—and only at the point when health authorities said “our way or the highway”—that uptake of measles, mumps and rubella vaccines plummeted.

Also in his Lancet retraction article, Harris casts his usual aspersions on the mental competence of parents who report their children’s autism stemmed from vaccine injuries. Harris writes: “Despite a wealth of scientific studies that have failed to find any link between vaccines and autism, the parents fervently believe that their children's mental problems resulted from vaccinations”. And “Dr. Wakefield is part of a small but fervent group of doctors who discourage vaccinations because of a seeming link with autism”.
Aside from the typically dismissive “mental problems” reference, or the fact that Dr. Wakefield never once generally “discouraged vaccinations”; here’s that word “fervent” again. Harris first shared that lugubrious little double-edged cutie on  NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” with Neal Conan 

On the NPR broadcast, Harris goes on about how well the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program works, its necessity to protect industry from injury suits, and without which it would be “much, much” harder to encourage more drug makers to manufacture vaccines (never noting that the vaccine industry is more of an oligopoly than ever). Then Harris says,
“And you have an extraordinary collection, an extraordinary community, really, of parents who believe something fervently, that nearly all available science says is not true”.

Fervent: adjective; from “fervere”—to boil or froth. Very hot. Glowing. Exhibiting great intensity of feeling. Zealous.    Synonym: IMPASSIONED.

Harris appeared along with Peter “water is toxic” Hotez of the Sabin Institute (Sanofi-Pasteur, Chiron, GSK, Merck, Medimmune, Wyeth, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation). Hotez, before stating that there is no rise in autism rates and it’s just better recognition, echoed the “fervent” remark in what seemed like a poorly rehearsed attempt to help catapult Harris’s buzzword to the status of meme. 

Isn’t tireless repetition of “emotional words” a technique of advertising and political propaganda? Or is Harris too bored with the issue to come up with fresher adjectives?  I suppose that could explain the—cough— inconstant reporting.
Inconstant: adjective; likely to change frequently without apparent or cogent reason— in•con•stant•ly adverb

Synonyms: INCONSTANT, FICKLE, CAPRICIOUS, MERCURIAL, UNSTABLE, lacking firmness or steadiness.

Like Two Drunks Holding Each other Up

To be fair, Harris has dipped toes in the water of questioning the “perfect safety” of vaccines, though he tends to heavily quote “experts” on only one side of the issue.

In fact, Harris’s report on conflicts of interest among CDC advisors  —in which not one conflicted advisor is named—was ironic considering the number of times which Harris himself refrains from mentioning the conflicts of vaccine promoters he frequently quotes.  Harris seems careful enough to feature vaccine pitchmen who may be buffered by a deceptive and slim-as-a-credit-card degree of separation from their industry conflicts, but not always. For instance, William Shaffner’s role as paid “advisor or consultant” to Wyeth, Sanofi-Pasteur, GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis and Merck constitutes pretty blatant conflicts of interest—which are also blatantly not mentioned in an article on swine flu  .

For another stroke of irony, when reporting on the Hannah Poling concession  , Harris quotes a certain Dr. Darryl De Vivo, professor of neurology and pediatrics at Columbia University and CDC advisory panel member. De Vivo claims that,  “After caring for hundreds of children with mitochondrial disease, I can't recall a single one that had a complication from vaccination”.

Harris didn’t report that De Vivo had been president of the Child Neurology Society, whose “outreach” and “philanthropic” arm, the Child Neurology Foundation, receives grants by Abbott Laboratories, GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, Pfizer, Ortho McNeil, Shire USA, and others.

This all begs the question: do conflicts matter? If they mattered enough to distort the contingency of Dr. Wakefield’s involvement with Legal Aid in order to insert the appearance of greed into his motives for performing the Lancet study, it should matter that neurologist who defended vaccines in contradiction to a government concession for a vaccine injured child had actual conflicting interests at any time.

On the subject of perceived conflicts, Harris quoted Thomas Insel of the National Institute of Mental Health in the same article: “We’re talking about two things we don’t understand very well, mitochondrial disorder and autism, and putting them together… It’s like two drunks holding each other up.” Harris might have mentioned that the class of drugs historically promoted by the NIMH—psychopharmaceuticals— are increasingly among the top suspects for inducing iatrogenic mitochondrial disorders. It’s already understood that certain vaccine toxins induce mitochondrial dysfunction 

As it happens, the National Institute of Mental Health is now being investigated by Senator Chuck Grassley and the Senate Finance Committee. In a letter to the National Institute of Health director Francis Collins  , Grassley demands copies of all of Insel’s correspondences due to emerging reports of industry conflicts of many NIMH-funded academic researchers:

“In each of these cases, the researcher(s) involved received funding from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Because I have uncovered so many problems at the NIMH, I wonder if there is something in particular about this institute 
that leads to so many funding problems. In one particular case, the researcher from Emory who had failed to report his outside income left Emory and is now at the University of Miami and still has NIMH funding”.

