May 5, 2011

Seth Mnookin: The New Kid in Town

[Update: Good Grief... Seth Mnookin is a mess. I posted this piece less than two hours ago on Seth's claim on his blog that David Kirby might be out at the Huffington Post, and I JUST got this email in my inbox because I subscribe to Kirby's posts there:

I don't know what is worse for Mnookin, that Kirby had a post immediately on HuffPo, that it was on vaccines or that it was entitled, "Government and Many Scientists Agree: Vaccine-Autism Research Should Continue." How exactly is this guy a credible journalist!?

I emailed Kirby on Mnookin's speculation and he just replied: "I believe there may have been a bit of a backlog on the Health Page after the AOL merger, when other editors came on board to oversee the review process for medical pieces."

Mr. Kirby, If you are walking around NYC whatever you do, don't sit down, not even on a subway... Seth Mnookin might come along and pronounce you dead!]

Initial post:

... and by kid, I mean teenager.

In 2009, after five years of trying to have earnest discussions with people with a history of bad faith dealings on the vaccine issue, I gave up. I wrote a lengthy piece called, "Chris Mooney, Sheril Kirshenbaum, Lori Kozlowski, Rosie Mestel, Thomas Maugh, David Gorski, Virginia Hughes, Science Journalists, The Dying of the LA Times and an Angry Autism Mom," the thrust of which was that the grown ups that had retreated and that the only new blood that could be found to go out and defend the current disaster of a vaccine program were immature, teeny boppers (of varying chronological ages) whose underlying MO seemed to be wanting to be seen as cool and "sciency and stuff" to quote one of them. Consider this (and my next post) to be adjuncts to that one.

Well the jury is in and Seth Mnookin clearly qualifies for the brat pack. I think we were pretty clear on that when he called parents who might be concerned with the tripling of the vaccine schedule and giving a baby 8 vaccines at once at only two months of age, "Total Assholes."

Part of this rite of passage into this gang of Mean Girls posing as "science journalists" is of course to take a swipe or two at David Kirby, someone who actually practices science journalism... and get this... does it like a grown up.

So Mr. Mnookin writes a piece I guess announcing that David Kirby is no longer welcome on The Huffington Post. I have no idea if that is true or not (and if so, how does Mnookin know this), as he was posting there as of two weeks ago, but might make sense since AOL/TW has purchased it and the mainstream media has been asked by Kathleen Sebelius and the Obama Administration (and probably their Pharma advertisers) to censor criticism on the vaccine program, no matter how legit it is.

But of course, this would be a dumb move for HuffPo if they actually care about circulation as Kirby's columns on vaccination garner hundreds of comments and generate traffic, so if such a decision has been made, then it is not in order to make its readers happy, it is to make the entrenched powers that be happy. Which of course is why the main stream media is dying and the Huffington Post became popular in the first place, which I guess means that we can begin to see the decline of this and other successful online outlets and Big Journalism's money rushes in to corrupt it? We will watch and see.

But in the mean time, Mnookin is happy, yes happy, that censorship is taking place on vaccine issues.

But then again, he is a censor himself...

Yeah... I can't get him to post my comments on his blog unless I post them some where else, and that apparently embarrasses him into posting them, but with some sort of face saving thing... I don't know... Not a grown up... read on.

Long story short... Mnookin launched personal attacks Harvard's Dr. Martha Herbert and PBS's Robert MacNeil after they had a real discussion on vaccine causation that didn't stick to Offit's approved talking points. So JB Handley launched an attack on Seth Mnookin, pointing out that while Herbert and MacNeil were busy earning their world class credentials, Mnookin was honing his skills as a thief and a heroin addict. Rather than learning that people in glass houses should not throw stones, Mnookin, being the entitled adolescent that he is, shook his finger at JB for hurting his feelings and played the victim.

