I love Harry Potter. Yeah, I know, I’m not alone. But I’m one of those geeks who had my Amazon order in to get each of the last four books on the day it came out. We own copies of all eight films on DVD. Not the boxed set, mind you, because then we would have had to wait, and that was clearly unacceptable. I nearly divorced my ex a few years early when he gave away a crucial plot point while I was reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Harry was single-handedly responsible for finally convincing my not-quite-dyslexic daughter that reading was fun; the same daughter who, at the age of 14, has decided she is going to be a writer and is in the process of writing her first book. She happens to be really good at it, by the way, and I hope you’ll get to know her better shortly. She’s written a guest blog that she plans to submit to TMR. So, um . . . yeah, I love Harry Potter.
I’m currently enjoying my umpteenth reading of the books with my six-year-old. He’s hooked; he wants to be Harry Potter for Halloween and can’t wait to get his Quidditch robe and Firebolt. I’m so proud. We’re up to the fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I love the entire series, but this one? This one . . . Well, let’s put it this way: Harry’s managed to hold it together through some pretty hairy times for the past four years, but this is the one where the train really runs off the rails. Lord Voldemort, the most feared dark wizard of all time (with good reason), is back, and you don’t know what he’s got planned, but you know it’s bad, really bad. Harry knows this better than anyone because he’s actually seen him and dueled with him – and lived to tell the tale! Only no one believes him. Okay, a few people believe him – mostly people who know him well enough to know he’s telling the truth, or who know Voldemort well enough to know that Harry’s rendition of the facts is more than plausible. Those few people know what they’re up against, and they immediately begin doing whatever they can to stop Voldemort’s ascent to power.
Why do so few people recognize the threat and act quickly to neutralize it? Well, for one thing the “powers that be,” including the Minister of Magic, are so freaked out by the implications of Voldemort’s return that they unwittingly assist that return by actively denying the truth. They launch an all-out campaign to discredit Harry by implying that he’s not quite right in his head, and he’s been driven mad by his own desire for fame. “Mainstream media” in Harry’s world consists of the Daily Prophet, which manages somehow to find ways each week to work Harry’s name into completely unrelated articles in order to imply that, at best, he’s misguided and deluded and, at worst, dangerous. They make the words “Harry Potter” synonymous with “a little crazy.”
Only it’s not true. After reading four books about Harry, you know him better than his best friends. He may not be perfect, but you can’t help admiring the kid who’s made it this far against all odds. And, you know – he’s got a good heart. You know Harry’s motivations so well, in fact, that you are almost as bewildered as he when you get to the lies that are spread about him. I, for one, can’t help feeling outraged that, instead of putting energy into fighting the real threat, the Ministry is wasting time trying to neutralize Harry. It’s positively galling to read that when Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic, is given the actual names of some of Voldemort’s supporters he dismisses him with the fact that they were investigated 13 years and cleared. “Malfoy was cleared!” says Fudge. “A very old family – donations to excellent causes –“ as though donations to “excellent causes” somehow preclude other, more malevolent, kinds of behavior. Apparently, all it takes for the Minister of Magic to turn his back on the truth is a few well-placed donations.
I daresay Fudge and his cohorts think they are somehow “protecting” their world with their smear campaign, which, of course, does not change the fact that they are, in actual fact, aiding and abetting its destruction. Why? Simply because they are afraid of the truth. Having read all seven books multiple times, I’m very familiar with the consequences of the Ministry’s campaign of denial. A great deal of death and destruction happens before good can finally triumph over evil. The ending of the series is bittersweet, because you know that so much has been lost along the way that didn’t have to be lost if only the “powers that be” had had enough courage to face the truth four books back.
It would be easy to say, “That’s just fiction! It’s made up! The free press would never collude with the forces of evil.” But this fictional story strikes a chord within us; it’s all too easy to believe that this could happen, at least for adults, because we’ve seen the media tear people up and chew them out before only to be completely wrong. “The media” has the power to provide the public with persuasive images and ideas, but is it always responsible power?
The media has been complicit in “revisionist history” from the dawn of time. Remember the adage “history is written by the victors” and the concept of yellow journalism from your middle school history class? But the complete disregard for the truth seen in many “news outlets” today still comes as a shock to me. I came of age in the era of Woodward and Bernstein doggedly hunting down the story behind the story. We idolized journalists then. Unfortunately, the news today bears very little resemblance to the news of Woodward and Bernstein. The bulk of mainstream media – television stations, newspapers and radio stations – has been gradually bought out by a relatively few large corporations in the last thirty years, and what we see in the “news” is what the outlets’ owners want us to see. In some outlets, truth has been abandoned for the sake of the appearance of neutrality. In other outlets, there is no longer even a pretense of neutrality. “News” reports are full of opinion, and “facts” that are never challenged.
