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Sharyl Attkisson and CBS News: An epic fail in reporting on the murder of autistic teen Alex Spourdalakis

An antivaccine reporter strikes again

The damaged done by the antivaccine movement is primarily in how it frightens parents out of vaccinating using classic denialist tactics of spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD). Indeed, as has been pointed out many times before, antivaccinationists are often proud of their success in discouraging parents from vaccinating, with one leader of the antivaccine movement even going so far as to characterize his antivaccine “community, held together with duct tape and bailing wire,” as being in the “early to middle stages of bringing the U.S. vaccine program to its knees.” Meanwhile, just last week Anne Dachel, “media editor” for the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism, gloated about basically the same thing, how although overall vaccination rates remain high, vaccine exemption rates are up in many areas of the country and how her movement has provided plenty of information to “scare [parents] out of vaccinating.”

And it is the very same antivaccine propaganda blog, Age of Autism, that is promoting a different, more insidious message, specifically how the brutal murder of an autistic teen nearly three months ago “illumines the autism nightmare.” What do I mean by “insidious message”? It’s the hijacking of the autism advocacy movement, which tries to advocate for more services for autistic children and adults and more awareness and understanding of autism, by the antivaccine message that autistic people are somehow “damaged,” be it by vaccines or unnamed “toxins,” that the “real child” has been “stolen” by autism, and that any manner of biomedical quackery to “recover” autistics is justified by the horror of autism. Although Attkisson, the reporter for the story discussed below, never specifically mentions vaccines, if you know the background of the case, that message is quite obvious and not very far under the surface of her report on the murder of Alex Spourdalakis:

Not surprisingly, this story was reported by Sharyl Attkisson, who is CBS News’ resident antivaccine reporter. I’ve known her to promote antivaccine views in a manner that gave Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. a run for his money as far back as 2007. Since then, she’s smeared Paul Offit as a “pharma shill,” very likely fed information to someone at AoA to help them portray Lisa Randall at Voices for Vaccines as an “industry group,” done a puff piece about antivaccine physician and hero to the antivaccine movement Andrew Wakefield, and misreported the significance of the Hannah Poling case (which was really just the rebranding of autism). Most recently, Attkisson promoted a truly execrable “review article” summarizing the evidence relating vaccines to autism. The review article, by Helen Ratajczak, cited lots of pseudoscience from antivaccine literature in the service of supporting a truly dumb hypothesis, namely that DNA from vaccines could recombine in the brains of children to result in autism. Attkisson was quite smitten with the idea. As you might imagine, I was not. Along the way, Attkisson also indulged in promoting breast cancer misinformation. No wonder she is the perfect reporter to do this story promoting the viewpoint that autism is so horrible and the system provides so little help that we should understand why a mother like Alex’s might become so desperate that she would poison her son and then, when that failed to kill him, try to slash his wrist, and then, when that failed, stab him in the heart with a kitchen knife.

A feeling of utter revulsion welled up in me when I finally watched Attkisson’s video. On the one hand, I can only begin to imagine how hard it is to raise and care for a child like Alex Spourdalakis, who was nonverbal and, as he grew, was becoming very strong and difficult to manage and control. On the other hand, that is no excuse for murder. Those of you who haven’t read my original post about this murder, go now and read it. It provides the background, in particular how long before the murder the antivaccine movement had latched on to Alex’s story, blatantly used it to promote their viewpoint, and corrupted it. Not long before Alex’s murder, Andrew Wakefield even traveled to visit him and make this video:

That’s just a reminder that even minimal fact checking would have turned up the Wakefield connection, not to mention that shortly after this video an anonymous donor turned up to get Alex out of Lutheran General Hospital and to a “safe, secret place,” or how the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism had a tight connection with Dorothy Spourdalakis that it touted nearly three months before Alex’s murder. Also note that Alex’s mother wrote a thank you note to AoA in which she states:

Vaccines have maimed too many already and there are many more to come. The CDC’s latest stats confirm that. We are not going away, nor are we giving up. My son Alex is just one of millions of children and adults who no longer will be silenced.

It is a sentiment that Sharyl Attkisson appears to agree with.

Lies of omission to exploit an autistic teen

I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that I found Attkisson’s report to be exploitative and far more sympathetic to the mother and caregiver who murdered Alex Spourdalakis than to Alex himself. It’s sympathetic to the mother in that it spins a tale in which a mother, who was so kind and loving that she would wash her son’s feet, sleep on the floor by his bedside, and do everything in her power to find him help, finally despairs and decides that her son is suffering so much that he is better off dead. So she and Alex’s other caregiver Jolanta Agata Skordzka killed Alex and tried to commit suicide, but failed. The exploitation comes from the multiple images of Alex nearly naked and in four point restraints, images that show no respect for his dignity as a human being. Indeed, I would go further than calling this segment exploitative and slanted towards the mother and accuse Sharyl Attkisson of lying by omission in that so many relevant facts about the background of this story are omitted that a viewer unfamiliar with it would completely miss the context and have no idea who at least two of the people interviewed are. If Attkisson were to plead ignorance, she would reveal herself to be the hack reporter that I consider her to be. I don’t think she can plead ignorance anyway, because of her close connections with the antivaccine movement through bloggers at AoA and her long history of promoting antivaccine pseudoscience that goes back at least to 2007, which is when I first noticed her, and probably beyond. Why CBS News continues to indulge Attkisson’s penchant for vaccine pseudoscience I don’t know, but this piece clearly represents a failure of her producers to do even minimal checking of her reporting, as you will see.