Mnookin wears his past as a heroin addict/thief like a beauty queen wears her sash. As I read his own accounts of his more than decade long hard core NY heroin addict life, I kept waiting for the part where he regrets it and is broken over what his actions did to those who loved him and tried for so many years to help him, but I just can't find it. (You know that humble softness that recovering addicts have, where they know that they are broken and accept the brokenness of others? That place where the are in that their ego has kinda melted away and they are healing to those around them because of it? I don't see that at all in Seth Mnookin. Quite the contrary.) One of his pieces actually ends with a bitter stab at his own mother for not trusting him any more after all that he did to his family. The guy clearly thinks he is entitled to display horrible, selfish and anti-social behavior for half his life, and use that past addict life to gain street cred with the NY journalism scene and mount a writing career, but somehow not reap any of the natural adverse consequences of said life of drugs and crime.

Drug addicts are interesting and amusing, but they are not trustworthy people. One has to get really good at lying to maintain that life. It takes a lot of years and a lot of work to show that they should be trusted. I don't see evidence of that kind of work in Mr. Mnookin. I do not see him as a trust worthy person.

As I have said, I am thrilled for the guy that he quit using and built a life. That is not the norm with his level of addiction, and good for him. Not even a little bit of sarcasm in my statements on that. But the expectation that he should then be trusted by moms across America with medical advice for their children? (When he has made clear that his own mother does not even trust him?) That suggests that there has clearly been some arrested development as one would expect during a time of prolonged drug use. (...and perhaps a bit of grandiosity? He is setting himself up as having more credibility on this than David Kirby, Robert MacNeil and Dr. Martha Herbert?)

But now back to the censorship thing... so on that post on how JB upset Seth, I posted a comment:

"I’m trying real hard to be the shepherd driven by charity and good will.” – Seth Mnookin
Parents who want to make their own vaccine decisions are “total assholes.” – Seth Mnookin, American University, “Communicating to the Public”

Mr. Mnookin, the idea that you have entered into a good faith relationship, as an objective journalist, to the public and to the biomedical autism/vaccine injury community, for which you can expect that you will be treated with generosity and be given the benefit of the doubt…. well that is just silly.

The expectation that your very long history of serious IV drug addiction and accompanying anti-social and illegal behavior will not cut into your credibility on any topic, (much less one on the safety of injectables) is frankly, unreasonable.

I began my counseling career doing outpatient drug counseling in the psychology department of Johns Hopkins and I have seen more than a few tragic stories. So please believe me when I say that I am very, very happy for you that you kicked your habit, that you have had some restoration with your family, and that you now have a career and a family of your own.

But as a recovering addict, surely you have to understand that actions have consequences. Your formative years were spent… well… not forming a man of good judgement and good character. That is lost time that is difficult to win back. And while you may have kicked your habit, your judgment on these matters remains in question. Starting with the expectation that no one is going to hold against you severe drug use, which spans around half your life, when making judgments about your good judgement.

Long term drug addiction causes a stunting of emotional maturation. I see it in you, as do many in our community.

It may hurt to be called out for this difficult part of your life, but your contempt for these families you criticize has been evident from the time you began misrepresenting yourself to parents while you researched your book, up until today.

If you want to be treated respectfully, you have to treat people with respect. Calling a significant percentage of parents in this country “total assholes” for trying to work in the best interests of their own children in light of an under researched and indiscriminate vaccine program (which all sides admit will kill some and injure others) betrays your contempt for them. Expect then to be treated likewise.”

To the point and respectful, I thought, but apparently not one that Mr. Mnookin wanted on his blog. He declined to post the comment. But I had also posted it on JB's column on AoA, with the following preface:

Mnookin is complaing aboout this post. Says it is hurtful to him. I posted a comment, but don’t know if he will allow it, so I am posting it here too:

Well several hours later Seth apparently discovered that my comment was public and put it up at the end of his comment stream with the following note:

Note: This comment was sent in by Ginger Taylor at approximately the same time I said I was shutting down the comments. Since she was unaware that comments were being closed when she was writing it, I will post it here.

Except that I had posted this hours before he "closed the comments" (something that I don't think I have ever done here, what is with that?) right after JB, and should have been half way through the comment thread. Further, the copy he published was copied off of AoA, as it has my AoA comment and even the date signature at the bottom. So he moderated my comment out, found out it was public, and lied and said I got it in at the last minute. Nice.

