It is interesting that hundreds of researchers and scientists work every day to monitor and study the safety of our vaccine program to ensure that it is safe, but “vaccine safety advocate” gets used, without irony, by anti-vaccine activists in order to obscure their true purpose of frightening parents away from vaccines by falsely connecting them to autism.
Words matter, and they matter especially in journalism. Casting people who form coalitions in order to slow the uptake of vaccines and promote misinformation about them as anything other than anti-vaccine is playing into their own public relations and feeding the anti-vaccine delusion.
So why does the Star Tribune keep changing articles and headlines to accommodate the public relations of Minnesota’s wealthiest and most politically connected anti-vaxxer?
On the heels of the Disneyland measles outbreak, Strib reporter wrote this terrible and falsely balanced article discussing how anti-vaccine activists were on the defense (since they were, you know, bringing back measles). Originally, the article began:
Jennifer Larson’s conversion to anti-vaccine started after her infant son got his measles shot in October 2001. Within minutes, she said, he passed out, within hours he stopped making eye contact, within weeks he lost a sense of touch and within months he was found to have severe autism.
The first line, that she was converted to anti-vaccine, is accurate. That the vaccine caused her child’s autism is, of course, refuted by science. But to the point: Jennifer Larson is anti-vaccine. It is her anti-vaccine stance that has led her to bring to Minnesota hearings doctors like Dr. Toni Bark, who is also anti-vaccine and who has a whole movie about the pretend dangers of vaccines. The bill they were testifying against would not have mandated vaccines; it simply would have required parents speak to a doctor before opting their children out of vaccines. Who is against people talking to their doctors about the risks of opting out of vaccines? People who are anti-vaccine.
But Jeremy Olson (or his editors) changed that first line of that awful article so that it read: “Jennifer Larson’s conversion to vaccine skeptic started after her infant son got his measles shot in October 2001″ (emphasis mine). Jennifer Larson, no doubt, did not like being called anti-vaccine because who wants to be against vaccines? Not someone who spreads misinformation about vaccines or keeps parents who have hesitation about them from their doctors. Oh wait.
In any case, the Star Tribune slipped up and called her anti-vaccine again, to report that she was planning, along with her anti-vaccine political party, a local fundraiser for anti-vaccine Libertarian presidential almost-candidate Rand Paul. The article was originally titled, “Head of anti-vaccination group to host Rand Paul fundraiser.” As far as headlines go, it was completely fair. Yet, months later, the headline has changed, and a correction now accompanies the article:
An earlier headline and photo caption with this article did not identify the Canary Party and its president, Jennifer Larson, correctly. Neither she nor the group oppose all vaccinations. Rather, they are raising questions about vaccine safety and federal vaccine research.
Oh really? She’s raising questions about vaccine safety? I know she has contributed tens of thousands of dollars to politicians in hopes of getting anti-vaccine misinformation about autism into the congressional record, but has she ever funded research about vaccine safety since she is so concerned about the federal research being done? (And can someone please point out how ridiculous it is to be concerned about “federal vaccine research” when vaccines are researched by governments and universities and non-profits and, yes, corporations across the globe, in lots of countries with lots of government structures?)
But the Star Tribune knows all this. I know they do because I have told them. So the real question remains: why do they keep capitulating to the absurd and inaccurate request by one anti-vaccine activists to be labeled as a “vaccine safety advocate.” Vaccine safety advocates do exist. They are the reason we have safe vaccines that prevent us from getting polio and diphtheria. They aren’t the lone voices repeating snippets of fraudulent, retracted studies.