The first lie of omission comes from what is not mentioned about the footage of Alex used by Attkisson in her report. Notice the source of the video: The Autism Media Channel (AMC). What is not revealed by Attkisson is that the Autism Media Channel is an antivaccine propaganda network designed to promote the idea that autism is caused by vaccines. Don’t believe me? Then consider this. The Director of the Autism Media Channel is Andrew Wakefield. It’s somehow been mysteriously scrubbed from the site, where you will find little mention of Andrew Wakefield anymore, but the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism refers to Wakefield as the Director of AMC (for example, here) and it is in various news outlets that he is the Director of the AMC (for example, this Guardian story, which lists him as the “director of a company called Medical Interventions for Autism and another called the Autism Media Channel”). Meanwhile, the AMC still features a couple of videos by Wakefield, for example, this video in which he challenges Dr. David Salisbury, Director of Immunisation at the Department of Health in London, the official responsible for overseeing the nation’s immunization program in the UK, to a debate over the death of a child thought by his parents to have been caused by the MMR vaccine. Then there’s this video (the second one on the page), where Wakefield is interviewing Dr. Arthur Krigsman, who, not coincidentally, is featured in Attkisson’s report as the only doctor who could help Alex Spourdalakis when Loyola University Medical Center and other hospitals could not. He is also on the staff of AMC. As the Guardian article put it:

The Autism Media Channel website contains videos with titles such as Not Born With It – a reference to the belief that autism is far from genetic, which leads it to advocate biomedical interventions such as nutritional supplements as well as gluten- and casein-free diets (one video is entitled How To Afford A Gluten And Casein Free Diet). Other videos recommend that parents of autistic children cook food using stainless-steel or ceramic pots so metals don’t “leach into the food and give more toxic overload to your kid”.

The lies of omission are many-fold and just keep coming. For example, Attkisson doesn’t mention the ongoing connection between Andrew Wakefield and the AMC, which is not, as it is represented, just a web channel designed to promote the vaccine-autism hypothesis that was started by Andrew Wakefield and Polly Tommey. Instead, Attkisson presents the AMC as a “website with a mission of helping those living with autism.” Very benign-sounding. Who could argue with that? It’s also the AMC’s self-professed mission. However, any halfway-decent reporter would have at least mentioned in passing the AMC’s connection with Wakefield. Another omission is that Tommey is quite a familiar presence to British skeptics, being a well-known antivaccine activist and supporter of Andrew Wakefield. (She even has her own approving Whale.to page.) Indeed, Tommey once maintained a Facebook Campaign known as Mothers Supporting Andrew Wakefield’s Work. A few years ago, she launched a billboard campaign to try to score a meeting with then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown. British physician Dr. Michael Fitzpatrick pointed out at the time, in a response he called An Open Letter to Gordon Brown:

In her campaign posters, Mrs Tommey, whose 12-year-old son Billy is autistic, offers to save the UK government £500 million a year by helping people with autism to get jobs. But it is not clear from the posters how she thinks this can be achieved. However, The Autism File, the magazine she edits, focuses on two issues: supporting the campaign led by the former Royal Free Hospital researcher Andrew Wakefield against the MMR vaccine and promoting ‘unorthodox biomedical’ treatments for children with autism.

The current issue of The Autism File contains a 15-page feature providing a detailed account of the case presented by Dr Wakefield to the General Medical Council, where he is currently facing charges of professional misconduct. The recent judgments in the US Omnibus Autism Proceedings revealed the consensus among experts that Wakefield’s research was scientifically flawed and probably fraudulent. Yet this research has proved damaging to thousands of parents – on both sides of the Atlantic – who were drawn into futile litigation. The resulting decline in confidence in MMR has contributed to renewed outbreaks of measles. It is regrettable that The Autism File should continue to uphold pseudoscience to the detriment of children’s health.

The Autism File promotes a range of ‘unorthodox biomedical’ treatments for autism. These include exclusion diets, vitamins and supplements, anti-fungal and anti-viral medications, and ‘detoxification’ regimes, such as ‘chelation therapy’, which purport to remove ‘heavy metal’ toxins from the body. Practitioners providing these treatments also offer a wide range of unvalidated investigations. Polly Tommey’s husband Jonathan, who is closely involved in The Autism File, also runs a private clinic providing biomedical tests and treatments (though he has no medical qualifications).

And, from the Guardian article:

The presenter of many of the Autism Media Channel videos is Polly Tommey, who is also registered with the Texas secretary of state as a co-director of the company, along with Wakefield. Tommey, who recently moved to Austin from the UK with her husband, Jonathan, and their three children, first appeared on the autism radar in 1999 when she and Jonathan were guests on Tonight With Trevor McDonald. That evening they announced that they had given their autistic son, Billy, an infusion of the hormone secretin, extracted from pig intestines, which stimulates digestive fluids in the pancreas, produces pepsin in the stomach and bile in the liver and, they said, resulted in “excellent progress”.

And:

Meanwhile, Jonathan, Tommey’s husband, who has a sports science degree and a foundation degree in nutritional therapy, set up the Autism Clinic in Berkshire to offer “specialist autism treatment”, including “diagnostic tests” and an array of supplements and vitamins that he prescribes and makes available from his online shop. He also features in some of the programmes on the Autism Media Channel’s YouTube page. In one of those films, Jonathan Tommey – The Biomedical Imbalances In Autism, he recommends “supplementary intervention” such as “vitamins and herbs” for children with autism. In the same film he discusses chelation therapy. “As nutritionists, we can’t use chelating agents. They are prescriptive medications,” he says, adding, “They are available on the web. My suggestion is you’ve got to be very careful doing this without professional guidance, and unfortunately in this country there are not many practitioners that do chelation.” But, he adds, “Chelation has been used to a good level of success.”

So what we have here is a woman who, while she does advocate for families with autism, also promotes the pseudoscientific and dangerous idea that the MMR and other vaccines cause autism, as well as a variety of quackery designed to treat the “toxic insults” that in her mind cause autism. Indeed, a quick perusal of The Autism File website, which is a repository for the magazine, confirms Dr. Fitzpatrick’s assessment quite nicely and confirms the Guardian‘s reporting. For instance the treatment section features articles on enzymes, reiki, homeopathy (complete with at least one testimonial), and many other forms of quackery, “biomedical” and otherwise. There are articles claiming that heavy metals in vaccines cause autism or that vaccines in general cause autism. If you don’t believe that Polly Tommey is firmly entrenched within the antivaccine camp, look no further than to yesterday’s Age of Autism, in which her latest issue of The Autism File is prominently promoted as featuring two articles from AoA contributors, Lisa Goes and Cathy Jameson and featuring a monthly column by AoA’s managing editor, Dan Olmsted. If you take a look at the table of contents of the latest issue, you’ll see that the author list reads like a Who’s Who of the antivaccine movement, including a column by Kim Stagliano (another AoA contributor), Deirdre Imus, Erik Nanstiel, Anju Usman, and, yes, Andrew Wakefield himself, who penned a piece called Reflections: The Painful Truth Behind Recent Tragedy. Not surprisingly, Wakefield attacks those who try to counter the message of people like Attkisson, Tommey and Wakefield that the mother was a long-suffering saint who finally cracked because there was no help for her son.

