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The Mnookin Virus Infects CBS and HuffPo

Posted Jan 01 2012 12:00am

Antimalware-doctor-virus By Jake Crosby

Seth Mnookin has spread his deceit to CBS and The Huffington Post, with the help of accomplices from both sources.

It is amazing just how much Seth Mnookin continues to be propped up as having credibility he simply does not possess. Now, thanks to two fellow opportunists - David Freeman and Neil Katz - we see that pharma’s censorship has taken over CBS and The Huffington Post, both of which have now welcomed the vaccine industry’s shameless pusher, Seth Mnookin

The latest example of this is a blog post he wrote for The Huffington Post’s new “Science” section comically titled:

The Autism Vaccine Controversy and the Need for Responsible Science Journalism

Seth Mnookin summed up the rant on his own blog:

In it, I talk about “the legacy of years of dispatches that created a false equivalency between verifiable facts and…outlandish allegations,” …

And given Seth Mnookin’s tendency to prefer outright lies to verifiable facts, it is not surprising what his biggest fear is:

I figure a worst-case scenario is the site uses the fig leaf of “balance” and posts another anti-vac screed in the next day or so…in which case, lesson learned.

The Atlantic Wire (a website of The Atlantic, edited by the nephew of John Stossel ) ran a blog post celebrating Mnookin’s Huffington Post article, quoting Huffpo’s spokesman Mario Ruiz:

"We believe in providing a platform to bloggers from a variety of disciplines and points of view -- indeed, we welcomed Seth Mnookin’s critique, and regularly present multiple sides of hotly debated issues."

But Seth Mnookin tells a different story:

…I was somewhat surprised when a new HuffPo editor approached me about contributing to their about-to-be launched science section. It would be, he promised, a marked departure from what the site had featured in the past.

That editor, former WebMD writer David Freeman, was managing editor of CBS News’ “Health Channel” before joining HuffPo. Seth Mnookin has high praise for him according to The Atlantic Wire:

"[David] wanted me to contribute and was very vocal about the fact that this was going to be a pro-science section that adhered to strong standards. And David certainly has a good track record," Mnookin told us, adding that he'd worked with Freeman a bit a(sic) CBS. "From the first time we talked he's always struck me as someone who's incredibly smart and also very responsible. Again, my most optimistic reading is that Arianna wouldn't have hired someone like him if she wasn't interested in doing this the right way."

Last April, when Freeman “worked with” Mnookin at CBS, the network posted a talking point gallery on its website titled “10 deadly myths about childhood vaccines”:

What's the truth about childhood vaccines? Are they an effective way to safeguard kids against a range of potentially deadly illnesses? Or do they cause autism and other medical problems? Keep clicking as Seth Mnookin, the author of "The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear," separates vaccine fact from fiction with his list of common misconceptions. It's information that just might save a life.

Accompanying it was an article by Freeman’s colleague and executive editor Neil Katz (just before he was hired by The Huffington Post as its new executive news editor). The title:

What autism, climate change and Obama's birth certificate have in common

It was posted on the very same CBS HealthPop blog that Freeman started and edited with Katz, to which Freeman also contributed biased blog posts riddled with vaccine industry talking points.

Katz’s hiring at HuffPo came right after David Kirby’s piece about the Pace Law Review – ignored by CBS - titled, High Rates of Autism Found in Federal Vaccine Injury Program: Study Says More Answers Needed . There hasn’t been another article like Kirby’s on HuffPo since. 

And New York Times writer Carl Zimmer, who I saw share a stage with Seth Mnookin in New York City last summer, blogged about Mnookin’s piece for Discover Magazine, in an entry titled “Huffington Post + Science. A New Leaf?” The implication being that The Huffington Post will become the latest addition to the vaccine industry’s collection of propaganda outlets.