So yesterday I commented on Seth's post about David Kirby and his celebration of censorship with the following comment:

Following JB's line of questioning, I am interested in your thoughts on the admission of David Bowman at HRSA (who runs VICP) that vaccines can cause encephalopathy that causes autism as reported by David Kirby.

Following the Poling vaccine concession, Kirby wrote to HRSA and asked if this now meant that the VICP was now paying for vaccine induced autism. This the "official statement" that HRSA sent him:

"From: Bowman, David (HRSA) []
Sent: Friday, February 20, 2009 5:22 PM
To: ''
Subject: HRSA Statement


In response to your most recent inquiry, HRSA has the following

The government has never compensated, nor has it ever been ordered to
compensate, any case based on a determination that autism was actually
caused by vaccines. We have compensated cases in which children
exhibited an encephalopathy, or general brain disease. Encephalopathy
may be accompanied by a medical progression of an array of symptoms
including autistic behavior, autism, or seizures.

Some children who have been compensated for vaccine injuries may have
shown signs of autism before the decision to compensate, or may
ultimately end up with autism or autistic symptoms, but we do not track
cases on this basis.


David Bowman
Office of Communications
Health Resources and Services Administration
301-443-3376" *

Is this not a very significant disclosure by HHS and in conflict with many of their public statements of autism causation? HHS has admitted that vaccines can cause brain damage that becomes "autistic behavior, autism, or seizures". Rather than question HHS on this and ask how they made that determination, and how many autism cases they have compensated, you want David Kirby not to be able to have a public forum to ask questions any more?

How is that journalism? How does this not show that you are simply bias and want those who might punch holes in your high praise of the vaccine program shut down?

And when there are so few voices attempting to keep HHS honest on vaccine injury, do you not think that it is a serious problem when outlets begin to censor those voices? How then will corruption in the vaccine program be prevented from taking hold? Is the vaccine program above suspicious when we know the same companies and public health officials are suspect in other product lines and policies? By what magical process are vaccines exempt from critical review and media scrutiny? Merck lies about Vioxx, is fined more than 400 million dollars for Medicaid fraud, but their MMR and other vaccines is perfect at all times, Merck would never lie about vaccine safety and should not be questioned or reviewed?

CDC employees steal hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical and computer equipment from their own building, but all their vaccine statements are honest and should never be questioned?

As a journalist, do you support the suppression and censorship of accurate information offered by earnest reporters?

If the vaccine program is truly with out corruption and is somehow exactly flawless in its operation and policy, how long do you think that will last if media outlets [suppress criticism on it?]

There were 24 doses of vaccine on the schedule when we were children, now there are 70 and two more will be added shortly. With no oversight from the courts due to Bruesewitz and with the media unable to question vaccine policy, what prevents multinational corporations from purchasing public health agencies and getting 100 doses of vaccine on the childhood schedule? How many is too many? 150? Are we allowed to talk about this in the media?

And you think it is a GOOD thing if media outlets stop reviewing vaccine policy for potential damage to children?

Vaccines are pharmaceuticals like any other, their production and use are subject to media review like any other. Why do you celebrate the repression of media scrutiny that can only serve to make sure the vaccine program is as safe as possible?

And while other comments (including one praising him for letting "anti-vaccine" voices like JB Handley be heard on his blog) were approved, and Mr. Mnookin has since posted new articles, my comment is no where to be found. (What does JB have that I don't got?)

Seth is fond of dishing it out, taking it like a grown up... not so much.

So... I have to ask the same question of Seth that I have of his fellow play mates... Why exactly would parents turn to you for advice when you are clearly biased, treat parents like crap and behave with less maturity than my ten year old?

How many mothers are sitting at home thinking...

"You know... I hear there are safety concerns about the vaccine program. What is at stake in my vaccine decisions for my child is his very life itself. If I make a bad choice he could die or end up with brain damage or a host of other life long problems either from a disease or from the vaccine for a disease. I need to do some research. Who to turn to for the care of my most precious possession.....

