Veteran journalist Robert MacNeil recently emerged from his 16-year retirement to tell the story of his grandson, Nick, and his daughter Alison. But instead of a grandfather’s musings on his autistic grandson, PBS framed the series as “the most comprehensive look at the disorder and its impact that’s aired on American television in at least five years.” So far so good.
But things went quickly awry, starting with MacNeil’s introduction to episode one: “In recent years, the diagnosis of autism has shown startling growth, now affecting one in 110 American children.”
It’s usually a bad sign when a report starts off with a nod toward the myth of the autism epidemic. But soon it became apparent that MacNeil’s report was influenced more by his daughter’s anecdotes than scientific evidence. Alison MacNeil, unfortunately for PBS, is an outspoken anti-vaccine activist. A week before the series ran, she posted this on David Kirby’s EOH (Evidence of Harm) anti-vaccine listserve:
Hi, my name is Alison MacNeil and I have been a listmate here for a long while. This series was born out of 3 yrs of conversations with my dad after my son Nick regressed into Autism following his MMR, Dtap and Hib at a 15 month well-baby visit. It was a long journey getting this program off the ground and some really terrific experts in our community helped to convince my dad that this was really imperative. The program is no where (sic) near as hard driving and aggressive as I had intended but, in it’s own quieter way, some key points are made. In the first segment I discuss Nick’s regression post vaccination, we make the point very clearly that he is physically sick and that we have been terribly let down by the mainstream medical establishment, and that when we get to decent medical help Nick starts to get better.
The anti-vaccine group SAFE-MINDS, perhaps sensing a winner, doubled down on Alison’s claim with a press release:
Alison MacNeil issued the following statements today regarding vaccines. MacNeil’s family Autism story is running on PBS this week:
“When I vaccinated my son Nick, I did not know vaccine manufacturers are not required to test the safety of vaccines given simultaneously – the outcome remains largely unknown. Many thousands of parents with Autistic children report that, like Nick, their children were progressing normally until they were vaccinated, after which they were never the same again. Following receipt of the DTaP, MMR and Hib at a 15 month doctor’s visit, and a loss of skills, Nick was diagnosed with Autism at 21 months. He has since been diagnosed with encephalitis, seizures, inflammation in his gastrointestinal tract, and a mitochondrial disorder.”
But Alison has trouble keeping her stories straight. She has also written:
My son’s autism also came in gradually, no huge drop in skills or immediate medical crisis after a specific shot. But he got the Hep B, at one month premature, underweight, and one day old…then he was fully vaccinated from there. The biggest decline happened after the (15 months) MMR -we were in the hospital within 2 weeks with croup/?whooping cough, double ear infections, bronchitus (sic) next….spiral, spiral down….21 months diagnosis autism. Alison M
Another time she blamed thimerosal for her son’s autism, even though Nick was born years after the preservative was phased out of the pediatric schedule. On her blog, My Vaccine Injured Child, Alison wrote:
“I think my son’s immune system was hit too hard, too quickly and with ingredients such as aluminum and mercury which synergistically exacerbated his decline.”
Alison has some other theories about autism. On yet another anti-vaccine listserve, she wrote:
“I have a dear friend who vaccinated her first son, he regressed into her autism.She didn’t vaccinate her second son, born when her first son was around 2.5, he regressed into autism.Is it possible that her 1st con’s vaccines shed horizontal virus to her second child? Second question…my daughter was 4 and was and remains nt and received her boosters just as my son was born. He fell apart accumulatively as we completed all his vaccines by 15 months with the final blow then the mmr. Could he have been affected by her shots?Alison M”
But it isn’t always about the vaccines. She has also written:
“I spent a fair amount of time going to Grateful Dead shows in college, and took some stuff here and there and I have always told my husband that my son looks like he’s tripping.Of course, I’ve also wondered how much damage I did with all of that, fair amount of guilt there.But, we were having a good tiiiiiiiiiime. Alison M”
So where does this leave Robert MacNeil and the venerated NewsHour? Embarrassed, one would think.