Here’s an excerpt:

Clearly of the same assured if mistaken mindset, the Autism Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN), in calling for Spourdalakis and Skrodzka to be charged with a “hate crime,” claims that:

In truth, Alex’s murder is about a repulsive ideology all too common within our society that preaches that it is better to be dead than disabled.

Really? Were these organizations—NCD and ASAN—there for Alex at any stage during the unfolding tragedy? Did they have access to his medical records or interview his carers? Did they warn from Alex’s bedside, as did Jill Rubolino and Jeanna Reed from Autism Is Medical (AIM) of their grave concerns for Alex’s life in the absence of medical care? Did they make spontaneous offers of help, or seek to offset in any way the chance that their “hate crime” was imminent?

This is typical Wakefield, as disingenuous as it gets. Remember that Wakefield wrote in the introduction of his book Callous Disregard a fictional vignette about a mother who loved her autistic child so much that she climbed the Hounds Ghyll viaduct with him and jumped off with him. The view, clearly, was that autism can be such a burden that, when it gets too hard, the greatest act of love is a murder-suicide, which is the way to “keep him safe.” The echoes from this resonate in the Alex Spourdalakis case.

As I pointed out before, it is very likely that Dorothy Spourdalakis was subjecting Alex to “autism biomed” quackery and came to know Rubolino and Reed through that. At the time, I was making an educated guess based on what I could find on AoA and elsewhere on the web. I wasn’t sure that this was true, hence my qualifying my statements with terms like “apparently” or “probably.” There is clear evidence that the Spourdalakis family was offered help, both from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and from the local Autism Society. She refused help from the former, and was put in contact with an attorney by the latter. Dorothy Spourdalakis appears to have refused it because that help consisted of standard conventional treatments for autism. If Alex were transferred to a psychiatric hospital’s long-term care ward he would no longer receive the autism biomed treatments. At the time, I also noted that AoA contributor Lisa Goes portrayed Jeanna Reed as ranting and haranguing Alex’s doctors with pleas to read quack studies and claims that “many of these children present with bowel disease and mitochondrial dysfunction. He could have GERD, duodenitis, esophagitis, ulcers in the small intestines, colitis. How can we know if we don’t test?” As I pointed out at the time, this was pure autism biomed rhetoric, leavened with the arrogance of ignorance. When one of the doctors referred to autism as a “mystery,” Goes actually completely lost it, yelling, “No! No! It’s not. It’s a medical illness that causes bad behavior. All you have to do IS READ*!” Add to this Andrew Wakefield’s grandstanding visit to Alex in his hospital bed last spring, and the connection is clear. Most likely, AIM never “spontaneously” offered help, but rather Dorothy Spourdalakis probably reached out to Reed and/or Rubolino as “autism biomed” advocates. Most likely the NCD and ASAN knew nothing of Alex’s case until after his murder because the only way they would have heard of it is if they were monitoring antivaccine websites, as I do. It wasn’t in the news then.

Unwittingly, Sharyl Attkisson has confirmed my worst suspicions. In her segment, an interview with Polly Tommey is featured prominently but her background is not mentioned. She is presented as nothing more than a concerned parent and autism advocate, rather than the antivaccine activist that she is. Nor are her close ties with Andrew Wakefield ever mentioned. Tommey opines that “His [Alex's] death didn’t need to be. It was because there wasn’t anything in place for him.” However, that is not true, as I explained above. This leads us to Arthur Krigsman, which was the kind of help Dorothy Spourdalakis apparently did want.

Also featured prominently in Attkisson’s segment is footage shot of Alex Spourdalakis undergoing endoscopy by Arthur Krigsman for his GI issues. Footage of Alex becoming violent is featured, with Attkisson’s voice-over stating that Alex’s mother blamed the fits of violence on severe GI distress, saying, “Dorothy believed that Alex’s violent outbursts were triggered by severe gastric pain, but nobody seemed to know what to do with him.” We’re then told that a “glimmer of hope came” when “autism advocates” connected Alex’s family with a GI specialist. Yes, that GI specialist was Dr. Krigsman, who (it is not mentioned) used to be Andrew Wakefield’s partner at Thoughtful House when Wakefield was still the medical director there; that is, before Wakefield was fired by the board of directors in the wake of being struck off by the British General Medical Council (GMC), which found him guilty of several counts of egregious research misconduct, referred to him as “irresponsible and dishonest,” and had his infamous 1998 Lancet article retracted. Not coincidentally, Krigsman has been a coauthor with Wakefield on three articles.

Given that Wakefield and Krigsman were two of the most vocal promoters of the concept of “autistic enterocolitis” (in reality a nonexistent entity), it is not at all surprising that Dr. Krigsman immediately diagnosed stomach ulcers. To be honest, the images on the screen were there so briefly that I couldn’t tell if this looked reasonable or not, but I’d sure like to see a pathology report of gastric biopsies. Maybe one of my gastroenterologist colleagues could comment. In the meantime, it’s interesting to note that, testifying for the plaintiffs at the Autism Omnibus hearings, Dr. Krigsman stated that he sued a hospital because he claimed it restricted his privileges to do endoscopies because it was “concerned that the colonoscopies that were being performed on these children did not have proper indications of colonoscopy.” He has also been fined by the Texas Medical Board. In the wake of Wakefield’s disgrace, after having left Thoughful House not long after Wakefield did, Krigsman soldiers on promoting the same idea, the same “autism biomedical” quackery that Wakefield promoted and still promotes, just no longer at Thoughtful House. Indeed, Dr. Krigsman even presented at the Autism One quackfest last spring, as he frequently does.

