Mercury Straw Man
“World News Tonight”
gives exposure to environmental group, even as story discredits
Robert Kennedy’s claims.
June 23, 2005
Â Â Â Â Â
ABC devoted a four-minute segment of the June 22, 2005, “World News
Tonight” to a story they would later report was completely untrue.
The story featured environmentalist Robert Kennedy, Jr., claiming
that mercury in children’s vaccines causes autism – only ABC told
its audience minutes later that the claim was unsubstantiated.
Â Â Â Â The segment opened with what Charles Gibson called a
“controversy on the mind of all parents.” The controversy that
Gibson was alluding to was a mercury preservative called thimerosal,
once prominent in children’s vaccines, but now little used. Kennedy
was claiming this preservative can cause autism in children.
Â Â Â Â “It is a disastrous thing to be injecting into
children,” Kennedy said.
Â Â Â Â The story noted Kennedy is neither a scientist nor a
doctor, but rather an environmentalist appearing on behalf of the
Waterkeeper Alliance. As Kennedy appeared on the screen, ABC
identified him as the president of the Waterkeeper Alliance, but
then reported nothing about the organization. The Waterkeeper
Alliance is an environmental group which last year started an
anti-mercury campaign to combat what it sees as a risk posed by
mercury in waterways.
Â Â Â Â There were two important aspects of this story that ABC
explained to prove Kennedy wrong.
Â Â Â Â First, Kennedy argued that the government had covered
up evidence that would support his claim. He pointed to notes from
the Institute of Medicine that supposedly showed the Institute, in a
study it was to conduct, was instructed to find no link between
thimerosal and autism. But the IOM said the notes were taken out of
context and that Kennedy’s claim was nonsense.
Â Â Â Â Secondly, ABC reported, the medical community believes
that any link between thimerosal and autism is utterly untrue. No
study has been able to provide a link between thimerosal and autism
and, since thimerosal has been removed from most vaccines, there has
been no decrease in the number of cases of autism. Regardless of all
this evidence against Kennedy’s claims, ABC still went on to call
the issue a “debate.”
Â Â Â Â Although Kennedy’s claims were rejected by the medical
community, ABC found substantial time to report the bogus scare
story. In fact, at the end of the segment, Gibson turned to ABC’s
medical expert, Dr. Tim Johnson, to ask him if Kennedy’s assertions
had any bearing. Johnson reaffirmed that they were completely