We have to wonder if there’s something particular about the New York Times that leads to so many problems citing the conflicts of vaccine defenders. In his article on the Lancet retraction, Harris quotes Lancet editor Richard Horton’s condemnation of Wakefield without mentioning that the Lancet is published by Elsevier, a publishing partner with Merck— maker of the US MMR and other vaccines including Paul Offit’s Rotateq. Harris didn’t report that Elsevier Publishing’s director up to 2009 was Sir Crispin Davis, CEO of GlaxoSmithKline (maker of the British MMR, Engerix B and more than 25 other vaccines for the global market), also brother to Judge Nigel Davis who halted MMR injury suits in Great Britain. Harris doesn’t mention any of the spider-webbing conflicts of any of the figures leading the legal attacks on Drs. Wakefield, Murch and Walker-Smith  .

We don’t hear about any of this from Gardiner Harris, whose readiness to report on conflicts in other arenas seems borrowed as credence to imply he’s doing so consistently. Not the case at all. Harris’s interplay with the Times’ preferred vaccine and autism experts, and the mutual pretense of incorruptibility is like watching a couple of bootleggers stumble down the street singing, “How Dry I Am”. 

A Shining Example of Courage

One thing is certain— Harris should be pretty cozy in his inconstancy at the New York Times.

I would never fault the Times’ new trend in reporting the dangers of, for instance, psychopharmaceuticals and related academic and industry fraud. Someone had to do it. It’s just that it took them fifty years to get around to it. Before that, the publication was as far from critical of certain questionable drugs and therapies as it currently is regarding vaccines.  

The Times once championed insulin coma therapy for the treatment of mental illness, for instance. Despite the 5% of patients who died from the procedure  and animal research showing brain hemorrhage, oxygen depletion to the brain, central nervous system devastation and destruction of nerve tissue, the Times cheerfully reported that patients receiving the treatment were “returned from hopeless insanity by insulin”, and that following deliberately induced insulin coma, the “short circuits of the brain vanish, and the normal circuits are once more restored and bring back with them sanity and reality”*.

The Times reported similarly on the practice of lobotomy throughout the 1930s and 40s, that the “new operation marked a turning point of procedure in treating mental cases” that would “go down in history as another shining example of therapeutic courage”*. 

In 1955, the Times ran 11 articles applauding the breakthrough of antipsychotics and the “New Cure Sought for Mentally Ill”, which would replace the horrors of earlier drugs and misguided therapies, which were—it went without saying—once promoted by the Times itself.  The same year, Times medical writer Howard Rusk breathlessly reported that“Today, there can be little doubt that, in the use of these and other drugs under study, research has developed new tools that promise to revolutionize the treatment of certain mental illnesses. [The drugs] gradually calm patients, who then lose their fear and anxiety and are able to talk about their troubles more objectively… patients do not develop lethargy that follows the use of barbiturates…there is no doubt of the effectiveness of these new drugs in either curing or making hitherto unreachable patients amenable to therapy”*.

Counter that with Harris’s 2008 report on the use of ( antipsychotics in children  )“But Risperdal is not approved for attention deficit problems, and its risks — which include substantial weight gain, metabolic disorders and muscular tics that can be permanent — are too profound to justify its use in treating such disorders, panel members said… From 1993 through the first three months of 2008, 1,207 children given Risperdal suffered serious problems, including 31 who died. Among the deaths was a 9-year-old with attention deficit problems who suffered a fatal stroke 12 days after starting therapy with Risperdal”.

I don’t think it’s incidental that the New York Times has never questioned whether deadly side effects of antipsychotics are “too profound” to justify their use on children with autism, though the throwaway status of effected children and families is just par for the course.
The paper continues to counter its drug critiques with material which inevitably promotes drugs for those children who “need” them  . Still, the paper’s current tone on drugs is a significant—but never acknowledged— leap from past reporting.

Probably the most telling and currently relevant example of journalistic “mercurialism” was the past New York Times coverage of legal attacks on a dissenting psychopharmaceutical expert, which began in a manner almost parallel to the Wakefield trial. In 1987, author, activist and reform psychiatrist Peter Breggin went on Oprah and described the severe side effects of neuroleptics and other drugs which were emerging in drug trials, including their capacity to induce violence and suicide. He also criticized electroconvulsive shock therapy.  A group which Harris himself recently designated as a drug front organization, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), had brought the complaint against Breggin with the licensure board of the State of Maryland. Breggin was accused of spuriously discouraging mental patients from taking their drugs. The title of the decidedly negative New York Times piece on Breggin, which misreported evidence and failed to cite conflicts of complainants, was “ Free Expression or Irresponsibility? Psychiatrist Faces a Hearing  ".