CBS News: Epic fail

I could go on and on about how irresponsible and wrong Sharyl Attkisson is in promoting an idea that tries to absolve Dorothy Spourdalakis and Jolanta Agata Skordzka of guilt for the murder of Alex Spourdalakis just because he was autistic, large, and very difficult to handle, as have Matt Carey, Skeptical Raptor, Paula Durbin-Westby, the Poxes Blog, Science Mom, Liz Ditz, Todd W., and Scott Gavura have. I could go on and on again, as other skeptical bloggers and I have before, about how Attkisson has abused her trust as a journalist to promote quackery. (It is not for nothing that she has won a hallowed place in the Encyclopedia of American Loons.) I could go on and on, as Matt Carey has, about how, through this story, Attkisson has whitewashed the brutal murder of an autistic teen in order to hide the involvement of Andrew Wakefield and other “autism biomed” advocates and, worse, to promote in a not-so-subtle way their message that it is better to be dead than severely autistic. But why bother? Attkisson appears to be beyond redemption, given her long-documented history of antivaccine sympathies and promoting autism biomed quackery.

It is CBS News that bears ultimate responsibility for airing Attkisson’s irresponsible and deceptive whitewashing of the Alex Spourdalakis case, presenting who opportunistically latched on to it as legitimate “autism advocates” and lying by omission about critical parts of the story. Producers obviously failed to do even minimal fact checking, even the most superficial of which would have immediately revealed the obvious connections between the Autism Media Channel and Andrew Wakefield, between Polly Tommey and the antivaccine movement, and between Arthur Krigsman and Andrew Wakefield. Fact checking would also have rapidly uncovered how Tommey and Wakefield had been collecting this footage most likely to be used in a reality TV show that they were developing, The Autism Team, whose trailer features autistic children screaming, hitting themselves and throwing tantrums, and featuring—you guessed it!—a team of “autism experts” including Dr. Krigsman as the only people who can help:

It sure looks to me as though the idea behind this show was to have parents with children with severe autism who are at their wits’ end call for help, and—whoosh!—The Autism Team swoops in, gives the child all sorts of biomedical quackery, and rapidly makes things better. It’s the classic reality show format, in which there is a problem and the reality show host comes in and almost miraculously fixes the problem, the way, for example, Caesar Millan corrects the behavior of unruly dogs in The Dog Whisperer or the way Stacy London and Clinton Kelley fix the fashion-challenged in What Not To Wear. Yes, it is just that crass and blatant, which is why I chose these two examples to illustrate my point, even at the risk of offending. Look at the video if you don’t believe me—if you can stand it. As Carey points out:

That video shows autistic children in meltdowns, being self-injurious. One specific child is flown from the U.K. to New York to see Arthur Krigsman (just as Mr. Spourdalakis was taken from Chicago to New York to see Krigsman). In the trailer, after visiting Krigsman the child was shown happy, playing, and the parents were shown grateful. As we know, this was not the conclusion of the Alex Spourdalakis story. Whatever Mr. Wakefield and Ms. Tommey had planned for the video they had taken, the “treat bowel disease and everyone is happy” story was not to be. Instead, he has produced a video of the “medical establishment fails family, leading to tragedy” theme. I do wonder how he managed to work that theme around the facts that the tragedy (aka brutal murder at the hands of his mother) came to pass after Mr. Spourdalakis was seen by Mr. Krigsman.

Matt Carey is correct. As I’ve pointed out before, the entire narrative of the autism biomed movement is that autism “stole” the parents’ “real child” away from them. Since the idea that vaccines cause autism is basically holy writ for the autism biomed movement, that means vaccines “stole” the real child away by making him autistic. Parents who try to “recover” that “real” child are thus viewed as heroic, rather than abusive, because they’re willing to do whatever it takes to defeat the scourge of autism (and vaccines) in order to rescue the “real” child within. Dorothy Spourdalakis, having valiantly struggled against the demon autism, is thus to many a tragic and heroic figure, who strove, failed, and decided that life was no longer worth living for either Alex or herself. Worse, a disturbing number of people seem all too willing to accept that narrative, that “autism made her do it.” If the narrative that “autism biomed” can cure didn’t work out for the footage that Wakefield and Tommey shot of Alex and his mother, then another, more tragic narrative, of a mother so overburdened by autism, with no person or organization to help her, became so distraught that she killed her child, is to them a tragic but understandable outcome. Never mind that it’s a lie in that Dorothy Spourdalakis was offered help at least twice but turned it down, and having a disabled child who is difficult to handle does not justify killing him brutally.

CBS News failed in that its producers took at face value the claims of Polly Tommey and Dorothy Spourdalakis, as related by Sharyl Attkisson, that no help was offered to her. They failed in how they allowed Attkisson to frame this story so sympathetically to the plight of the mother, letting her surrogates, such as Polly Tommey, state virtually unchallenged the view that “autism drove her to it” and that if only Spourdalakis had had adequate “support” (what kind of “support” is not mentioned), then maybe she wouldn’t have murdered Alex. That the producers at CBS News This Morning allowed Attkisson to juxtapose a voice-over about the AMC movie project calling it “a rare visual prelude to murder” with carefully-selected footage designed to portray Dorothy Spourdalakis as downright saintly and only driven to murder by circumstances beyond her control is a journalistic failing of the highest order. Sure, there’s the obligatory interview with someone like Ari Ne’eman who quite correctly points out that it is a dangerous ideology that views those with severe developmental issues as less than human that was behind Alex’s death, but the overall message of the segment is loud and clear. After all, right after the interview with Ne’eman, Attkisson shows Dorothy’s suicide note, from which she quotes thusly, “‘Alex will no longer be treated like an animal or subjected to restraints,’ indicating she thought they both were better off dead.” Attkisson then concludes with a survey that claims that doctors aren’t sure what treatments are appropriate for autistic children and by stating that advocates hope that the case of Alex Spourdalakis will result in change.

I, too, hope that the case of Alex Spourdalakis will result in change. I hope that the way CBS News permitted Sharyl Attkisson to exploit it proves so embarrassing that there is change—at CBS News, where change is desperately needed, starting with preventing Sharyl Attkisson from ever reporting on autism or vaccines again. What CBS News has done is to do a story that is nothing more than a press release for Andrew Wakefield and Polly Tommey’s vision. It was beyond an epic fail on the part of CBS News. It was journalistic malpractice. Alex Spourdalakis demands justice.