I know! There is this really pretentious, arrogant guy who does't seem to like his mother who spent his teens a twenties stealing cash from loved ones to fuel his heroin chic life style because he though he was Hunter S. Thompson, and who thinks that parents like me are "Total Assholes". So yeah, he rejoices over the idea of vaccine safety advocates being shut out of the discussion on the vaccine program, and sure, he lied to his interview subjects about the book he was writing, but I GOTTA find out what he thinks about vaccine safety. I can think of no more wise human being in whom I can entrust the life, health and welfare of my child!"

I cannot understand what The Powers That Be are thinking. Was "The Situation" not available be their spokes person for vaccine safety?

Louis Cooper and others keep saying that they are SO concerned with the trust in the vaccine program and of AAP in general. If that is so why do they continue to go to fishing in the Pool of Maturationally Challenged Disaffected Youth, clamoring to become "science journalists" to prove something to somebody. Why is Mnookin being promoted if they want parents to trust the vaccine program? It is truly mind boggling.

And I (and many others) have been writing this for YEARS! And we know they read us. Daily! Just glancing at my stats, as I was writing this piece, the State Department visited my web site to watch Dr. Bock's appearance on Fox News.

What are these meetings like?

Kathleen Sebelius: I hear vaccine sales are dropping... brief me.

CDC Number Cruncher: Vaccine rates still dropping.

AAP: Well Offit has been doing yeoman's work, but parents are just to dumb to understand his brilliance. We can't understand why they don't trust us any more.

One Lone Doctor Speaking Softly: Well it may be that our vaccine market is saturated and the public won't buy any more because they are finding diminishing returns at this point. Perhaps we should call Dr. Sears for some kind of partnership? Parents are listening to him. Maybe we can save the vaccine program by customizing it for vulnerable subsets and admitting some of the problems that have been found through the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program... even bringing some of our critics onboard to make sure we have things straight... I think that might boost trust in us and confidence in the program.

Merck Goon: Who the hell is that guy?! How did you get in here? What is your name? Where do you practice? (aside) Get him out of here... take his name down... get his state medical board on the phone.

Sebelius: Well then get out there people. Push those talking points!

AAP: Don't look at us... we are not going out there where people can ask us questions!

Sebelius: Frieden... what about you guys.

Thomas Freiden: Hells no! I am not getting outed like Gerberding did. I am gonna bide my time quietly, stay off the radar and then take my Glaxo payday.

Sebelius: Well I am not going out there any more. Last time I got my ass handed to me by Fran Dresher, for cripes sake. We need new cannon fodder. Who can we scrounge up?

AAP: Our MD's just look stupid when they do it. Even Iannelli on looks like a jerk because he puts out our talking points and then can't answer challenges in the comments section. We have to send in the anonymous trolls to try to bail him out. We are out of ideas.

Robert Mnookin: Well, I got this nephew who needs a job. He is kind of a screw up, but I think he got his act together, wrote a book about baseball and he can add two and two.

Sebelius: What's his baggage?

Mnookin: Heroin. Theft. Wanted to be Hunter S. Thompson when he grew up. But he has been clean for years now.

Sebelius: No, no... we need someone to inspire trust... what else we got?

Glaxo: Just Brian Deer.

Sebelius: I need you to be serious... who else is there.

Crickets: Chirp, chirp, chirp.

Mnookin: I think we should give Seth a try. Some of the NY journalists think he is "cool".

Sebelius: Well I guess thats something... let's go with your nephew then. Call him and tell him to take Offit's class and get started. Get him booked on Colbert, etc, but our finger prints cannot be on this.

Mnookin: You won't be sorry.

Sebelius: I'm sure I will be, but I only have to hold my nose for two more years, then I will be at Sanofi taking board meetings in the South of France and won't have to deal with these meddling parents any more."

And the vaccine program continues to go down the drain.

(This is part one in a two part series of ad hominem arguments... second coming soon)

* For more on the Bowman statement.