Fiona Fox, director of the pharma-funded, UK-based Science Media Centre, championed the concept of justified censorship. (She not only denies a vaccine/autism link, she was also an outspoken denier of the Rwandan Genocide in which nearly one million people were systematically murdered with machetes in just 100 days.) Mnookin merely co-opted this concept of justified censorship to advance his newfound “science”-writing career, just as he co-opted every pharma talking point for his book. 

His lambasting of the true investigative journalism of Sharyl Attkisson is evidence of his bias. In his HuffPo piece, Mnookin smeared her for reporting evidence vaccines cause autism in a report for CBS five years ago. But since he claimed there was no proof, he said it therefore should not have been reported any more than a link between CBS News and rectal cancer.  Yes, “science writer” Seth Mnookin actually drew that parallel. A more accurate parallel would be if there were cases of rectal cancer that emerged in people after they swallowed their television sets as opposed to watching CBS News on them.

Given that Mnookin criticized Attkisson while he was under the editorial direction of two former CBS editors, it is now apparent that Attkisson took some flak for her cutting-edge reports at CBS. Even with Katz and Freeman gone, there are still those at CBS who would probably love to see her blockbuster reporting censored once and for all.

What Mnookin Considers “Responsible Science Journalism”

After booting me out of a public conference where he lied that I disrupted his past events, Seth Mnookin has lied about me yet again - this time claiming that he had nothing to do with my removal. In fact, in an interview he gave for a blog, he claims he might have preferred that I stayed:

I recently spoke at a medical research conference -- via Skype as my daughter had just been born -- and there was someone in the audience who was very vocally anti-vaccine, and who ended being taken out of the room for something I had nothing to do with, and in fact I probably would have preferred that he stayed -- but regardless, that was an upsetting incident to me.

That I was removed for something he “had nothing to do with” is not only a lie, but it was directly contradicted by the security guard who escorted me out of the hotel.

“You broke the rules! You were being disruptive!”

It was Mnookin who originally labeled me disruptive after I asked him a question during Q/A. Considering the fact that my presence was “upsetting” to Seth Mnookin is not a surprise, given two statements he has previously written about me online:

After the event, an audience member chastised me for ignoring the evidence that vaccines cause autism — and repeatedly cited Andrew Wakefield’s 1998…study in The Lancet as proof.

I would have preferred responding (& tried to), altho the person wanted to grandstand not talk at #PRIMR_AER11

The fact that those two statements are utter fabrications shows just how frustrated Seth Mnookin is by the points I made.

Interestingly, he never names me in his online writing; I am always “someone,” “an audience member” or “the person,” but never Jake Crosby . To Seth Mnookin, I’ve become a real-life Voldemort – the evil sorcerer in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels – who must not be named.

I am not convinced Mnookin “would have preferred that [I] stayed,” but I think he knows that cutting me off, shutting me up and kicking me out did not reflect well on him. And this is probably why he latched onto a story later that month in The New York Times that profiled the lives of two adults with Asperger Syndrome. Mnookin wrote three posts on his blog gushing over the article and then he even interviewed the author so as to write a fourth blog post.

The funny thing is, before the article came out, there were no posts about Asperger Syndrome on either of Mnookin’s blogs. In fact, The New York Times article he lauded was only the second in a series by Amy Harmon about adults with Asperger Syndrome, the first of which Mnookin paid no attention to. It looks like he was trying to rescue his image after throwing an individual with Asperger Syndrome out of his own event.

This is not the first time Mnookin has resorted to such a tactic. When news broke that Kim Stagliano’s daughter was being physically abused on the school bus earlier this year, Mnookin wrote a blog post professing sympathy for Kim’s daughter. Yet he did not sign or even link to Kim’s petition against the appeal of the school bus driver who allowed Kim’s daughter to be abused.