ADDENDUM: If you think I’m exaggerating about how the antivaccine movement is reacting to this and how it is trying to do its best to absolve the mother of guilt for her crime, just read the comments after this post at AoA over the weekend. One example is this comment from someone named Sheila Tzorfas:

WHO really killed Alex? …
The Doctors WHO shot him with Aluminum, thimerosal (Mercury) embalming fluid, fetal cells, rats brains, parts of cows, pigs, caterpillars, ether and more in the name of health. The SCHOOL system that did not send viable home services or place him a nurturing, caring environment, the Medical Staff that did not DETOXIFY him; the Spiritual Community too buy to help, the ER doctors whose training in Autism was close to nonexistent, the Neighbors who hid their eyes, the Insurance Companies that waged a battle, the MEDIA, that hides the increase of illnesses from the viewers as 1 in every 6 children have been afflicted with Developmental Disabilities starting in 1991 when all newborn babies get a shot for a sexually transmitted disease that they CANNOT get,the Psychiatrists that did not give him relief, and the surrounding communities which include all…. Shell of,”Recovering Autism, ADHD, & Special Needs.”

Notice that there’s no mention of the mother on the list of “who really killed Alex.” Apparently she isn’t the one who “really” killed him.

Posted in: Neuroscience/Mental Health, Science and the Media, Vaccines

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30 thoughts on “Sharyl Attkisson and CBS News: An epic fail in reporting on the murder of autistic teen Alex Spourdalakis

  1. Stephen H says:

    I have a hard time accepting that there is such a thing as “evil”. I think most human behaviour can be readily explained by the fact that we are human. We have our own strange beliefs, and even Hitler thought he was doing “the right thing”. We are not good at seeing our own flaws and errors.

    Andrew Wakefield is as close as I can see to evil. He knows he did wrong. He knows he has caused harm. And he continues to do it. While humans are very good at excusing ourselves, there is no excuse for totally fabricating your research and causing harm to millions of people in order to make a buck. Then, once you’re busted, playing innocent and continuing to lie.

    His claims regarding autism are evil, and have caused untold misery.

    1. elburto says:

      have very similar views to yours. “Evil” is not only too religious a concept for me to be comfortable with, but it’s also too easy. By that, I mean it’s far easier to brand someone as ‘evil’ than it is to explore why they act like they do, and to try and prevent the situation happening again. I try to avoid using the term where possible, but I’m human, I slip sometimes.

      Snakefield though? Like you said, pretty bloody close to what ‘evil- represents. Manipulative, self-serving, mercenary, lacking empathy, self-awareness, and a social conscience, and someone who twists every situation to his own ends, no matter how terrible the predicted outcome might be.

    2. arsawyer says:

      One of the questions I always ponder with Wakefield and his ilk: what else are they going to do? They’ve dug themselves a hole so deep that it would take a nearly inhuman level of humility to climb out, and then he’s got absolutely nowhere to go. No legitimate hospitals or universities would offer him a job, and he’d lose every single one of his current supporters. Is he going to suddenly flip burgers for a living?

      There are times when I wonder if the scientific and medical communities should put more effort into developing some sort of fallback career path for people like Wakefield. Purposely create positions that don’t have any serious responsibilities, but would allow people that made massive screwups to step out of the spotlight and still get a modest salary. I know, I know, these people don’t deserve a shred of sympathy or financial compensation for their idiocy. But I’d rather have an imperfect system where they get a paycheck and do nothing than one where they cause children to die.

  2. anthro49 says:

    What worries me is that many more people are likely to see this program on CBS than will read this blog. The program will spread the same ideas and myths that all of us are trying hard to debunk. Our task is made difficult when our social peers use such programs as a reference point. Same goes for Oz (I really can’t bring myself to type Dr. in front of his name anymore).

    1. Badly Shaved Monkey says:

      Same goes for Oz (I really can’t bring myself to type Dr. in front of his name anymore).

      Unfortunately, the prefix “Dr” seems to have been exchanged for a suffix, “the Great and Powerful”.

      1. elburto says:

        If only someone would expose the man behind the curtain.

  3. anthro49 and goodnightirene are the same person–I will never get the hang of this new WordPress thing. :-(

  4. elburto says:

    Great post Dr Gorski.

    I’m so sick and tired of murdered disabled children* being portrayed as almost the instigators of the crime, and their murderers as the victims.

    Murderous caregivers are lavished with sympathy, thanked for “ending [their] suffering”, told they’ve committed the “ultimate act of love”. The very worst kind of comments are those which callously thank the killers for taking “a drain on society” from the gene pool, or insisting that the victim was not “productive” enough to deserve life, so their killer has performed a favour for society.

    These murderers have this disgusting smog of misplaced sympathy with them when they go to court – sorry, if they go to court, often no action is taken – and it swirls around infecting those who will decide the outcome. It’s almost always the case that the judgement handed down will be that the murderer has “suffered enough” by having to live with someone disabled. That they will “never recover”, that prison would be “adding insult to injury”.

    The victim is demonised, their killer is applauded, and the message is given out that killing your disabled child is a good thing to do, that should you do it, you’ll be judged less harshly than a shoplifter or motoring offender.

    *Adults suffer this fate too, of course. Just like the cases involving children the perpetrators are showered with sympathy, the cases typically aren’t publicised “out of respect for the family”, the same one that killed them. Custodial sentences are rare, and the killer typically walks away with no punishment whatsoever.

    Meanwhile, disabled children and adults have to live out our lives in the knowledge that, should our family member/partner kill us, we will be painted as the cause, our lives will be pored over in almost pornographic detail, and the act causing our death will almost be seen as a good thing. We’re all to aware that our lives are seen as less valuable than those of the family pet.

    1. Broken Link says:

      Thankfully, some judges and proscecutors get it, and actually punish people who commit murder of the disabled:

      http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/Sentencing+today+manslaughter+disabled+brother/8852507/story.html

      I only hope that 10 years from now we will look back and wonder how CBS could have been so remiss in publishing such a piece.

  5. davdoodles says:

    Wakefiled: “Were these organizations—NCD and ASAN—there for Alex at any stage during the unfolding tragedy? Did they have access to his medical records or interview his carers? Did they warn from Alex’s bedside, as did Jill Rubolino and Jeanna Reed from Autism Is Medical (AIM) of their grave concerns for Alex’s life in the absence of medical care? Did they make spontaneous offers of help, or seek to offset in any way the chance that their “hate crime” was imminent?”

