Don’t tell Arianna, but I like Tim Russert.
Yes, I am extremely biased, on account of Russert inviting me onto his prestigious show and holding up a copy of my book, “Evidence of Harm,” to a bleary eyed, Sunday morning America. And yes, I agree that Russert could go further and hit harder at times in his follow-up questions and cross-examinations of leading political figures. But in my humble opinion, I think he did a terrific job last Sunday on “Meet the Press.” He is to be commended for bringing this serious and urgent debate to the prominence that I, for one, believe is merited.
Last Sunday, “Meet the Press” made history in the annals of autism, journalism, and the American people by bringing together two parties, face-to-face, for the first time to rationally discuss the evidence for and against a link between mercury in vaccines and the explosion of reported autism cases in the United States: And all on national broadcast television (and internationally on MSNBC), no less.
The hundreds of comments I have received on the show are very telling in terms of assessing Tim Russert’s impartiality in covering this story. Some people felt that Russert gave Dr. Harvey Fineberg, President of the Institution of Medicine, extra speaking time out of reverence for his lofty position in science and public health, or perhaps in deference to pharmaceutical advertisers on NBC. But an equal number of people thought that Russert had let Dr. Fineberg give his rather long-winded and circuitous answers without interruption, in order to make it seem like he was flapping and spinning (to borrow a term from the autism world). In other words, the old “give ‘em enough rope” theory.
I don’t ascribe personally to either theory, at least as far as my own experience was concerned. That 20 minutes flies by faster than it takes to reach the end of this sentence. Really. Russert had a lot of questions to ask, and I understand the instinct to move forward against the clock. I was in the same position, wanting to question Dr. Feinberg on many of his statements, but also wanting to move forward to make my own. Incidentally, my four points, boiled to their essence and, I think, unassailable, were: 1) Mercury is toxic and kids got too much of it; 2) We need to look at biology and toxicology (in addition to population studies); 3) This process has lacked transparency; 4) Listen to the parents.”
One more word on Russert’s behalf, before the angry comments start pouring in. This is a hugely complicated and controversial topic, and most people in the mainstream media have been loathe to touch it. To their immense credit, people like Don Imus, Robert Kennedy, Jr., Joe Scarborough, Montel Williams, Ron Reagan and Monica Crowley have also brought this story to national television. It is not an easy topic to cover, but they all recognized it as important.
I notice that the tone of the comments posted on this blog in opposition to this theory (and please folks, look up the meaning of “theory” before you sharpen your knives) have become angrier and more accusatory as time goes on. Shooting the messenger is a great American pastime, and I have no problem with it. But try to listen to the message, too. It actually comes in the form of a question:
“Why is it so controversial to suggest that a known neurotoxin injected directly into the systems of pregnant women, newborns and infant children above federal safety levels MIGHT have caused a neurological disorder in a subset of children with a genetic predisposition against metabolizing mercury efficiently?”
And if mercury is not a contributing factor to some cases of autism, (which could be the case, but I am starting to doubt it), then what is? And where are the laboratory and clinical studies proving that thimerosal is safe, anyway?
PS: Add Doug Flutie and Stephen Stills to the list of famous Americans who now blame thimerosal for their children’s autism. Sadly, there are many more waiting in the wings, so stay tuned. “What do celebrities know about science?” my critics will surely ask. Not much. But here’s a question for you. Why do you think they would risk ridicule and come out so publicly against mercury in vaccines, if they weren’t so convinced it was a source of their precious children’s misery?
PPS: Dan Olmsted of UPI is an intelligent and talented reporter who is unafraid and refreshingly willing to go out in the field to investigate a hunch, rather than the more sedentary methods of some of his inside-the-beltway colleagues. He is a reporter, not a scientist, and he never claimed to be anything else. Our job is to ask questions, and point to possible trends. Maybe the Amish DO have lower rates of autism. Whether the reason is genetic, environmental, or “lifestyle” (electricity, now there’s a good use of taxpayer money as an avenue of investigation) isn’t it reason enough to study this community? Why the vitriol at such a reasonable suggestion?
Thanks for paying attention.