Letter to CBS Evening News Regarding Report “How Independent Are Vaccine Defenders?” Originally Broadcast on July 25, 2008
In response to the report, Immunization Action Coalition wrote the following letter to CBS Managing Editor Katie Couric. In the letter, IAC’s Executive Director Deborah Wexler, MD, reminds Ms. Couric that the advocacy journalism behind How Independent Are Vaccine Defenders? reduces CBS News’ hard-earned reputation for journalistic professionalism and has the potential to increase the risk that children of viewers will contract serious illness.
August 3, 2008
Katie Couric, Managing Editor
CBS Evening News
524 West 57th Street, 6th Floor
New York, NY 10019-2902
Dear Ms. Couric:
I am the Executive Director of the Immunization Action Coalition (IAC), a national nonprofit organization with 18 years of experience providing information about vaccines to healthcare professionals and the public. Before founding the Coalition, I practiced family medicine with a special focus on refugee and immigrant health.
Your report of July 25, 2008, How Independent Are Vaccine Defenders? is an example of advocacy journalism that can harm the health of the nation’s children by unnecessarily undermining confidence in the immunization community.
The report adopts a sensational tone of wrongdoing while saying there has been none. It refers to critics while naming none. It “discovers” facts that it says are public records. It arouses suspicions too ill-defined to be rebutted. It concludes (unnamed) critics “worry that industry ties could impact the advice given to the public about all those vaccines,” and cites no example of compromised advice ever occurring, either in the past or present.
Leaving aside the reprehensible defamation this piece of pure advocacy inflicts on exemplary pillars of the immunization community, the report has the potential to increase the risk that the children of viewers will contract serious illnesses.
Physicians who provide care for children will tell you they are seeing increased hesitancy on the part of parents to have their children immunized. Several state health departments have tracked an increase in the number of parents claiming exemptions from vaccination for their children. The safety of vaccines is not changing. What is occurring is a drumbeat of media reporting that incorrectly depicts the claims of vaccine opponents as scientifically plausible.
Advocacy journalism, or even the appearance of it, reduces CBS News’ hard-earned reputation for journalistic professionalism. By giving credence to the views of fringe critics whose own motivations are not reported on, CBS News elevates their assertions to the level of those made by legitimate experts, creating needless confusion among the lay public.
It has been said that a news organization has only its credibility and reputation to rely on. CBS News’ descent into advocacy has damaged something far more important than its credibility and reputation, and the children who endure serious illness will never know of CBS News’ supporting role in their suffering.
Deborah L. Wexler, MD
cc: Katie Boyle, Senior Producer
Jonathan LaPook, M.D., Medical Correspondent
Paul Friedman, Senior Vice President, CBS News