Then in an act of utter inappropriateness that revealed his true lack of empathy for Kim’s daughter, Seth Mnookin posted an addendum trying to justify his non-endorsement of Kim’s petition, suggesting it could be a prank like that by the pharma-funded Cato Institute’s senior fellows Penn & Teller. Mnookin explained that the magician duo had convinced environmental activists to sign a fake petition banning water. That is the extent of seriousness with which Seth Mnookin treats the abuse faced by children with autism.

Seth Mnookin’s empathy for people with autism is as false as his claim that he had nothing to do with my removal from his event last month.

Before Mnookin: A Variety of Views on CBS News

CBS Investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson followed the money that funded the front groups and talking heads of the vaccine industry – such as the AAP , Every Child By Two , and millionaire vaccine industrialist Dr. Paul Offit . And for that, unsurprisingly, the vaccine industry struck back.

There are people connected to the vaccine industry within CBS who do not care for Attkisson’s honest reporting. CBS Evening News medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook – also a HuffPo contributor, insisting vaccines are safe - relies on the vaccine industry as the source for his reporting.

Dr. LaPook has, in the past, skirted the Hannah Poling decision that her shots caused her autism, skirted safety concerns about the HPV vaccine, blamed the autism community for concerns about the H1N1 vaccine during the swine flu scare and said the autism omnibus decisions in vaccine court – designed to shield drug companies from litigation – should put a rest to this controversy, but won’t.

One year ago, when BMJ accused Dr. Andrew Wakefield of an “Elaborate Fraud,” Dr. LaPook tweeted:

Media fueled fears after Wakefield's '98 MMR-autism study. Media must now publicize the BMJ report that the study was doctored by the doctor.

A few months later, Seth Mnookin was allowed to contribute to the CBS News website “10 deadly myths about childhood vaccines.”

But perhaps most telling was whom Dr. Jon LaPook interviewed following The Lancet’s retraction of Dr. Andrew Wakefield ’s paper in 2010 - Columbia University Medical Center’s (CUMC) Anatomy Department Chairman, Dr. Michael Gershon.

Dr. Gershon said Dr. Wakefield’s paper shouldn’t have been published and that autism is genetic. What wasn’t said, however, is that Dr. Gershon’s wife Anne developed the chicken pox vaccine for Merck. Dr. Anne Gershon is a professor of pediatric infectious diseases at CUMC.

And Dr. LaPook is associate professor at the very same institution where the Gershons work. In fact, for as long as Dr. Michael Gershon has been on the faculty at CUMC, Dr. Jon LaPook has been either on the faculty, or a student at Columbia University’s College of Physicans and Surgeons.

So while it is not surprising that Dr. LaPook would interview his conflicted colleague at the university where they both teach, it is extremely ironic that the very source Dr. LaPook uses to justify his position - Dr. Michael Gershon - is the type of source Sharyl Attkisson would have exposed as a paid talking head for the vaccine industry.

Dr. LaPook has contributed to Katz and Freeman’s CBS HealthPop blog, even coauthoring a piece with Katz himself. But perhaps most telling of all was that in early 2010, Dr. LaPooke became a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ), where Seth Mnookin is also a member as is his old college chum, Ivan Oransky , treasurer of AHCJ.

Scott Pelley + Pfizer + CBS Evening News = No More Sharyl Attkisson?

Lately, we haven’t heard from Sharyl Attkisson, CBS Evening News’ most fearless investigative journalist. Certainly, her reporting runs counter to the vaccine industry talking points used by other CBS writers Dr. Jon LaPook and Ryan Jaslow as well as former CBS editors Neil Katz and David Freeman. But her recent silence might also be due to major changes within CBS Evening News itself.

One change in television news that garnered much less attention than it deserved was the replacement of Katie Couric as anchor of CBS Evening News with 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley. Within weeks of the announcement that Couric would be leaving CBS to become a correspondent for ABC, CBS posted Seth Mnookin’s talking point gallery along with Neil Katz’s complementary article. 

