Ottawa Citizen reporter Elizabeth Payne put in a cheesy performance in her role writing “An anti-vaxxer makes her case,” and so did her editors. This article — about how easy it was for an Ottawa mother to obtain an exemption from vaccination for her son — fails to meet journalistic standards on several grounds.
The article features a large photo of Jenny McCarthy, as if McCarthy had a role to play in the mother’s decision. McCarthy played no part at all in influencing the mother, as Payne confirmed. McCarthy’s only role was to discredit the mother through an attempt at guilt by association — McCarthy was identified as a Playboy centerfold. Except this was a case of guilt by non-association.
Payne tells us that the mother, who is well educated, came to her conclusion after extensive research. But Payne tells us nothing about the research. If she didn’t ask the mother, why was she not curious as to the evidence the mother found compelling? If she did ask the mother, why didn’t Payne pass on the evidence? It would have been interesting to learn, for example, if the mother had been persuaded by the views of some of the world’s top scientists: These include people of the caliber of Dr. Bernadine Healy, advisor to three U.S. presidents and the former head of the National Institutes of Health, who expressed doubt over claims that vaccines aren’t responsible for autism.
Payne also reports that the mother feels justified in her decision not to vaccinate her son because he has numerous allergies. Did Payne ask any specialist if Payne’s decision, in hindsight, might have saved her son from grief? Had Payne done so, she would have discovered that the presence of allergies often points to a contraindication for vaccines.
Payne’s article also falls down in accepting the myth that herd immunity protects the population when 95% of people are vaccinated. Herd immunity has failed repeatedly at that level. For that reason, government officials now speculate that levels closer to 100% would be needed to achieve herd immunity.
Payne’s article even betrays sloppy journalism as regards the article’s reference to McCarthy. McCarthy was identified as an “anti-vaxxer,” a characterization that McCarthy denies and that Payne would have been unable to substantiate. McCarthy, who has no ideological opposition to vaccines, sees herself as an advocate of safe vaccines.
An interesting aspect to this article involves the mother’s identity, which was kept confidential at her request to avoid public criticism over her decision to avoid vaccinating her son. “I am not doing it because I like being different and I like being ridiculed,” she explained. Sadly, because of journalists like Elizabeth Payne, parents are being demonized for their vaccination decisions, even in those instances when those decisions prevent their children from being seriously harmed.
The Ottawa Citizen and Elizabeth Payne require three Band-Aids for their sloppy, one-sided and incurious story of one mother’s decision not to vaccinate her son, and a fourth Band-Aid for gratuitously bringing Jenny McCarthy into the story.