After an outpouring of international support for Breggin, NAMI’s complaint failed and Breggin was cleared. Then, 18 years and scores of psychiatric drug-induced school shootings, murders and suicides later, black box warnings were finally placed on many of the drugs which Breggin first exposed. The Times now calls Breggin “one of the most important critics” of organized psychiatry.  I have to wonder—how much different would the Times’ coverage of certain drugs be at present if licensure boards in the US had been as embedded then as the GMC is now, and if Breggin had not prevailed?

I’d never been able to figure out the relationship between pharma and the New York Times or the modern disconnect between drug and vaccine reporting until I realized that the inconsistency might be guided as much by bottom line, the inevitability that a story will break anyway or even ideology at different times. The debate over whether the paper is “liberal” or “conservative” is a distraction generated by the Times itself— when in essence the publication has always been corporate and institutional.

The Times, like most print media, is in trouble, which has probably exaggerated its traditional corporate bias. This could be more the case since Rupert Murdock “threw down the gauntlet” against the Times by announcing the launch of a New York edition of the Newscorp-owned, GlaxoSmithKline-friendly Wall Street Journal. There may be a sort of dueling banjo vaccine-defense clamor emanating from New York dailies come April.
But even within corporate leanings, the New York Times also has to choose vehicles to preserve its reputation for “courageous” investigative reporting, and recent exposés on certain drugs strike a critical balance without much risk.  Billions in injury settlements had already been lost by psychopharmaceutical makers— triggering increased public and Congressional scrutiny of psychiatric and other drugs— when the Times began kicking the horse and sparking more settlements and further inquiries. Industry already knew it would have to diversify to weather the storm  ; and vaccines had been tapped an especially promising route of diversification— a growth market with tort protection already in place.

Vaccines also have the benefit of a built-in protection-racket style buffer against charges of hypermarketing and injuries: so much more can be forgiven for “heroic” and “life-preserving medications” than for “lifestyle/quality of life” drugs after all.  “Deadly disease” is always a good moral-hostage-taker in that sense.  Drumming up fear of disease has also become a typical strategy of the press’s “war footing” within the context of terrorism and discussions of biological weapons.

And, again, the New York Times will never criticize the deadly drugging of children with autism, so the pharmaceutical industry can’t complain too much about taking heat on certain products.  Not only is the Times charitably leaving industry the “toy” of a rapidly exploding autism/learning disability drug market  , the paper may actually be playing a role in rounding up more drug-ready consumers by censoring potentially important  information on prevention and non-drug treatment.

Gardiner Harris—who just came out with his first novel involving a possible  conspiracy in coalmining  —likes to chastise vaccine injury claimants for being “misled by conspiracy theories”.  It’s funny if you think about it. Harris’s conceit is that he himself would be in on such a conspiracy if it existed— when in reality, Harris doesn’t make decisions about what gets printed in the Times any more than a drug rep decides what to sell.

Besides, why conspire when there’s natural consensus? The Times and Big Pharma have a shared tendency to compensate here and there for basic lack of integrity with a few “shining examples” of courage, charity or sentimentality. Harris is where he is only because something particular about his inconstancy happens to mesh for whatever reason.

Does his brother’s work in the pharmaceutical industry influence Harris’s pliant ideology? Maybe his father’s role as media advisor to Proctor & Gamble—you know, of the “one pack/one (full mercury) vaccine” campaign  , and maker of the largest-ever baby diaper, the new “size 7” (“for bigger and older kids”)? Did his childhood “hanging tobacco” on a family farm leave him partly inured to “tobacco science”? I have no idea and it doesn’t really matter—it’s working for him for the moment. The Peace Prize was originated by the inventor of dynamite; Tony Soprano loves ducks; the New York Times sometimes gets around to printing inconvenient truths. 

One day the New York Times—if it still exists—will report on vaccine research fraud and deaths and injuries of children at the turn of the 21st century without a single reference to its own present tone or policy. Considering that Barbara Loe Fisher first published “A Shot in the Dark” in 1985, and according to the Times’ usual turnaround schedule, we can all hold our breath until 2035. 

I just can’t wait.

*Historic New York Times excerpts from Robert Whitaker’s “Mad In America” 

Adriana Gamondes lives in Massachusetts with her husband and is the mother of twins who are currently recovering from vaccine-induced GI disorders.

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