When Matt Lauer tells us “April is Autism Awareness Month”, there’s a good chance that a fawning celebrity interview set to treacly piano music will follow. Such was the case when The Today Show’s host interviewed Rodney and Holly Peete about their autistic son, Rodney, Jr.
Lauer stumbled through his last celebrity autism interview, an hour-long Dateline episode about disgraced UK gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield. Lauer’s low point came when Wakefield looked him in the eye and said he had no conflict of interest when he published his infamous 1998 paper in The Lancet. Lauer just shrugged it off and moved on.
So it was when Lauer recently interviewed the Peetes. Between Generation Rescue talking points, the retired NFL quarterback and his Star-of-21-Jump-Street wife plugged their new book with the made-for-Lifetime title, Not My Boy! Lauer was happy to go along.
“We’ve done a lot of segments on autism,” said Lauer, “and the thing that always strikes me is (your son) was doing fine. All the milestones (were met). You were bonding, you were talking, then it changes suddenly.”
Lauer is trying to say that he has interviewed other parents who claimed their children suddenly regressed into autism. The narrative dovetails nicely with the urban legend that vaccines cause autism. Lauer promptly segues into two more anti-vaccine talking points: that it costs $150,000 a year to treat children with autism, and that couples with an autistic child divorce at higher rates than the rest of us. Holly Peete, who can currently be seen board-rooming with anti-vaxer Donald Trump on The Apprentice, ran with it.
“It’s completely unaffordable,” she said after her husband cops to trying “alternative therapies”. “You mention 650,000 kids (with autism). They’re going to become adults.” Ah yes, the autism tsunami, bearing down on a global village near you. If Lauer was of a mind to practice journalism, he might have pressed the Peetes about their evidence for an autism epidemic, or asked how much those unproven and likely ineffective alternative treatments were costing them.
Lauer moved on. “I heard a cra-a-zy statistic,” he said, as he turned “crazy” into a three-syllable word. “The divorce rate among parents with autistic children is ridiculously high.” That statistic is so crazy, it doesn’t even need a number to go with it! It’s also not supported by fact.
Conspicuously absent from the interview was any mention of vaccines. In fact, there appears to be a decoupling of the vaccine canard from reporting of World Autism Awareness Month/Day in general. A Google News search of March 31-April 4, using the terms “World Autism Awareness Day” and “vaccines” yields only 11 hits, mostly for blog entries. Striking “vaccines” from the search yields over 530 hits.