The popular press loves a good conspiracy theory. It makes for good copy. It sells. Even when it's not entirely based in fact.
So I guess it's no surprise that when it comes time to do an "autism story," the popular press tends to rely heavily on the vaccine theory of autism causation. There are a lot of big name celebrity advocates who support the theory, and their big names get big air time. Even when their theories are not entirely based in fact.
The American Academy of Pediatrics is hoping to bring some balance - and some factual information - to the forefront in the press coverage of the autism story. They're looking for people - real people with real stories, and not just big names who draw big numbers - to share their own experiences and their own beliefs. An e-mail request from Susan Stevens Martin, Director of the Division of Media Relations for the AAP, is printed here in full:
As part of our ongoing response to media stories regarding autism and vaccines, the AAP communications department is compiling a list of parents who support the AAP and are available for interviews. We are looking for two types of parents who could serve as spokespersons:
Parents of children with autism spectrum disorders who support immunization and who do not believe there is any link between their child's vaccines and his or her autism.
Parents of children who suffered a vaccine-preventable illness. This could be a parent who declined immunization, whose child became ill before a vaccine was available, or whose child was ineligible for immunization.
We are asking for your help identifying parents who would be good spokespersons. They do not need to be expert public speakers. They just need to be open with their story and interested in speaking out on the issue. We will contact candidates in advance to conduct pre-interviews, to offer guidance on talking to reporters and to obtain a signed waiver giving us permission to release their name.
If a parent were placed on our list, we would offer their name and contact information to select media. We hope to build a list of parents from a wide range of geographical areas.
As the Jenny McCarthy and "Eli Stone" stories illustrate, this issue is likely to recur in the national and local media. The AAP is committed to doing all we can to counter such erroneous reports with factual information supported by scientific evidence and AAP recommendations.
The anti-vaccine groups often have emotional family stories on their side. The ability to offer a reporter an interview with a similarly compelling parent who is sympathetic to the AAP's goals is a powerful tool for our media relations program.
Please contact me if you have any questions or to suggest a parent to interview.
Susan Stevens Martin
Director, Division of Media Relations
American Academy of Pediatrics
If you are interested in getting involved with the AAP's parent program, you can contact Susan Stevens Martin directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.