The Sharyl Attkisson Journalism Award

With rare exception, the media has long played a big influence in feeding the anti-vaccination movement.

“The media created the MMR hoax, and they maintained it diligently for 10 years.”

Dr. Ben Goldacre Bad Science

It didn’t start with Andy Wakefield and his MMR hoax though.

John Birch (B) and the other anti-vaccine heroes of the day on their way to fight the vaccination monster.
John Birch (B) and the other anti-vaccine heroes of the day on their way to fight the vaccination monster.

Satirical prints that were printed in the very early 1800s showed people getting vaccinated and sprouting horns or turning into cows. And long after that, just before Wakefield got folks scared of the MMR vaccine, another doctor in England got them scared of the DPT vaccine.

Dr. John Wilson took to the media to scare parents because he had “seen too many children in whom there has been a very close association between a severe illness, with fits, unconsciousness, often focal neurological signs, and inoculation.”

What followed was a drop in DPT vaccinations in many countries and vaccine lawsuits, even though his study was later found to be seriously flawed, with most having no link to the DPT vaccine.

The Media’s Role in Pushing Vaccine Misinformation

Many people don’t realize the role that the media plays a big role in fueling the anti-vaccine movement.

We recently saw that when folks had to be reminded that Oprah gave a very high platform to Jenny McCarthy and her views that vaccines caused her child to become autistic, even though she admitted on Oprah’s show that “she missed signs of Evan’s autism,” after telling everyone earlier that he had developed autism after getting his MMR, the “autism shot.”

“And then the nurse gave my son that shot. And I remember going, “Oh, God, no!” And soon thereafter I noticed a change. The soul was gone from his eyes.”

Jenny McCarthy on Oprah

Maybe these people and organizations should be recognized when they use false balance and poor reporting to promote pseudoscience and anti-vaccine talking points to scare parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids.

The Sharyl Attkisson Journalism Award

Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey went on a mission to Green Our Vaccines in 2008.
Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey went on a mission to Green Our Vaccines in 2008.

Remember Sharyl Attkisson?

Sharyl Attkisson was an investigational reporter for CBS News.

She is best known for defending Andrew Wakefield and trying to promote a connection between vaccines and autism.

In her honor, we will be awarding a Sharyl Attkisson Journalism Award for the folks in the media who have done the best job in promoting myths and fake controversies about vaccines and have used false balance in their interviews and articles to scare parents:

  • Lea Thompson for her anti-vaccine documentary DPT: Vaccine Roulette
  • Robert Kennedy Jr. for his now retracted “error-laced” expose about vaccines and autism (Deadly Immunity) that appeared in both Salon and Rolling Stone
  • the Huffington Post before 2012, when the “The site arguably features more scientific quackery than any other mainstream media outlet.”
  • Phil Donahue – before Oprah, we had the Donahue show, where Phil Donahue gave a huge platform to the first anti-vaccine celebrity pediatrician (no, not Jay Gordon or Bob Sears), Robert Mendelsohn. He also featured Lisa Bonet, of The Cosby Show fame, on his show back in 1990, when she told everyone that she wasn’t vaccinating her daughter.
  • ABC’s Good Morning America for giving a platform to Cindy Crawford and her celebrity pediatrician, Jay Gordon, MD
  • Oprah for giving such a huge platform for Jenny McCarthy
  • Katie Couric for her segment on Now with Tom Brokaw and Katie Couric about DPT “hot lots” in 1994, her 2008 segment, “How Independent Are Vaccine Defenders?,” on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, and her more her more recent segment on the HPV vaccine on her daytime talk show, Katie.
  • Larry King for his interviews with Bill Maher, Jim Carey, and multiple interviews with Jenny McCarthy on  CNN’s Larry King Live
  • NBC’s The TODAY Show for rebroadcasting DPT: Vaccine Roulette to a national audience and more recently, giving a platform to Robert DeNiro to discuss his views about vaccines and autism and the movie VAXXED
  • ABC’s 20/20 for their segments about the hepatitis B vaccine, Who’s Calling the Shots?, and for another segment featuring Jenny McCarthy
  • ABC’s Nightline for their segment on vaccine injury featuring Barbara Loe Fisher
  • CBS’s 60 Minutes for their segment,The MMR Vaccine, featuring Andrew Wakefield
  • Lisa Liddane for her 2006 article in the Orange County Register, Asking questions about vaccinations, which features Bob Sears and talks about toxins and reasons why parents want to delay vaccines, devoting little space to why it is not necessary and very dangerous
  • Matt Lauer for his hour-long episode, A Dose of Controversy, on NBC’s Dateline, in which he interviewed Andrew Wakefield
  • Michelle Woo for her article in the OC Weekly, Dr. Robert Sears Takes on Both Sides of the Great Vaccination Divide, which claims he has found “a middle ground in America’s war on vaccinations”
  • the Des Moines Register for posting an article, Effectiveness, safety of vaccines questioned, by Eileen Dannemann, the founder of an anti-vaccine website
  • the Portland Tribune editorial board for their piece, Our Opinion: Vaccination issue begs for open debate, in which this free, weekly paper basically repeated many anti-vaccine talking points
  • David Bruser and Jesse McLean at the Toronto Star for their now retracted 2015 article, HPV vaccine Gardasil has a dark side, Star investigation finds,  which claimed that the HPV vaccine is unsafe
  • Frederik Joelving and Susan Matthews for the Slate article, What the Gardasil Testing May Have Missed, which claims that the clinical trials for Gardasil weren’t designed properly and based on anecdotal evidence, implies that it is causing women to develop POTS

Do you know anyone who deserves a Sharyl Attkisson Journalism Award?

What to Know About the Sharyl Attkisson Journalism Award

In addition to fake news about vaccines, we see a lot of poor reporting and false balance by some reporters and organizations that leads parents to think that there is still a real debate going on about the safety and importance of getting vaccinated and protected.

More On the Sharyl Attkisson Journalism Award:

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