For the record, I firmly believe there is no such thing as “neutrality”; Bill O’Reilly notwithstanding, there is no “no-spin zone.” But at least in the 60s, when I grew up, news outlets tried hard to be neutral, if they didn’t quite succeed. The “spin” was mostly apparent in what they chose to cover and not to cover, not in how they covered it. Back then a journalism degree came with a healthy appreciation for the value of an independent press. Not so anymore. These days “news” outlets repeat bald-faced lies and suppositions without any sort of basis in fact, and they are entirely unapologetic. Fortunately, we have the blogosphere, which, while clogged with a lot of crap, has some very conscientious folks working hard to try to keep people honest. As you can imagine, it’s hard work.
Bear with me; I swear this is going somewhere . . .
My colleagues and I here at the Thinking Moms’ Revolution have a mission. That mission is to stem the tide of disaster – and save the world a whole heck of a lot of pain – by telling the truth about what we’ve seen happening with ourselves and with our children. We know what’s in store for the world, because we have seen the Dark Lord rise and we know his supporters by name. We have gotten scarred and bloody in duels with the Death Eaters, and don’t have Madam Pomfrey fixing us up when it’s over. Like the Order of the Phoenix, our participation could result in a host of nasty consequences for our members and our families, but it’s the chance we have to take because not fighting is out of the question. There’s too much at stake if the Dark Lord wins.
One of the main problems we encounter in our mission is that people don’t believe us. Sometimes I find it baffling that people really seem to think that parents of sick children, particularly vaccine-injured children, would bother to blanket the media with lies. What on earth do they think would motivate us? Do they think parents whose lives are filled with therapists, supplements, doctors, and IEP meetings have so much free time that they debate vaccine safety for the fun of it? Hey, I’ve got a free five minutes between Johnny’s speech therapy and preparing for today’s IEP meeting; I think I’ll see if there’s a vaccine post where I can spread some lies!
I’ve seen a whole lot of justifications for not believing parents, but they mostly boil down to the same sort of condescending dismissal that Fudge gives Harry: you can’t be trusted because you’re “just” a parent, and you’re unbalanced by your emotions. (After all, vaccines “were investigated a long time ago and cleared,” right? Wrong.) There isn’t anything logical about that sort of dismissal. “Just a parent”? Seriously? Who knows your kid better than you do? I’m astounded at how often that criticism comes from another parent who should really know better. And where are people getting this idea that all these intelligent, educated, generous people are “unbalanced”? Why, it says so right there in the Daily Prophet! “ ‘Despite the fact that it’s one of the greatest health measures ever invented by man or woman, there seems to still be a small residue of humanity that objects to the very idea of immunization,’ says Dai Lloyd, a doctor in Wales. . . .” See? Vaccines are the best thing that ever happened to the world and all those parents who have concerns are just denying the obvious!
Just like The Daily Prophet and the Ministry of Magic in The Order of the Phoenix, the mainstream media and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, most notably the CDC, collude to discredit and muzzle parents – and doctors – who dare to question any facet of our runaway vaccine program. And, damn, if it isn’t effective! If you so much as mention the words “autism” and “vaccines” in the same sentence, I guarantee someone will pipe up with some version of, “That doctor who said vaccines cause autism had his license taken away because he made it all up!” Have you ever noticed how shocked they are when you can tell them not only the name of the doctor they’re referring to (Andrew Wakefield), but what his paper really said, the actual charges that were made against him, the name of the journalist who made the original claims (Brian Deer – our version of Rita Skeeter, perhaps?), and chapter and verse on the reinstatement of his colleague Dr. John Walker-Smith when the charges against him were found to be baseless? That’s usually about the point when the people you’re talking to realize you know a whole lot more about the subject than they do. My favorite version was the time someone called Wakefield, “that doctor who said the mercury in vaccines caused autism,” when, of course, Wakefield’s paper was about finding the measles virus (from the MMR vaccine) in the guts of children with regressive autism. The MMR does not contain, and never has contained, thimerosal as it is a live-virus vaccine. I don’t blame that guy, though, because I’m sure he got it from vaccine “experts” on television and in print who are just as confused.
This past week I watched the smear machine in operation. Actress Jenny McCarthy, arguably the best-known autism parent in the country, was recently hired to replace Elisabeth Hasselbeck on the ABC talk show The View. Even the possibility of this was enough to provoke hysterical diatribes in a wide range of media outlets (detailed by Anne Dachel and Nancy Hokkanen).