Pelley’s journalism on vaccine-related topics is troubling to say the least. Hosting 60 Minutes, he played a major part in inflating the swine flu scare. And that is reflected in the program’s sponsorship. Before the 60 Minutes report even begins, you have to stare at nothing but a Pfizer logo for seven seconds.

In the 60 Minutes segment itself, Pelley is taken on a friendly tour through Sanofi-Pasteur’s H1N1 vaccine plant and does not challenge a government official on weighing the risks of the virus with the risks of the vaccine. When the official likened the benefits of the vaccine to wearing a seatbelt – ignoring the vaccine’s risks altogether – Pelley let it go unchallenged.

Bill Maher challenged Pelley’s coverage of this on The Huffington Post arguing that swallowing the seatbelt – rather than strapping it over your chest – would be a more apt analogy. Indeed, it would be.

But most disturbing of all is Pelley’s personal relationships. He sits on the board of directors of the International Rescue Committee, a non-profit organization which is, in-part, dedicated to the vaccination of children in the third world. Sitting on the board of directors with Pelley is Susan Susman, director of external relations for Pfizer, which sponsored Pelley’s 60 Minutes report on H1N1 vaccine production.

Katie Couric possesses no such ties and did not stop Sharyl Attkisson from conducting her dogged investigations. In contrast, no reports from Attkisson on autism and vaccines have come out since Pelley took over in June, while vaccine industry talking points were regularly parroted on the CBS website by Neil Katz and David Freeman before they took their bias to HuffPo.

Neil Katz + David Freeman + HuffPo + AOL = No More David Kirby?

But Neil Katz and David Freeman’s roles on HuffPo do not just reflect their contempt for Sharyl Attkisson, but now represent HuffPo’s autism-vaccine coverage in general.

While David Kirby remains a contributor to the site for which he has written an article as recently as November, he has not contributed a single piece on the vaccine-autism controversy since Neil Katz became executive news editor. In fact, no thorough investigations of this debate have run on the site since Katz’ hiring. There has been nothing from Jenny McCarthy or Age of Autism’s managing editor, Kim Stagliano . It was McCarthy’s past contributions to HuffPo which were lambasted in Mnookin’s hit piece.

David Freeman is now editor of the new  “Science” section, which he says will run content that was very different from what was run in the past. I take this to mean that pharma essentially has its own section dubbed “Science” in the HuffPo. Given that the site has already allowed plenty of industry voices to blog, including millionaire vaccine industrialist Paul Offit and vaccine industry original go-to guy Arthur Allen , it appears this deviation Freeman speaks of will be the addition of HuffPo “Science” to the vaccine industry’s collection of propaganda outlets at best. At worst, the entire site will be a new bastion of total censorship that prevents skilled journalists from contributing to this debate. Hopefully, that won’t be the case.

The takeover of the successful Huffington Post by AOL was probably the trigger for the hiring of editors like Katz and Freeman. AOL had a history of being friendly to the vaccine industry which continues to be shielded from vaccine liability by federal law.

Seth Mnookin’s Lies Unsustainable

Of course, if HuffPo and CBS choose to censor genuine journalism like that of David Kirby and Sharyl Attkisson in favor of agenda-driven pseudo-journalism and blatant lies by vaccine industry pushers like Seth Mnookin , then that is CBS and HuffPo’s choice. But positions like Mnookin’s are unsustainable and bound to fail. The concept of justified censorship that he co-opted from Fiona Fox, denier of the Rwandan Genocide, may work for people conspiring to cover up vaccine injury, but not for journalists who want to maintain long-term credibility. But then again, how many credible journalists get their assignments from their Uncle Bob ?

Jake Crosby has Asperger Syndrome and is a contributing editor to Age of Autism. He is a 2011 graduate of Brandeis University with a BA in both History and Health: Science, Society and Policy. He currently attends The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services where he is studying for an MPH in epidemiology.


Posted by Age of Autism at January 12, 2012 at 5:45 AM in Jake Crosby Permalink

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