Stand Up and Refuse To Be Counted (Part 1)

karmaDuring the month of April, if you have a child with autism you can choose to celebrate and promote awareness. Or, as many fellow parents have decided, you can make it a month of autism action. This is what I have chosen as the mother of four chidren, three of whom are on the spectrum.

In years past, the trend in mainstream media coverage during April is that of feel-good human interest stories and studies released regarding the causes and contributing factors to this issue. However, this year has been different. In the months leading up to April, the media started recirculating an old Time Magazine article from 2010 with the completely false declaration that Jenny McCarthy had “admitted her son never had autism,” with the very contentious months prior surrounding her being hired as the newest co-host on the ABC talk show “The View.” This opened the flood gates for an increasing number of posts circulating on the internet regarding the topic of vaccines. While not unusual, the increasingly divisive and hateful tone widely circulated on every website and social media outlet was hard to ignore.

After the endless barrage of this type of “reporting,” I decided that I was going to find an unbiased source of news. My autism action was going to focus on figuring out where have all the objective, non-biased journalists gone along with their counterparts:  the balanced information outlets where the reader’s intelligence is assumed, both sides of an issue are presented with non-inflammatory language, and critical thinking skills are encouraged.

True, there are many websites, magazines and organizations that portray themselves as independent sophisticated pillars of thought, social justice and informed opinions. I might have believed this was true if it weren’t for the examples they presented as fact-driven, non-biased stories written with the public good in mind. This month the CDC released updated autism prevalence statistics. The heartwarming human interest stories that news outlets and social media had been focusing on in prior months involving perfect strangers fixing broken cheeseburgers, standing up to verbally abusive restaurant patrons or entertaining little girls with autism on airplanes are notably absent. In their place, every publication under the sun has come out of the woodwork to jump on the negative attention bandwagon. The aforementioned “broken cheeseburger” story brought a wave of positive media focus for a restaurant chain that resulted in them designating a day to donate 10% of their proceeds to the National Autism Association, whose main focus of late has been on wandering prevention and providing families with the tools to handle an emergency situation if their loved one goes missing. In the end, they withdrew their support after the critical tone of social media drew backlash when it was turned into a vaccine issue where none existed. Many online outlets followed suit by picking up the story and spreading it far and wide, making it a clear warning to any corporation that supports an organization that chooses to offer help to families seeking alternative medical treatments.

In my quest to find a progressive, non-biased media presence I went to the most notable sources of independent journalism. Mother Jones is a publication with a rich history, referenced on their website ” . . . Award-winning Mother Jones magazine is a project of the non-profit Foundation for National Progress (FNP), founded to educate the American public by investigating and reporting on important social and political issues of our time. The FNP launched Mother Jones magazine in 1976 and MotherJones.com in 1993 to bring uncompromising reporting to a broad national audience.”

Intrigued, I then did a internet search on the terms “Mother Jones vaccines” and was surprised to find a long history of negative posts that, to my dismay, did not provide a balanced, independent discussion on their pages. The next question I had was “Who is the Mother Jones reader?” Luckily, I didn’t have to go far. Not only is their press kit on their website, it is available in a small link in the bottom of every email they send. I was not prepared for what I found there.

Overview

Mother Jones delivers provocative articles that provide a perspective not found in the mainstream media. Mother Jones challenges conventional wisdom, exposes abuses of power and offers fresh solutions for positive social change.

http://assets.motherjones.com/advertising/mediakit/pdf/mj-mag-natural-products.pdf

78% of readers buy organic and natural products

43% of readers prefer using alternative methods of medicine/healing

86% of readers consider healthy eating and good nutrition important

45 % of readers shop at natural foods or health store at least once per week

http://assets.motherjones.com/advertising/mediakit/pdf/mag-health.pdf

84% use vitamin or mineral supplements

43% prefer alternative medicine/healing over prescription medication

39% use homeopathic/herbal remedies

http://assets.motherjones.com/advertising/mediakit/pdf/mj-magazine-audience.pdf

90% attended college

40% have a household income greater than $75k

39% are opinion leaders

http://mediakit.motherjones.com/mk

Our award-winning journalism is a touchstone for readers passionate about politics, the environment, culture, food, health, and human rights. Whether in print or online, the Mother Jones reader is smart, influential, environmentally-friendly, and socially-conscious. We deliver engaging and innovative platforms for these readers to stay informed, explore ideas, and feel inspired.

Magazines and websites rely heavily on marketing revenue from advertisers to pay the bills. Companies like to align themselves with publications that consumers have a positive image of; this is reflected in large advertising budgets designed to entice the reader to purchase products and services.

