Say Her Name: Vaccine Victim Hannah Poling

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Accuracy in Media

Brian Williams’ “chopper whoppers” about his exploits as a correspondent flying into Iraq are making him look foolish. It’s not clear whether he can survive in the anchor chair. But don’t think the Williams case means that the media are now on guard for misrepresentations and false claims. The controversy over vaccines has been another media low point. We are being told they are completely safe with no side effects. That’s a blatant lie.

Anybody who watches Williams’ newscasts can see who pays the bills: pharmaceutical companies. Commercials for various pills, and even vaccines, are regular fare and dominate the several minutes of time that pay for the newscast itself. You would have to be a fool to think these companies don’t try to exercise influence over what appears on the broadcasts.

Former CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson’s book, Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama’s Washington, offers evidence of how powerful these companies are. She explains how pharmaceutical companies, their front groups, and public relations representatives work to manipulate news coverage and hide the truth from the American people about injuries caused by vaccines.

Attkisson, an Emmy Award winner who received the Reed Irvine Accuracy in Media Award in 2012, left the network when it became clear that her investigative stories, especially of Obama administration misdeeds, were not welcome. One of the stories she had been covering on a regular basis for many years was the vaccine-autism link. She continues to do so on her own website.

This is an area where the truth affects many people, not just Brian Williams’ career. The developmental disorder known as autism is estimated to affect two million people. It involves difficulties in social interaction and verbal and nonverbal communication. Hiring doctors and therapists to treat the disorder can cost a family $50,000 or more a year. However, there is no cure.

The number of cases have risen from an estimated one in 5,000 in 1975 to one in 64 today, a more than 600 percent increase. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) claims it can’t identify the cause, but has consistently claimed that the disorder is not linked to the growing number of vaccines required for children.

The pro-vaccination side has increasingly resorted to vicious name calling and smears against those favoring informed consent and parental choice on vaccines. The Washington Post published a piece by Arthur L. Caplan, an alleged expert on medical ethics, comparing the opponents of vaccines to Holocaust deniers. He said that doctors favoring choice on vaccines should have their licenses lifted.

There is one name these proponents of mandatory vaccines in the media desperately want to avoid: vaccine victim Hannah Poling. You can search in vain for her name in the recent coverage of alleged vaccine safety.

Attkisson notes in her book that in 2008, the federal government agreed to pay damages to the family of Hannah Poling, “a child who developed autism after multiple vaccinations.” Attkisson explained that the “landmark case” amounted to $1.5 million for the girl the first year and $500,000 each year after. In total, the compensation could amount to $20 million over the child’s lifetime.

The Poling case was just one of thousands of cases filed in the National Vaccine Injury Program. But it was selected as a “test case” to evaluate the arguments underlying most of the other vaccine-autism claims.

Attkisson writes that the case was “ordered sealed, protecting the pharmaceutical vaccine industry and keeping the crucial information hidden from other families who have autistic children and also believe vaccines to be the culprit.” But word leaked out.

At the time, the head of the federal Centers for Disease Control, which assures the public of vaccine safety, was Dr. Julie Gerberding. After insisting the settlement of the Poling case was not an admission of a direct vaccine-autism link, she left the CDC to become president of vaccines for Merck. Last December she was promoted to executive vice president for strategic communications, global public policy and population health at Merck.

Attkisson reported on the Poling case for CBS News on March 6, 2008. She said, “While the Poling case is the first of its kind to become public, a CBS News investigation uncovered at least nine other cases as far back as 1990, where records show the court ordered the government to compensate families whose children developed autism or autistic-like symptoms in children, including toddlers, who had been called ‘very smart’ and ‘impressed’ doctors with their ‘intelligence and curiosity’ … until their vaccinations. They were children just like Hannah Poling.”

In a September 10, 2010, story on the vaccine-injury court award, Attkisson reported, “Hannah was described as normal, happy and precocious in her first 18 months. Then, in July 2000, she was vaccinated against nine diseases in one doctor’s visit: measles, mumps, rubella, polio, varicella, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, and Haemophilus influenzae. Afterward, her health declined rapidly. She developed high fevers, stopped eating, didn’t respond when spoken to, began showing signs of autism, and began having screaming fits.”

Not surprisingly, Attkisson reports in her book, the vaccine makers didn’t appreciate her stories. She said that after word leaked out about the government’s settlement in the Poling case, “vaccine makers and their government partners” worked hard “to controversialize and tamp down all news coverage of the facts.” She notes that their strategy included “a full-forced attack on me and my ongoing reporting.” She learned in June 2008, after the fact, that “PR officials and a top attorney for vaccine maker Wyeth have managed to get a private meeting to spin two Evening News senior producers in New York about my reports.”