    That’s precisely the point. These desperate, stupid people were sucked into the loony-tunes vortex of Wakefield and his grotesque little army of autism crank ghouls, instead of seeking appropriate assistance. And look how it turned out.

    It’s like Dracula claiming the moral high ground because he drained his victim before Van Helsing could save her.

    1. Chris says:

      Actually, Alex’s family was offered help. They refused those offers. They chose to murder and tried a token attempt to become martyrs.

      And Ms. Attkisson has decided that it is okay dokay to murder a child just because he/she is disabled. Lilady posted link to this article elsewhere that explains why CBS should post a retraction:
      http://www.mediaite.com/tv/cbs-news-must-retract-report-excusing-mothers-murder-of-autistic-child/

      It contains a good summary for those who cannot stomach watching that kind of shite (like me).

      1. Broken Link says:

        It appears that Dorothy Spourdalakis may have refused help from the biomedical treatment community as well. On Age of Autism, in response to a question of:

        “Why didn’t Krigsman treat Alex? If there was not enough money, why was no fundraising done by Age of Autism, or anywhere else, to help pay for Alex’s treatment? Why did he simply go home with his mother? … No murder is excusable. But this one, in particular, appears to have been preventable.”,

        Kim Staglino replied:

        “And as far as preventable? I can assure you that the community moved heaven and earth and that’s all I will say. KIM”

        If this is indeed true, it makes the story reported by CBS even more bizarre. What kind of twisted mind is able to construct a story where a mother who refuses help from both conventional medicine and the biomedical treatment group “Autism is Medical”, and presumably Krigsman, going on to kill her son, is portrayed as someone for whom there was no help available?

        Not that I think for a moment that “Autism is Medical” and/or Krigsman would have truly “recovered” Alex. if they could, then where are all the case reports in the medical literature about how they have helped other kids? Where is the mainstream media reports on the amazing recoveries they have brought about? This story is the exact antithesis of such a story. A total, epic fail from the autism biomedical treatment community.

  6. lilady says:

    Thank you for covering this “CBS This Morning” Attkisson segment, Dr. Gorski.

    Weeks ago, I found a local anti-vaccine radio show, where Wakefield was interviewed and where he stated his Autism Media Channel had an 18 minute documentary about Alex’s life and death, that he was trying to sell to a network TV show.

    http://www.blogtalkradio.com/thecandystore/2013/07/14/our-special-guest-dr-andrew-wakefield-part-2

    “Our Special Guest: Dr. Andrew Wakefield (Part 2). Dr. Wakefield discusses his new documentary on the Autism Media Channel titled “Who Killed Alex Spourdalakis”. The Autism Media Channel presents a prelude to murder – an unprecedented documentary insight into the events that precipitated the tragic death of a Chicago child with autism – a child killed by his mother and Godmother, themselves broken by the indifference and prejudice of the medical system. Alex’s tragedy is a story of our time, capturing the iniquity of autism as perceived as a psychiatric oddity rather than a medical disease. Also, we discuss many other topics. Tune in!!”

    At that time, I didn’t think he would be successful…forgetting that Ms. Attkisson has always carried the water for the anti-vaccine crowd..and forgetting that Ms Attkisson loves to have all her vaccine “stories” prepackaged for her and tied up with pretty pink ribbons, by every disreputable character, including the charming (smarmy) Andrew Wakefield.

    What a disgrace she is to journalists everywhere and in particular her colleagues at CBS news TV.

  7. lilady says:

    I cannot recall, when a news story has affected me so profoundly. I am astonished how Dr. Gorski and the other science bloggers who wrote so passionately about Alex, gave up their Labor Day holiday weekend to post their excellent blogs. Thanks Dr. Gorski.

    I hereby declare today is Science Bloggers Appreciation Day.

    -lilady

  8. Matt Carey says:

    Dr. Gorski, thanks for writing this. It is hard to put into words how much this story pains me. This kid should be alive today. This is the worst nightmare of a parent of a special needs kid–that caregivers could abuse or even kill their charge and the crime be downplayed because of the challenges posed by those very special needs. Someday I and others will pass our children off to a system that is poorly supported. The last thing I need is to know that abusers/murders will have a free pass if they can blame my kid.

    CBS should be ashamed for putting out what amounts to an Infomercial for the latest business venture by Andrew Wakefield. Mr. Wakefield inserted himself into this story as an “advocate” and now wants to be seen as a “documentarian”. What utter nonsense. Much worse, CBS is presenting the side of those accused of murder without any real journalism.

    Andrew Wakefield fed the mother’s fear of psychiatric care. (one can find his discussion of the situation online where he talks about psychiatric “incarceration” and Alex being drugged). Was psychiatric care the most appropriate course of action for Alex Spourdalakis? I can’t say. But it was a real option and stigmatizing psychiatric care did no one any service. Alex would likely be alive today had his family chosen that route if only in that he would have been protected from his “caregivers”. Instead they were offered false hope. As obvious as it sounds, the following simple fact seems to be lost on CBS and Mr. Wakefield: alive is more appropriate than dead.

  9. jh says:

    Thank you for posting this article. I’m so tired of hearing the anti-vaccine movement that has no real understanding of science or biology or medicine being treated as a legitimate source of medical advice/research for autism. These people clearly failed in history as well because they would realize that diseases such as measles has killed more human beings than all our armed conflicts combined. There is a point when freedom of speech should be proscribed when lunatics are prescribing non-science as science. There should be laws to prevent parents from abusing their children and risking their lives when they deny children their vaccines.

  10. MuthrTurnsOut says:

    Please closely review the videos of Alex…. if your son or daughter could be Alex’s twin, then feel free to continue posting your judgements to this thread.

    If not, keep your judgements to yourself, if your child does not exactly resemble Alex, don’t reply to this post. This is not an insult, or a refusal to hear your “argument” to the situation, it is plain and simple, your lack of experience leaves you inept to reply. You do not have a clue as to what Dorothy Spourdalakis and Polly Tommey went through and will go through forever.

