More media stupidity: Chicago Sun-Times runs propaganda piece for Jenny McCarthy’s anti-vaccine conference

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UPDATE, May 21, 7pm: See this post for an update on the Sun-Times‘s “proud support” of AutismOne.

On Sunday, in honor of Mother’s Day, the Chicago Sun-Times ran a puff piece on native daughter Jenny McCarthy. This is closer to a press release than it is to journalism:

On Memorial Day weekend, Jenny McCarthy will bring a little bit of L.A. glamor to her hometown, Chicago, for a cause that is close to her heart. The TV star’s philanthropic organization, Generation Rescue, and Autism One^ have paired up to offer a conference for parents to learn about new support and treatment methods for their children with autism. … McCarthy will be a keynote speaker at the conference, which, for the second year in a row, is free for the entire weekend to ensure that families of all income levels can attend and learn more about treatment for their children with autism.

The piece also recommends a “hip cocktail fund-raiser” that McCarthy is holding, and ends with this shocker: “The Sun-Times proudly supports Generation Rescue & Autism One.”^ As Carl Zimmer put it when he got to that line, “Huh???????”*

I’m not going to go all TLC and catalog the errors in the Sun-Times piece, but I will point out that apparently “free” means something different in Chicago than it does in the rest of world: Check out the conference’s registration page:

(There’s also a $125 charge for the gala dinner, a $35 charge to attend the “mixer,” and a $250 charge for anyone seeking CME credit.)

I’m also not going to get into Jenny McCarthy’s history; there are plenty of places to go if you want to learn about her history of promoting dangerous and false misinformation about vaccines. But I thought that perhaps fewer readers were familiar with AutismOne. Its annual conference is not, as the Sun-Times claims, a place for “parents to learn about new support and treatment methods for their children with autism”; it’s more akin to Woodstock for vaccine deniers. Take a look at some of the presentations scheduled for this year:

* More Vitamin D, No Vaccines, Virtually No Autism
* Know Your Vaccine Exemption Rights
* Hurt and Healing After Mercury-containing Vaccines
* FOIA Exposes CDC Lied Claiming Mercury in Vaccines is Safe
* Vaccine Nation: A Novel Dramatizing the Vaccine Safety Debate
* Vaccine Manufacturing Practices and Residual Vaccine Contaminants
* Hidden in Plain Sight: the Role of Vaccines in Chronic Disease
* Prospects for Justice for Children Injured by Vaccines: The Experience of the Omnibus Autism Proceeding

There are plenty of other presentations that don’t include the word “vaccine” in the title but are about vaccines, including “The Biological Basis of Autism: Causation and Treatment” by the father-son tag-team of Mark and David Geier. (From the description: “Important new information will be presented showing how environmental exposures, particularly mercury, are associated with autism…”) The Geiers, for those of you who don’t remember, opened clinics around the country to administer a powerful drug used to chemically castrate sex offenders as a “treatment” for autism. Mark Geier has had his medical license suspended in several states; David Geier is not a doctor; he was charged with practicing medicine without a license in his home state of Maryland.

And, of course, no AutismOne conference would be complete without a “Featured Presentation” by Andrew Wakefield, who this year will be giving a talk titled “The End Game.”

I had several sections in my book about AutismOne — if I get through the rest of my work, I’ll post one later today.

* The second half of that sentence was added at 5:18pm on May 15.

^ May 29, 2012, 6:15 pm: Per reader Narad’s comment, I un-sicced the Sun-Times‘s spelling of AutismOne as “Autism One”; he makes an interesting point. I’m not sure what the ultimate spelling should be, but certainly it seems there’s a legitimate case for spelling it as two words.

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