Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Haiti One Year Later, Interview With Retracted Autism Study Author Andrew Wakefield, And Anderson Cooper Asks A Question About False Equivalency

Hi everyone. Sorry I've been scarce since my New Year's Eve post. There's just been so much AC360 to digest! Our anchor has been playing the role of place-holder for the apparently DANGEROUS Piers Morgan. Double dose of Anderson Cooper? I'm not complaining. The lighter hour is a nice change of pace, though not exactly something I'd want to view every day.

Tonight, for example, could only be classified as a train wreck. Ted Nugent and Roseanne Barr? If someone took a picture of me when I learned that guest list I'm pretty sure it would look like I was sucking a lemon...and that was before they started screaming at each other. Did I mention that the measured, reasonable Cornell Belcher was trapped sitting between them the whole time? I almost organized a rescue mission. I suppose our CNN friends would argue it was good teevee. I'd argue it was a perfect example of what makes cable news so horrible to watch, and it showcased our anchor's weakness when it comes to moderating combative guests. I guess you can't win them all. We did, however, get a good interview with Sean Penn regarding Haiti, which is posted below:

Though Anderson brought us a bit of fail when it came to Nugent vs. Roseanne, he was on his total A game to report on the British Medical Journal's accusation that Andrew Wakefield's 1998 autism study was fraudulent. Wakefield Skyped into the show--apparently from his lair--to defend himself. Anderson: "Sir, I'm not here to let you pitch your book." Oh snap!

You know Sanjay had to get in on the action too. You go, Dr. Gupta:

Afterward, there was discussion with Seth Mnookin, author of "Panic Virus."

Frequenters of this here blog space know that perhaps my biggest pet peeve when it comes to news is the perpetration of false equivalency. Tonight something amazing happened: Anderson Cooper signaled that he understands my pain, well, so to speak. Unfortunately, CNN has a nasty (and puzzling) habit of not posting the entire video of their segments, so the good part got cut out of the discussion above. But we still have the transcript, so I block-quoted that bad boy out:
COOPER: Has the media played a role in perpetuating this? Because you see in a lot of TV shows, you know, on this subject, several sides represented. You have the people who believe the vaccines cause autism and the people who don't. And it seems to give equal credence, you know.

Or you have a famous person, you know, like Jenny McCarthy, and nothing against her personally, but you know, who is going to get a lot of attention. Has that made the problem worse? Has that given the -- this side more credence?

MNOOKIN: I think absolutely. And an example I use is there are people who believe the earth is flat. Most people obviously do not, but if you had one person who believed the earth is flat and one person who said, "No, it's actually round," and they were discussing the issue together, it would seem that the consensus was split 50/50.

So here you have a situation in which you have millions of doctors, public health officials, all coming down on one side, and then Andrew Wakefield and a very small number of people who are associated with him, a miniscule number of people, saying, "No, this is what's actually going on." But because we can't present millions of points of view or millions of people, it ends up sounding -- there's this false equivalency. It ends up sounding on the one hand, on the other hand, when there really is only one hand in this case.

COOPER: Do you agree with that, there is only one hand in this?

GUPTA: Yes, and I mean, the one thing I would say with the earth, flat earth, round thing, is we know the answer to that now.

One of the things that again has made this discussion so difficult is that, at the end of the discussion, no matter how much you disagree with the other person, if they come back to you and say, "So what does cause it?" We still don't have that great answer. It could be some environmental unknown with a genetic predisposition. Who knows? But that, in part, has made this difficult.

Also, you know, just as a parent, I can tell you, it's so deeply personal. And that also, despite what's happened today, I think many parents who are dealing with this right now are still believing this, despite all the evidence to the contrary.
Yes, yes, yes! I'm am not ashamed to say I audibly squeed a little when he brought this up, and then remained giddy for a good five minutes afterward. And you're damn right the media played a part in this. One of the reasons I disliked Larry King's show was that he continually gave credence to people like Jenny McCarthy. It's not responsible. So, Anderson Cooper, we now know you're aware of the problem of false equivalency, but do you understand that it can apply to any subject, especially politics? Global warming, death panels...etc. When it comes to factual support, both sides are not always equal; in fact they seldom are. Treating them as such in of itself results in bias. Some day all journalists will understand this...and Jay Rosen and I will smile.

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Blogger EmmKay said...

Last night was excellent. I look forward to that book line in a future commercial for AC360 ;-)

Couldn't agree more with the whole false dicotemy thing. I wish more interviews were like that. Let's look at the issue line by line and get the facts.

Two people screaming at each other seems like it would be good TV, but it quickly becomes white noise to me.

10:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with EmmKay on the 'white noise' and on the vaccination issue. I also wish that AC would see the false equivalency arguments that are perpetuated on many shows that discuss social issues, politics, etc. When an issue has been settled beyond doubt (birther issue for instance), why give air time to idiots who want to keep arguing?

2:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

GLAAD is taking on CNN for doing the false equivalency thing when it comes to gay issues too. It needs to stop.

COOPER: But, sir, if you're lying, then your book is also a lie. If your study is a lie, your book is a lie.

Double snap!

6:16 PM  
Blogger eliza said...

Thanks for the link! I just tweeted it.

6:49 PM  
Anonymous anon 6:16 said...

You're welcome!

7:22 PM  
Blogger Jay Rosen said...

Keep it up.

And check out this piece, which undoes all the good Anderson Cooper did.

9:06 PM  

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