    Will someone please find out of all the BS in the story above, other than the two families, how many other families involved in the whole hoax have autistic kids?

    For those who do have an Alex, please post, and tell us your story. Most important, God bless you and your family.

    1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      So if my child is like Alex, you’re OK with me cutting his wrists and letting him bleed out, then committing suicide?

    2. weing says:

      “This is not an insult, or a refusal to hear your “argument” to the situation, it is plain and simple, your lack of experience leaves you inept to reply.”

      What a steaming pile of horse manure. Your saying that we are inept is an insult and an excuse for closing your mind to other views. Stop trying to justify murder.

    3. Chris says:

      My oldest son is much like Alex was, even in appearance. MuthrTurnsOut, you are an evil person.

  11. lilady says:

    “MuthrTurnsOut says:
    September 21, 2013 at 12:27 am

    “Please closely review the videos of Alex…. if your son or daughter could be Alex’s twin, then feel free to continue posting your judgements to this thread.”

    Hey Muthr who the hell are you to judge which comments are “appropriate” on Dr. Gorski’s blog?

    “If not, keep your judgements to yourself, if your child does not exactly resemble Alex, don’t reply to this post.”

    You’re a piece of work Muthr and you need to get your own blog.

    “This is not an insult, or a refusal to hear your “argument” to the situation, it is plain and simple, your lack of experience leaves you inept to reply.”

    It is an insult Muthr and it is plain and simple that you are some sort of delusional troll…truly inept to reply.

    “You do not have a clue as to what Dorothy Spourdalakis and Polly Tommey went through and will go through forever.”

    I know for a fact that the murdering mother allowed the biomeddlers into Alex’s hospital room, allowed Wakefield to send a videotaping crew from his company The Autism Media Channel, to tape “staged scenes”, permitted Wakefield and his partner Tommy to release those vile tapes with Alex manacled to the bed naked except for an adult diaper to partially cover his genitalia to AoA, and they placed those same tapes on YouTube. What did Polly Tommey (go) “through and will go through forever”…aside from promoting herself (a D-list facing fast celeb) and her husband, (the phony “nutritionist”), into lucrative careers while they resided in the U.K? The Tommey clan has now relocated to to Austin Texas, to be in close proximity to Polly’s and Wakefield’s autism media empire.

    http://autismum.com/assorted-loons/warrior-moms/polly-tommey/

    Will someone please find out of all the BS in the story above, other than the two families, how many other families involved in the whole hoax have autistic kids?”

    What “two families” are you blathering on about?

    “For those who do have an Alex, please post, and tell us your story. Most important, God bless you and your family.”

    Just go away you ghoul.

  12. MuthrTurnsOut says:

    lilady- I will ignore you, your ignorance does not warrant a reply. You are sicking. It i obvious you do not have an “Alex”, it is also obvious you do not have an education.

    All I am saying, is if you have not walked in their shoes – do not judge.

    So, the majority think it is better to pay millions of county, city, state and federal dollars to people who abuse your child, pay them to neglect your child to the point of malnourishment, pay them to ignore your child’s basic needs such as bathing, teeth brushing, etc…, pay them to deny your child medical attention, to pay staff to injure your child, pay two and three grown men to illegally restrain your child by the throat for 20 minutes or more causing sever injuries, then deny your child medical attention from the injuries of the grown men…and the most despicable of all pay them to sexually molest and do worse to your child

    YOU ARE SAYING THAT IS OK – AT LEAST THEY ARE ALIVE.

    You would just check your non verbal, autistic child into a facility and walk away? Wow…..good luck with your conscious…oh, wait…it isn’t your conscious your concerned with – your too busy checking everyone else’s.

    That is what most parents (usually MOTHERS, autism is hard to deal with…for everyone) are FORCED to do by the county once their child becomes violent. I would hear my family member say ” I will kill them and myself before I let the county take them ” (we have a set of twin Alex’s). I can’t tell you how many nights I would lay awake crying and praying that God brings us an answer. We haven’t gotten answers, but we have gotten together and fought, we have fought the county, the city and the state, and we will continue to fight like hell.

    Well, that is what the county expected us to accept as “ok” for our “Alex”.

    We fought, not just mom, not just family, everyone (mom, family aides friends and more), it has taken a whole community to try and get our Alex basic decent care… we have exhausted our finances, our mental fortitude.. in tolerating local agencies laws and restrictions, forced to put our child in incapable caregivers hands and denied access for weeks, months due to money hungry facilities (one would not even let us see where our child would be sleeping or living!!!, it was all men …like a scene from the movie Deliverance!!!) …but we did not and will not give in, we will not give up…and our Alex is blessed (as we are with him), he has a big family….many don’t…many don’t even have a mom…. I saw all the other Alex’s…left in the hell hole that God gave us the graces to save our Alex from…was one of those left there yours??? – if so you need to step it up and go check on your child. Oh wait…your too busy passing judgement…

    So I hear you…I hear each one of you….you think it is ok to have your child treated less than any breathing thing should be treated, at least they are alive….what kind of life is that? And would you feel the same if it were your 89 year old great relative who is brain dead…hey – at least they are breathing! Yippeee, a toy for an abuser or molester!

    I am not saying either is right – by far…anyone with any level of intelligence can see that in my postings. I am saying, do not judge, until you have walked in their shoes.

    The saddest thing about these two women is that they will not get tried by a jury of their peers, but by a jury of self righteous, judgmental, inexperienced and ignorant jurors (it was difficult to key in “jurors”)…

    but to you I say – hey so what if the neighbor has a dog tied to a tree that does not have food, water or shelter, that he beats daily, at least the dog is alive – right! Allz good!

    Well. that is something you have to live with – not me.

    Peace be with you.

    To Chris – I do not know if you are calling me evil or another poster. If you are calling me evil, my apologizes, but you have misunderstood everything I have posted and I have failed at relaying my feelings and experiences.

    More importantly, you said you have an Alex, I am heart wrenched for you, I know the battle you have fought, are facing and will continue to fight…and I will pray for you and your Alex daily. Thank you for posting, so far you are the only one who has posted that is truly walking in the shoes…may God bless your every step.

    1. Woo Fighter says:

      “lilady- I will ignore you, your ignorance does not warrant a reply. You are sicking. It i obvious you do not have an “Alex”, it is also obvious you do not have an education.”