Update 5/6/2011

Mr. Mnookin updated his post here to reflect that "Unfortunately, it looks like my optimism was misplaced", and written a new one here: to reflect his lament that David Kirby is not being censored.

My comment on his blog that will probably not see the light of day there:

If there was any question that you are not a real journalist, I think this answers it.

When the White House decided it was going to give interviews to CBS, ABC, NBC and CNN, while cutting out Fox News, the other four networks refused to participate in the press event unless Fox was included. Those networks do not like Fox and they are regularly beat in the ratings by Fox, but they backed Fox, which they hate, over a President, who they love, because they understand that censorship is the worst enemy of journalism and a free society. They knew how dangerous the precedent was that the White House was attempting to set, and they did not allow them to do it.

They practiced real journalism.

Mr. Mnookin, while still not posting any of my comments, addressed calling parents "Total Assholes" here. I left yet another comment, but if past behavior is a predictor of future behavior, which it is, the comment will not be posted, so I am posting it here as well:

Along the lines of Dr. Gordon's comments, I too have some trouble with your lamenting of the premature deaths of these children.

While there were 10 deaths last year from pertussis, the CDC Wonder database lists 41 deaths of children associated with pertussis vaccines? And that was one of the lowest numbers of deaths listed in years.

42 in 2009, 76 in 2008, 82 in 2007... 126 in 1994, 148 in 1993... Do you lament the more than 1,750 children who have died following this vaccine since 1989? Where is the balance in your reporting on this, if you are the earnest journalist that you claim you seek to be?

Do you not see that under the current vaccine policy that seeks to vaccinate all children with out screening for the known subsets that may be vulnerable to vaccine injury or death, that the cure might actually be worse than the disease at this point?

Further, I have counted 27 premature deaths last year that came as a direct result of autism (seizures, wanderings, drowning, neglect, abuse and even being shot by police for acting strange). Where is your concern for preventing the risk to our children?

Why do the dozen deaths you cite trump the close to 70 deaths last year that I have written about? Were their deaths some how acceptable when the others were not? Did you even know about them? Have you looked?

Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.

update: I have written ad nausium about this phenom. Overzealous and unwise defender of the vaccine program makes untenable statements and claims in an attempt to get parents to vaccinate with out question. Parents challenge said vaccine program defender. Vaccine program defender can't give a good answer with out a) having to recognize that critics are actual human beings that should be treated with a modicum of dignity b) being forced to actually enter into an earnest discussion with said critic c)having to make corrections on untenable statements.

Still not comments allowed on Seths blog, but I left another comment:

I see your "total assholes" comment as applying to parents who say, "Well, this is my decision."

But lets give you the benefit of the doubt and go with the idea that you ONLY meant that parents who want to make their own decisions, but don't recognize that their child may transmit illnesses.

Then two points:


I am a parent who has decided to make my own vaccine decisions for my children. Am I a "total asshole"?

I recognize that viruses exist and often talk about the fact that when my father was seven and his little brother was five, they and their father contracted Polio. My father had flu like symptoms at home, my uncle was hospitalized for several weeks, and my grandfather died. That death sent a shock wave through my family that is still felt. Which I why I think that we need a vaccine program.

But I absolutely believe the current vaccine program is corrupt to the bone and likely doing more harm than good. I have been documenting it for 7 years. So, am I one of those who is not "worth your time"?

I am having trouble telling if I fit into the category of person or non-person to you. Do I count?

Should the fact that you won't post my comments, while posting the comments of other critics of yours signal that I don't count?

Second point:

If you think that those who deny the disease risk group are "total assholes," then are not your comments the height of hypocracy?

As I mentioned... 10 v. 41 deaths.

We have TWO risk groups in play here. One that is at risk from dying or being injured by the disease, and one that is at risk from dying or being injured from the vaccine, right?

(My grandfather was in one, my vaccine injured son is in the other... two risk groups)

You classify people who want to protect the vaccine risk group at the expense of the disease risk group, "total assholes", while you vociferously advocate for the disease risk group with a 'to hell with the vaccine risk group' attitude. You seem perfectly fine with them being sacrificed for the disease risk group.

