Last week’s cover of Cityview, Iowa’s flagship alternative weekly, promoted a self-serving story about the newspaper’s own beer festival in Des Moines. The author, managing editor Amber Williams, wrote that beer, “when consumed moderately, provides more than nine essential nutrients and six distinct health benefits, according to natural foods authors Larry and Oksana Ostrovsky.”
Research published in respected medical journals and by the federal government has confirmed that beer can be good for you. So it’s strange that Williams instead cited information from the Ostrovskys’ self-published e-book, which falsely claims that gluten has been shown to cause autism and repeatedly references NaturalNews.com, a conspiracy website that rejects modern medicine and believes the government is responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing.
Williams doesn’t advance any of those theories in her story, but this isn’t the first time she’s flirted with junk science. In February, she wrote a cover story questioning the merits of the flu vaccine. After falsely suggesting that a flu shot can cause the flu, the story shifts its focus to a mother whose Des Moines Area Community College class research paper convinced her not to vaccinate her kids. Her doctor “told me his own daughter had been injured by a vaccine, and now she’s full-on autistic,” the mother said.
But there is no evidence that vaccines cause autism. Those who believe there is rely on lingering falsehoods from a fraudulent study published in a medical journal 15 years ago that has been thoroughly debunked and retracted. The autism vaccine myth has resulted in the deaths of several children around the world. It has stricken many more people with preventable diseases including mumps, whooping cough, and, this year in Brooklyn and Wales, measles.
Failing to get vaccinated against such diseases also has a high economic toll. In 2004, an Iowa college student studying in India came home infected with measles. The two-month effort to prevent the spread of the disease was estimated to cost more than $140,000.
Williams never mentioned any of this, and, using a quote from the mother in her story, actually suggested the opposite: “I found a lot of reports of vaccine failures that linked vaccinations to things like meningitis and measles.”
A week after the vaccine story, Cityview published a letter from a reader who slammed the story’s poor sourcing. The paper dismissed his complaints at the same time in a snarky editor’s note explaining that the mother’s research paper “received a 97 percent,” that “she passed the class with a 98 percent overall,” and that the reader’s “line of work, by the way, is pharmaceutical sales.”
Williams’ vaccine story remains relevant now that Jenny McCarthy, a leading proponent of the autism vaccine myth, has joined ABC’s popular daytime talk show The View. The show averages more than three million viewers for every episode and airs five days a week. Many journalists have written about fears that McCarthy will use her new soapbox to promote dangerous junk science. Williams, on the other hand, never corrected her own story.
By treating the Ostrovskys as a credible source in her latest cover story, Williams, in the words of the letter criticizing her vaccine story, demonstrated that she still doesn’t “fully understand the power of the press and the responsibilities that come with being a steward of it.”