Like Harry Potter (Undesirable #1), Ms. McCarthy is portrayed as “dangerous” simply for telling the truth. The Los Angeles Times even goes so far as to quote Michael Specter, a writer for the New Yorker and author of the book Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives calling her a “homicidal maniac.” Wow. Homicidal maniac? Can we think about that for just a minute? A woman watches her son nearly die after an MMR shot and regress before her eyes, does her best to recover the damage, then tells the world her story in the hopes that it will help other children. Along the way, she becomes the public face of an organization that helps and inspires countless families dealing with similar issues to recover their children. (TMR’s own DragonSlayer recovered her two girls with the help of Generation Rescue and gives back by volunteering her time to help others.) Because Jenny McCarthy tells the truth about her son’s vaccine injury, she somehow deserves the label “homicidal maniac”? Doesn’t that seem just a tad . . . hysterical? Talk about “irrational thinking.” If I didn’t know anything at all about this stuff, the hyperbole alone would make me wonder they were so desperate to shut her up: what don’t “they” want me to know? In other words, if their reaction is that strong, there must be a good chance that there is something to what she has to say, or they wouldn’t fear her so much.
Time and again McCarthy has been portrayed as “anti-vaccine,” despite the fact that time and again she has stated that she believes in vaccination and is only advocating for greater safety, which, given her experience and the state of the health of the average American child today, strikes me as more than rational. Personally, I don’t think it’s possible to make vaccines truly safe, because by their very nature vaccines mess with the immune system in such a way as to destabilize it. But it is possible to give far fewer of them, to administer them later in life – when a child’s developing brain is less vulnerable – and to make each individual vaccine far safer than it is right now without significantly affecting the prevalence of deadly illness in this country. The problem is manufacturers have no incentive whatsoever to do so, because there is tremendous profit in vaccines and they have no liability for the damage that they do. I’d have to say, as “homicidal maniacs” go, Jenny McCarthy’s incredibly ineffective.
And just like the unfounded statements about Harry in the Daily Prophet, there are unfounded statements (one might even call them lies) about Ms. McCarthy being repeated over and over again. I’ve even seen an old piece being posted and reposted on Facebook that states that Ms. McCarthy “faces the reality” that her son never had autism (leading many people to believe and repeat ad infinitum that “Jenny now says her son never had autism.”), and that “she is reversing her initial position that the MMR shots caused Evan’s autism.” Neither is true. Jenny McCarthy’s son was diagnosed with autism, the same way every other child with autism was diagnosed, and she has never in any way backed off the claim that it was the MMR that caused it.
The thing that I find most amusing, and yet irritating at the same time, is the common belief that “anti-vaccine” people don’t vaccinate because of Jenny McCarthy or Andrew Wakefield. That belief also comes from the mainstream media: “Many here refused the vaccine for their children after a British doctor, Andrew Wakefield, suggested it might cause autism and a local newspaper heavily covered the fears. Resistance continued even after the autism link was disproved.” We’re constantly being portrayed as stupid people who are in the thrall of “that discredited doctor” and/or “that Playboy bunny,” and, if only they were muzzled once and for all, all these people questioning the safety of vaccines would stop questioning and take their kids right to the doctor to “get caught up.” As if anyone would seriously base such a huge life decision on a paper about twelve children published fifteen years ago that mentioned one vaccine, or on “Jenny McCarthy’s say so.” Personally, I have never cared what Jenny McCarthy’s position on anything was, just as I don’t care what Seth Mnookin, ex-heroin addict and first rank Jenny-basher, has to say. (As TMR friend Jacqueline Hannaford Murphy put it, “So we are not supposed to listen to parenting ideas on the health of our children from a beautiful, articulate, former Playboy model; however, we are supposed to take health advice from the arrogant, former heroin addict [and non-parent] Seth Mnookin?”) All the hoopla surrounding Ms. McCarthy has been peripheral to my own investigation of vaccines and their effects. To me, she’s just one of the hundreds of autism moms I’ve encountered with similar stories. Whatever happens with Jenny McCarthy and The View, it is unlikely to have much effect on my life and my work beyond this: It pisses me off so much when someone is given the Harry Potter treatment because she dares to tell the truth that it makes me even more determined to keep speaking out. And I am by no means the only one.
All this is to say, “Go, Jenny McCarthy! The Order of the Phoenix has got your back!”
At this point, there are just too many people who have seen the Dark Lord for themselves. They cannot shut us up; we shall prevail in spite of The Ministry of Magic and The Daily Prophet.
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