Thursday, April 21, 2005

Liberal bias; Conservative conflict

Posted by Craig Westover | 12:01 PM |  

This is interesting information on the vaccine safety controversy, but it also highlights the different moral dilemmas faced by liberals and conservatives.

As I noted in my column of March 16, David Kirby’s book Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy (St. Martin’s Press, 2005), which makes a case for the biological plausibility that mercury in childhood vaccines is at least partially responsible for the spike in autism cases during the 1990s, is a controversial book.

Controversy usually means ratings for media outlets that interview authors of hot-selling books (EOH is in a 5th printing less than a month after release). Nonetheless, traditional liberal outlet like National Public Radio and Air America want nothing to do with David Kirby according to the website “Corporate Crime Reporter.”
Kirby said that while he has been interviewed by local NPR affiliates like WNYC in New York and WHYY in Philadelphia, “the national NPR has ignored this book, hung up on me, written me back and told me to take them off my mailing list.”

“Never in 15 years as a journalist have I ever been treated like this by anybody – except for the CDC,” Kirby said. (For a complete transcript of the 11-page interview with Kirby, see 19 Corporate Crime Reporter 17(7), April 25, 2005, print edition only).
[Note: Kirby quoted virtually the same comments to me when I interviewed him for my column, but at the time requested the media comments “off the record.” A separate note: The local Air America station has twice, to my knowledge, interviewed parents supporting the connection between vaccines and autism. Despite the fact that this topic opens a wide door for Republican bashing, I thought the Air America interviews did an excellent job sticking to the science and the facts of the controversy with almost no partisan sniping.]
Kirby, a former assistant to New York City Democratic Party officials, including former City Council President Carol Bellamy and former Mayor David Dinkins, says that “the right wing press has been all over this, and the left wing press won’t touch it.”

“NPR and the Public Broadcasting System get a lot of money from drug companies,” Kirby told Corporate Crime Reporter. “And they need whatever money they can get, so they are not going to offend any advertiser – ever. Whereas the major commercial networks have a little more leeway and play. They take more risks. The conservative press is anti-government, whereas the liberal press is so pro-public health – it is like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) can do no wrong, doctors can do no wrong. It’s like – the liberal Democratic Party establishment created this public health system that we are so proud of, and we are not going to attack it.”

“On the left, support of government public health programs trumps hatred of drug companies,” Kirby said. “And the right is a little more divided. You have the pro-business right – the Bill Frist and the Wall Street Journal editorial side – who are defending the drug companies at all costs. And then you have the real anti-government and anti-bureaucracy types who fear and distrust government and think this [the mercury/autism link] is entirely plausible.”
It’s pretty clear where I fall on that spectrum and from conversations and research, that mistrust-of-government category is where a lot of individuals fall.

What’s more interesting is that the liberal media falls virtually lockstep behind the party, while the right-wing media is divided -- some taking the party line, others looking at the issue on its merits and going where the research leads -- something I took the Star Tribune to task for not doing.

Aside from the vaccine safety issue, the Corporate Crime Reporter story highlights once again that conservatives rejection of moral relativism forces them to confront some tough political decisions when they honestly confront the truth. It is the liberal dogmatic belief in the goodness of government that precludes an objective search for truth. Is it really a moral decision when “support of government public health programs trumps hatred of drug companies?”