Notice anything unusual? The very demographic that Mother Jones relies heavily on to attract advertising dollars is the same one they disparage on a regular basis on their website that draws 8 million views per month. According to their own research, 40% of their readers have a household income in excess of $75k, 43% prefer alternative medicine, homeopathic treatments and herbal remedies. More than likely,  this coveted market share also exercises their vaccine exemption rights and are educated consumers when it comes to health-related matters. Except for the fact that our family does not qualify for the affluent and desired income bracket, we do fall under the rest of the categories. Unfortunately, we are a single earner household because I had to withdraw from the job market to care for our twins who are severely affected by autism. Although we do not have a lot of disposable income, the purchases we make are carefully researched. We are fiercely loyal to organizations who take the time to be socially conscious members of the community, both online and brick and mortar.

In the interest of keeping things fair and balanced, Mother Jones is not the only example of attracting an educated and desirable readership to draw advertisers only to court controversial blogging tactics that seek to control the flow of information as well as distort it. The list is actually quite long. Think NPR is above these tactics? I wagging fingerdid until I read their “Shots” blog. Financial publications including Forbes and The Wall Street Journal have joined the fray. Slate, Forbes and Salon have latched on to the subject of parents and vaccinations, wagging their collective finger at anyone that disagrees, and their elders, Time and Newsweek, are the grandparents who want an in with the cool kids and their money by upping the ante in regards to outright inflammatory hate speech as evidenced in posts during April 2014.

Although the market research might show the demographic change slightly for other websites as far as specific habits regarding medical decisions and practices, it probably is safe to say that the consumers being marketed to corporations in the Mother Jones Media Kit are similar; certainly they do not only view one website and will check out some of the above publications’ internet presence.

The only way we are going to make an impact on these practices of the media posting endless pieces promoting a single view point is to stop clicking, sharing and commenting on them. Vilifying those who wish to have both sides of a topic, free of the contemptuous manipulative language meant to incite strong negative feelings towards those who do not conform to a specific view, while marketing to these same people, makes no sense. Describing people who want to make informed choices and exercise their rights to control medically related decisions regarding their children as affluent liberals who shop at Whole Foods and drive eco-conscious cars (because certain segments of the population view this negatively) while courting advertisers with numbers showing these desirable consumers is hypocritical. The Mother Jones example shows that we exist, we have money and we are opinion leaders. Yet most of online media sources are unflinchingly insulting, questioning our intellect by assuming we only do things because of celebrity example. We are educated, having attended college and yet we could not possibly understand the science behind studies or scientific data and do not do our research before making important medical decisions. We are socially conscious but alternately selfish because the media has perpetuated the idea that parents who opt out of  (further) vaccinating our injured children or wishing to prevent it, based on our family histories, are putting others at risk. We are supposed to deny what we experienced and deal with the consequences alone all for the sake of the theory of protecting strangers.

All of these ideas disappear when these same blogs and websites sell advertising space – now we are valuable discerning consumers with a large amount of disposable income.  Then we are expected to disregard all of the tabloid quality reporting we have witnessed on social media in the form of blogs demanding parents be stripped of our rights, and worse. It seems as though the mainstream media wants your clicks, reposts and comments to drive up page views to sell advertising, while chastising and belittling the reader, regardless of their views.

My choice for autism action this month? Do not click, repost, comment on any blog or article on websites that blatantly use the reader with this type of reporting. Time has demonstrated that they all say the same thing repeatedly and if you think by posting these on your personal Facebook page as an example of what not to listen to or believe, they still get the clicks and the money. The blogger becomes viable and gains some sort of “credibility” by demonstrating they can drive web traffic to their posts, which guarantees job security and may result in a book deal.

cyberbullying

As a Thinking parent, I cannot in good conscience support this business model that encourages cyber bullying, hate speech and cultivates an atmosphere where opposing view points and access to both sides of a topic are crowded out. Stand up and refuse to be counted – this is the first step in being the socially conscious consumer they want to gain the attention of and that corporations hope to sell their products to.

~Karma

About the author - Karma is a mom to four kids that spend way too much time navigating their dirty mini-van through the urban sprawl that is metro Atlanta. She proudly supports Generation Rescue in the role of parent mentor for their Family Grant program. When asked, “How do you do it?” the answer is simple:  coffee, Belgian ale, and an odd sense of humour. She is the co-author of Evolution Of A Revolution: From Hope To Healing and is a member of TEAM TMR, a not-for-profit organisation created by the  founders of The Thinking Moms’ Revolution. For more by Karma, CLICK HERE.


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7 Responses to Stand Up and Refuse To Be Counted (Part 1)

  1. A Sloth says:

    Okay. Honest, genuine question here and please don’t call me a flamer, I’m not trying to be.