Does this make you a "total asshole"? Or not worth the time of readers or the public?

When it looks that FOUR TIMES the number of children are dying from the vaccine than are from the disease in the case you cite?

Update: I emailed Seth directly and he said that my comments are posted on his site now. Except for the comment about the networks. I can't get it to post and he thinks that it is a Word Press problem.


Debbie Voss said...

You just NEVER disappoint, Ginger!Brilliant!

Brent Michael Heeren said...

David Kirby just posted an article about autism & vaccines on Huff Post about 10 minutes ago :)

Amanti Howard said...

Brilliantly written, I am so glad I don't have to suffer the daily embarrassment of being in Seth Mnookin's shoes and I'm even more glad he's not MY father making decisions regarding my health so callously.

hoonew said...

Thank you for succinctly sizing up that punk, Mnookin. Glad you are on our side.

grantsmama said...

Has anyone asked this Bowman guy WHY cases are "not tracked on that basis"? Cause it seems a little "why the hell not?!" to me...

Ginger Taylor said...

That is the billion dollar question, is it not, GM?

Make sure you read my other post on what a BS statement that was that they put out. How they have gotten away with that.... well it is proof that the game is rigged.

grantsmama said...

Do you know if Kirby & Bowman exchanged more emails after that or if that was the end of it? I wonder if Kirby asked him more about that.
With Bowman's number there, I'm almost tempted to call him myself and ask him.

Ginger Taylor said...

I don't know that there was.

By all means... call Bowman and ask for an explanation. But as this one was likely drafted by a team of lawyers by the scent of it, I would be surprised if he offers you a quick explanation.

Minority said...

Your skit of the HHS meeting is hilarious. And it probably happened a lot like that. How else would someone as unqualified as Mnookin end up as vaccine spokesman?

Carrie Elsass said...

I agree with Minority- the imagined scene is brilliant. And thanks for fleshing this guy out a little more for us.

AutismNewsBeat said...

...who thinks that parents like me are "Total Assholes"

If you actually read what Mnookin said, it's clear he was talking about people who are dishonest in how they present vaccine data. If you are not dishonest in how you present vaccine data, then Seth wasn't referring to you.

Ginger Taylor said...


My post on Seth's "Total Asshole" comments are here:

I posted the video of his entire comment.

The entire context given in the video contains the text that Mnookin posted on his site today. What is not posted is the Ashland interview.

The context for his comment was parents who say, "Well, this is my decision". That's me. This is my decision.

And Ken, if he ONLY meant that parents who want to make their own decisions, but don't recognize that their child may transmit illnesses, then his comments are truly the height of hypocracy.

As I mentioned... 10 v. 41 deaths.

We have TWO risk groups in play here. One that is at risk from dying or being injured by the disease, and one that is at risk from dying or being injured from the vaccine, right?

Seth classifies people who want to protect the vaccine risk group at the expense of the disease risk group, "total assholes", while he is the KING (well... Offit is the King... Mnookin is more like jester) of not giving a tinkers damn about the vaccine risk group, and is perfectly fine with them being sacrificed for the disease risk group.

But that doesn't make him a "total asshole?"

When it looks that FOUR TIMES the number of children are dying from the vaccine than are from the disease?

Lenni Jabour said...

I just wanted to thank you for this post.

Reading the first few pages of "The Panic Virus", it occurred to me that the title could just as easily refer to Mnookin's POV as it could the opposite.

Me, I am one of the Total Assholes. My little one was born during H1N1 hysteria, and we decided to wait until she was two to do any kind of vaccs because everything seemed ridiculous. Meanwhile I have read as much as I can on the subject. And yes, I have even (gasp!) Googled. (Just had to add that as I think it's funny Mnookin holds McCarthy in such contempt for her Google research, despite his own lack of credentials. Plus I think he would have given up his first-born to get to be on Oprah.)

Anyway, thank you again for your blog. Your breakdown of the HHS roundtable is amazing; I don't usually get to laugh out loud while reading up on the great vaccine debate.

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