      I know lilady can stick up for herself, but it is obvious you know nothing about her or her late son. Please rot in hell, you miserable piece of murder-condoning filth.*

      *I had a horrible day loaded with severe personal and health problems and am in no mood to read the murder-apologists’ insults aimed at people I consider my online friends.

  13. lilady says:

    @ Muthr:

    You don’t get to pull the “walk in my shoes” card on me.

    My child, born in 1976 with a rare genetic syndrome, was multiply and profoundly physically (spastic quadriplegia), and intellectually disabled (profound mental retardation). He also had a grand mal seizure disorder that was only partially controlled with anticonvulsant medication. He was in status epilepticus many times, which required IV Push medication to stop his seizures and had Todd’s Paralysis on his right side following one of those episodes. He also had pancytopenia, was immune compromised (neutropenia), was severely anemic (megaloblastic anemia with poikilocytosis and anisocytosis), along with ITP and a platelet aggragation and adhesion disorders…which caused several internal bleeds. He also had “autistic-like behavior”…not autism. (Diagnosed under the DSM II criteria).

    I attended classes to learn Behavior Modification, to be able to work with him to eliminate his self stimming/self injurious behaviors and he became a very sociable youngster…in spite of his multiple and profound disabilities.

    Guess what Muthr? I provided the 24/7 around the clock nursing care that enabled him to survive his early years. I intermittent gavaged him Q 3 hours around the clock for months, until he was able to take nourishment orally. I also gave him liquid Digoxin through the feeding tube to steady and strengthen his heart rate, because he had a huge atrial septal defect, confirmed by a full heart catheterization when he was eight days old and under 5 lbs. bodyweight.

    So, what is your educational background?

    What college degree do you have?

    What professional licensing do you have in any health care field?

    What work experience do you have in any health care setting?

    How many group homes or intermediate care facilities set up for developmentally disabled children and adults have you every visited, Muthr? Or…are you just parroting the crap that read on Age of Autism and other anti-vaccine, anti-science blogs?

  14. Woo Fighter says:

    “lilady- I will ignore you, your ignorance does not warrant a reply. You are sicking. It i obvious you do not have an “Alex”, it is also obvious you do not have an education.

    All I am saying, is if you have not walked in their shoes – do not judge.”

    I know lilady is more than capable of sticking up for herself, but it is obvious you know nothing about her, her education, her professional qualifications or her late son.

    Please rot in hell, you miserable piece of murder-excusing filth.

    *I normally wouldn’t respond like this, but I’ve had a horrible day personally and healthwise and am in no mood and have no patience to stand by and let garbage about people I admire, respect and consider my online friends like this go unchallenged.

  15. Woo Fighter says:

    Sorry for the double post. I thought the first one was lost in the ether (SBM seemed to be going through some glitches), but I’m glad it appeared twice. The second one was loaded with more anger and is a better representation of how I feel right now.

  16. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    So, the majority think it is better to pay millions of county, city, state and federal dollars to people who abuse your child, pay them to neglect your child to the point of malnourishment, pay them to ignore your child’s basic needs such as bathing, teeth brushing, etc…, pay them to deny your child medical attention, to pay staff to injure your child, pay two and three grown men to illegally restrain your child by the throat for 20 minutes or more causing sever injuries, then deny your child medical attention from the injuries of the grown men…and the most despicable of all pay them to sexually molest and do worse to your child

    Malnourishment? In the pictures of Alex I had seen, he is – sorry, was, because his mother killed him – far from malnourished.

    My understanding of the case is, Alex’s mother was offered evidence-based treatment and conventional support for her son. She rejected this, in favour of unsupported biomedical claims that autism is cured by…I’m not sure what, and is treatable. The evidence suggests that autism is a strongly genetic condition of developmental delay, and some children will grow out of it while others, with support, can become capable of communicating their needs in such a way that they don’t get violent or frustrated.

    You would just check your non verbal, autistic child into a facility and walk away?

    Personally, I would spend time and money attempting to improve their ability to communicate and interact with the larger world; either improved language through behavioural shaping, or some form of nonverbal communication. I wouldn’t reject this in favour of the assistance of a discredited researcher who has shown a history of unethical behaviour and no proof behind his claims of miracle cures.

    good luck with your conscious

    I think you mean “conscience”, and I think my conscience would be a whole lot worse off if I stabbed my son until he died of blood loss, then failed to commit suicide to escape the consequences of my actions.

    That is what most parents (usually MOTHERS, autism is hard to deal with…for everyone) are FORCED to do by the county once their child becomes violent…I can’t tell you how many nights I would lay awake crying and praying that God brings us an answer.

    Have you tried behavioural therapy to try to identify why your children become violent and attempt to give them tools to avoid this? Or are you just trying to “cure” them with unproven nutraceuticals?

    You may also have to accept, or at least entertain the possibility, that there is no “cure” for your children’s condition, and your time might be better spent finding ways to improve their quality of life.

  17. Stina says:

    I read a comment in the last board and it goes like this:

    “I take it then that your “solution” is to euthanize people with profound intractable autism? We can discuss the ethics of that.

    I guess they talked about the Austism that kids are non-verbal, can not feed themself, have tantrums and will live in a room tied to a bed mostly of the time to not hurt themselves or others + 99% under a medication.

    Can we discuss that? the ethics of the “euthanizing” in general? I heard it works in other countries if you want to end your life for big medical reasons. would it be the solution to all these poor adults with noone to take care of and die slowly and abuse in a facility?

    Its a sad situtation and it seems now 1 of every 50 boys is under the austism. What this country will do in 20 years from now?

    The health care system wont complain for sure…making money on these poor people.

    1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      Autism is a diagnosis of developmental delay, not stasis. Many will, more slowly than their peers, pass developmental milestones, some may become indistinguishable from their peers. Most do not fit into the worst-case scenario you describe thankfully. Even those that do can be taught to communicate in rudimentary ways such that violence is less likely (particularly if you aren’t also trying to give them enemas, or painful injections or other biomedical nonsense).

      An adult choosing to end their own life is dramatically different from an adult deciding to end the life of someone else who did not make that choice. We call the latter murder, and rather rightfully so.

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