    I’m a university student, biological sciences major. I’ve read most of this blog (no, seriously!) and I just… I’m mildly perplexed. It’s really, really obvious you love your kids – really, that’s great – but… I’m a little discomforted by how insistent some of you folks are that your kid is a ‘changeling’ or has been ‘stolen’. Is it that hard to believe that sometimes the human brain just wires itself weirdly? When you get right down to it, we don’t know anything approaching everything about the meat computers in our heads, but it’s pretty obvious that a child’s brain is going through some crazy stuff when she or he is tiny. Between birth and the age of one entire sectors of the brain are receiving their very first use – is it that implausible that sometimes neurons decide to hook together weirdly?

    It’s not necessarily a terrible thing! An autistic child may just as well grow out of the autism to an extent as his or her brain further develops – and if not, well, yes – they’re different. But it really does concern me to hear people calling their children changelings simply because they’re neurologically different. We’re all different – while I don’t doubt it’s really hard to take care of them, it’s… just, sometimes it happens. Even a diamond formed under perfect conditions can have a flaw; it’s the nature of the universe.

    p.s. seriously, you guys love learning stuff – take a basic biology course! It’s amazing, the way living things work – stuff like active sites will blow your mind. And chaperonins! Seriously, science is exciting! Get excited!

    • ProfessorTMR says:

      Hi, Sloth. Welcome to TMR. Honest questions are always welcome.

      First off, when you see someone applying the word “changeling” (which I believe is rare) or “stolen” (much more common in my experience) to his or her child with autism, it is usually a person whose child has regressive autism, which means that the child was developing “normally” until some point in time when the child, suddenly or gradually, lost some or all of the skills previously learned.

      You won’t find regressive autism listed in your textbooks. There are those who will argue about whether or not it even exists. They’ll tell you that the child always had autism: it just “shows up” sometime between one and two. That’s bogus. Quite a few parents of children with autism report that their child was that way from birth, but another group can tell you exactly when things changed. THIS IS A NEW PHENOMENON. I’m in my 50s. There was no fear when I was growing up that a kid would lose the skills they had already obtained, unless the child was hit — hard — on the head. If it happened, it was so rare that it wasn’t on anyone’s radar (like that 1 in 10,000 number that used to be quoted as the autism rate). It’s not rare now. MANY children are losing skills they have already developed. Many others are not developing the skills they SHOULD be developing because their development got interrupted by SOMETHING. That “something” is frequently a round of antibiotics, vaccines or general anesthesia.

      As far as the possibility that a child’s brain “just wires itself weirdly,” that is the working hypothesis many people have about Asperger Syndrome, which is considered to be on the autism spectrum. It seems to me that Asperger’s may have a much greater genetic component than the more severe types of autism, which would lend credence to the idea that the brain is just wired differently. It’s hard to know if the rate of Asperger’s is increasing like the more severe types, because most of the adults I know who have Asperger’s were not identified as children and the CDC is not tracking autism incidence by diagnosis. If it is, then there is an environmental component to the incidence of Asperger’s as well and there is something CAUSING the brain to wire differently. I, personally, cannot remember ever hearing the parent of a child with Asperger’s use the word “stolen” to describe their child. It is certainly not necessarily a terrible thing. It can even come with a very strong ability to focus, which can be a very good thing.

      However, that is not the experience of those with severe autism. Most of those will have accompanying medical co-conditions that make life very difficult, as well as a severe inability to navigate the world as we know it. Again, it is not necessarily a terrible thing, but it DOES make life difficult for everyone concerned. Difficult does not equal bad.

      And, lastly, don’t assume that people haven’t taken basic biology courses. We have readers with advanced degrees of all kinds, including those in the medical sciences. Most of us are very excited by learning, but those with severely affected children have to squeeze it into the few minutes they have that are not claimed by those children.

      • A Sloth says:

        Oh my, what a reply! Thanks for your polite response. :)

        Okay, I’m going to lay it all out here – and first of all apologize if I noted this on the wrong blog in general, I’ve been reading a lot about this.

        I’m not a mother, I don’t intend to be – but I do want to go into the medical profession, I have since I was a small child, and – well, I also have a little niece whose mother is choosing not to vaccinate her. You don’t need to tell me that it’s her right as a mother etc. etc. etc. – I’m aware that it is, but I still don’t understand it, even reading the (admittedly heartrending) entries I’ve seen across the internet. (The ‘changeling’ bit, just to clarify, I’m quite sure was not in any of the Aspergers end of the spectrum stories I’ve read – in point of fact I do know some folks with Aspergers and apart from some minor social awkwardness you could never tell.)

        I’m genuinely and honestly not convinced a lot of the interventions made at a pediatric level (vaccinations especially) cause autism, and I’m exceedingly sorry if that’s offensive; I mean no offense, I do want to carry on a dialogue here. Everything I’ve read over the past several months has pointed to there being no connection between ASD and childhood interventions – please forgive me for not linking but there are a lot of journals out there and this has been research carried on over the course of months, and between studying for midterms and finals. I can dig them up later if it’s needed.