Attkisson names one of the pharmaceutical PR officials as former ABC and CNN reporter Eileen O’Connor, who now works at the State Department under President Obama.

Attkisson comments on the pressure campaign: “It’s wrong on so many levels, in my opinion. Improper for the meeting to be conducted without my participation or knowledge. Unethical to offer the powerful corporate interests—who are also advertisers—special access, while those on the other side aren’t given an audience to be heard. Inappropriate because the producers haven’t been in the chain of command on any of my vaccine-related stories.”

She notes in the book that some of the “hardest pushback” she ever received for a story came after CBS Evening News Executive Producer Jim Murphy assigned her to look into the reported cover-up of adverse effects of various prescription drugs and military vaccinations. She writes, “That series of reports leads to me to investigate related stories about childhood vaccinations and their links to harmful side effects, including brain damage and autism. At the time, the Bush administration is marching in lockstep with the pharmaceutical industry in denying problems with the prescription drugs at issue as well as both military and childhood vaccines.”

She writes, “It’s one thing for them to want their side of the story told: that’s understandable. But it’s quite another for them to want the stories censored entirely. They’re trying to keep them from airing altogether.”

She reports that just minutes before one of her first stories about childhood vaccinations and autism was to air, a spokesman for a nonprofit group called Every Child by Two called CBS in New York. “The spokesman evokes the name of former first lady Rosalynn Carter, who cofounded the group,” Attkisson says. “The call reaches Murphy, who then calls me on the hotline that rings directly into the Washington bureau newsroom. I’m preparing for my live shot. ‘Why is some group called Every Child by Two, supposedly fronted by Rosalynn Carter, calling me about your story?’” Murphy asks.

Attkisson responded, “I have no idea,” and said she had never heard of the group. She then learned that it “promotes children getting fully vaccinated by age two and rejects the idea of investigating harmful vaccine side effects that could injure the very youngsters they purported to protect.”

Attkisson recounted how she also later learned that Every Child by Two is funded by the major vaccine manufacturer, Wyeth, and a Wyeth spokesman was listed as the group’s treasurer. She writes that she wondered “how they knew we planned to air a story on the news that night.” Nevertheless, CBS went ahead with the story.

In a 2011 story, “Vaccines and Autism: a new scientific review,” Attkisson cited an article in the Journal of Immunotoxicology entitled, “Theoretical aspects of autism: Causes—A review.” It was a review of studies finding cases of autism following vaccination.

You don’t have to be a scientist to notice this pattern. I have heard from several parents who have seen it for themselves. One told me, “Our son was affected by vaccines and there are too many out there with the same story. I’m sick of hearing and reading news reports saying there is no correlation between autism and vaccines.”

On her website, Attkisson is described as an investigative journalist “who tries to give you information others don’t want you to have.” That certainly is the case with vaccine safety. She’s one of the few journalists with national stature willing to tackle this issue.

As we have recently commented, the media across the political spectrum seem unwilling to cover vaccine-related injury cases. Many reporters and commentators are mindlessly spouting claims about “vaccine safety” and dismissing a vaccine-autism link without even mentioning cases like that of Hannah Poling.

Attkisson has vigorously defended her stories. Indeed, when challenged by CNN reporter Brian Stelter about her stories linking vaccines to autism, she replied, “…those were some of the most important stories I’ve done and I would like to continue along those lines, at some point. It continues to be a very important debate.

Now a senior independent contributor to the Heritage Foundation’s The Daily Signal, Attkisson continues to cover the vaccine problem on her own website and is now quoting CDC’s immunization safety director as saying it’s a “possibility” that vaccines rarely trigger autism but “it’s hard to predict who those children might be.”

Attkisson comments, “It is a significant admission from a leading health official at an agency that has worked for nearly 15 years to dispel the public of any notion of a tie between vaccines and autism. Vaccines are among the most heralded medical inventions of our time. Billions of people have been vaccinated worldwide, countless lives have been saved and debilitating injuries prevented. The possibility that vaccines may also partly be responsible for autism, in individual cases, is not something public health officials are typically eager to address.”

The major media are not eager to address it, either. But the people are demanding that the truth be told. They do not believe the media’s declarations of vaccine safety and effectiveness.

Whatever the fate of Brian Williams, the credibility of the media will continue to nosedive.

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