A year-long investigation by Trine Tsouderos and Patricia Callahan into questionable autism treatments has earned the Chicago Tribune a first place in the Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism. The series was kicked off in March, 2009, with “Dubious Medicine”, which you can read here. It exposed the father-son team of Mark and David Geier, who use chemical castration drugs to “treat” disabled children.
“This powerful series combines first rate medical writing and rigorous investigative reporting to expose doctors who perform what the authors rightly call “uncontrolled experiments on vulnerable children” with autism,” commented the judges. “Writing with the authority that comes from total command of the material, Tsouderos and Callahan bring new clarity to a notoriously murky subject-autism treatments. They document a horrifying brand of bad science perpetrated by bad doctors on desperate families, but they do it without a hint of hyperbole or sensationalism. Their straightforward, professional tone lets the facts tell the story. The result is an important-and devastating-piece.”
The 2009 awards, announced today by the Association of Health Care Journalists, recognize the best health reporting in nine categories, covering print, broadcast and online media. The contest, in its sixth year, received more than 250 entries.
“The quality of these entries – particularly the number of strong investigative pieces – show that even in an era of diminished resources, health care journalists are continuing their vital watchdog role,” said Julie Appleby, contest chair and a senior correspondent at Kaiser Health News.
The series, note the judges, “provided readers and parents with hard evidence and some difficult truths, concluding that thousands of children with autism are being subjected to mass uncontrolled experimentation every day.”
Margaret Holt, Tribune standards editor, praised the series for avoiding the false balancing that derails much of what passes for reporting these days.
“Sometimes, we forget that truth is not a matter of popular vote, and sometimes, it would be disingenuous to offer a so-called “balanced” report by virtue of presenting a “he said-she said” summary,” says Holt. “This topic is far too important for that approach.”