        I do understand that difficult does not equal bad.

        I didn’t mean any offense by that comment, incidentally, and while I don’t have children of my own I do have a large family – I’ve babysat enough little cousins to understand what an incredibly huge investment of time even a normal child is.

        Gracious, I’m sorry for how long this’s taken but I’m snatching words in between working on a creative writing submission (hoping to get into the class this fall) and searching for a summer job. D: Thank you again for your kind words and if I missed anything I’m terribly sorry, do remind me.

      • ProfessorTMR says:

        I understand that you are “genuinely and honestly” not convinced that pediatrician interventions can cause or, perhaps to be more accurate, trigger autism and other neurological conditions, but can you understand that parents who know their children better than anyone and watched what happened ARE “genuinely and honestly” utterly convinced that what happened to their children would NOT have happened without those interventions? I suspect you may have bought into the mainstream media’s characterization of those of us who don’t vaccinate and/or think vaccines cause autism as “just parents” looking for “something to blame,” stupidly and stubbornly refusing to look at the evidence. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. We’re the people who ARE looking at the evidence, the evidence that’s right in front of us. The evidence that it would be insane to ignore. These days it’s hard not to trip over it.

        The people who don’t vaccinate are, on average, more intelligent and more educated than people who don’t vaccinate. Personally, I have a degree in Physics and a much better grasp of logic and reasoning than the average human being. When I was graduating college (one of the most highly selective in the country), I got 800s on both the math and logic sections of the GRE. I’m not saying this to boast or anything, just to let you know the KIND of people who have gone down this path.

        Look at any “pro-vaccine” posting and you will note how often they say they are “safe and effective,” even though vaccines have been classified by the Supreme Court as “unavoidably unsafe.” That’s because they actually ARE. SOME people are going to be damaged, and some of those severely, by ANY vaccine simply by the nature of what a vaccine is. That’s a fact that is glossed over completely in nearly every article, blog or post that can be characterized as pro-vaccine. If it’s not glossed over, it is cited as “happens 1 in a million.” If that were true, do you really think there would be so many people who USED to vaccinate until their children were severely damaged and are now at the forefront of the “anti-vaccine movement”?

        Take a look at the VAERS database and the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program awards to people with vaccine injury and you will see that vaccines, all by themselves, can cause EXACTLY what we say they do. One of the most frequently compensated conditions is encephalopathy (look at the vaccine inserts. It happens). What is encephalopathy? It’s a brain injury. How does it look? Well, in many cases, a lot like autism. It is a fact that people who have children with autism who have used the word “encephalopathy” in their proceedings in vaccine court have gotten compensated, while people with children who have extremely similar conditions and health histories using the word “autism” have not.

        Have you read the Verstraeten study that supposedly “proves” that Thimerosal has nothing to do with autism? It does nothing of the kind. It is a “neutral” study, meaning that NO conclusion can be drawn from it. The funny thing is that it took them several years and three revisions to get to that point from a very UN “neutral” beginning. After three different “massagings” of the data they changed the statistically significant dose-dependent correlation between early Thimerosal exposure and neurological damage into a study that says nothing and yet is used to “prove” the opposite of what it started out saying. Why do you suppose that is? Google Simpsonwood and you’ll start to get an idea of how much the easily available information in mainstream media is whitewashed.

        (You don’t have to link the journals. I’ve read and analyzed many of them myself. The vast majority that I have read are badly designed if the intent were to uncover any possible links. They are, however, sometimes brilliantly designed if the intent is to mask any possible links.)

        You sound intelligent and open, and I’m happy to continue the dialog. I don’t envy you the disillusion you may soon experience.

  2. nhokkanen says:

    MJ changed after its 2004 vaccine/autism article “Toxic Tipping Point.” Was it targeted by pharma? Certainly the tone shifted from passive questioning to active attacks on vaccine safety advocates.

  3. Renee Epigenetic says:

    Loved it Karma!!! My favorite remark, “We are supposed to deny what we experienced and deal with the consequences alone all for the sake of the theory of protecting strangers”. That’s where big pharma is missing it most. Acknowledge the vaccine injured, offer help/support, show compassion to hurting families, spend research dollars on interventions for those suffering from an adverse reaction… Instead they hire people to accuse us of many things- ignorance, selfishness and quackery. By proclaiming their products are 1 size fits all and that reactions are rare they demonstrate ‘callous disregard’.

  4. Jan says:

    EXCELLENT EXCELLENT article! This topic has been driving me up the wall for years, ever since I discovered NPR was completely biased when it came to vaccine injury. I continue to look for a publication that will speak truth to power.

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