Is Sharyl Attkisson feeling the heat over her irresponsible reporting of the Alex Spourdalakis case?

Yesterday, I did a bit of navel gazing about how cranks, quacks, and antivaccinationists have a penchant for attacking skeptics at work in order to try to intimidate them into silence. Reading the post over again, I realize that it came across perhaps more whiny than it should have, but I guess I was just in that sort of mood when I wrote it. One thing that I didn’t discuss, though, is how attacks like this have traditionally been a very reliable indication that that I’m on the right track with respect to the quackery being called out. When I write my usual, run-of-the-mill posts about quackery versus science-based medicine (which are nearly all, BTW, quite awesome), one of them might annoy someone enough to write a blog response. However, it is much less common for a post to rise to the level that a crank becomes agitated enough at me to go to the trouble of trying to make trouble for me at work. So when someone does go to that trouble, I know I’ve scored a torpedo hit below the water line, particularly when such attacks are closely coupled with a post like this by Dan Olmsted over at the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism where he is managing editor. Seeing that, I thought it was enough to tack a paragraph linking to the post as further evidence that I was right on target with my post about the brutal murder of autistic teen Alex Spourdalakis by his mother and how antivaccine CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson lied by omission to hide the involvement of Andrew Wakefield in the 18 minutes of video that was sampled for her report, as well as the involvement of other antivaccine biomeddlers in the “medical” care of Alex over the months before his murder.

Thinking about it last night, I changed my mind. Mr. Olmsted deserves a bit of Insolence of his own. I hate to have a whole week dominated by a single topic on this blog, but if there’s a topic that deserves to dominate for a week, surely it is the exploitation by Sharyl Attkisson, Andrew Wakefield, and autism “biomed” apologists of the murder of Alex Spourdalakis by his mother Dorothy Spourdalakis and his caregiver Jolanta Agata Skordzka. Most of all, it’s a topic about which I might actually be able to do some tangible good by writing about it again. Indeed, as I mentioned before, the fact that Olmsted has lit up the Crank Signal to call in the AoA Flying Monkey Squad to bombard CBS News with praise of Sharyl Attkisson is a very telling indication to me that the “brain trust” at AoA is worried. Maybe Sharyl Attkisson is worried, too. After all, she was once strongly suspected to the point and, from my perspective, basically almost busted red-handed feeding information from CBS News to someone at AoA a few years ago.

There’s also a petition out there, which you should definitely consider signing castigating CBS News for its journalistic failure and demanding that the video be removed from the CBS News website. Dan Olmsted’s sending up of the AoA monkey signal makes me wonder whether all the blogging about the Spourdalakis case in the wake of Attkisson’s report and the petition are causing real turmoil at CBS News, whether Attkisson is taking some real heat over her biased reporting. Indeed, I wonder whether Attkisson dropped a line (or e-mail or text message) to her buds at AoA to let them know that she’s taking enough real heat over her irresponsible reporting on the issue that she could use some tactical air support. After all, the involvement of Wakefield in the Autism Media Channel wasn’t exactly difficult to find. That CBS producers apparently didn’t dig up that little fact bespeaks a truly epic fail of basic journalistic fact checking. When it’s a story about autism and/or vaccines, we expect such epic fails from Attkisson, who is blinded by her antivaccine bias. However, We expect better of CBS News. We didn’t get it.

So what we see in response is Olmsted pleading:

CBS feedback line 212-975-3247 to support Sharyl. Click CBS Feedback HERE to send message. Tweet @cbsnews and @cbsthismorning.

The death of Alex Spourdalakis is really freaking out the pharma-phunded shills, vaccine injury apologists and self-appointed advocates for themselves, who have mounted what seems like a coordinated effort to discredit Sharyl Attkisson’s strong reporting on the tragedy.

What to do? Let CBS know they shouldn’t listen to a half a dozen hacks who turn up like worms after a thunderstorm to try to deflect attention from the real issue — the lack of proper medical care for children suffering — yes, suffering — from autism. That suffering surely includes, in many cases as in Alex’s, the kind of acute GI damage that Sharyl’s report showed last Friday.

You don’t hear any of the shills worrying about that. Rather, they trot out the usual key words — quack, crank, discredited, etc. — to shut down conversation.

Funny, but I don’t hear any of the autism biomed cranks and antivaccinationists troubling themselves overmuch about the murder of Alex Spourdalakis except as an excuse to attack conventional medicine for not being sufficiently accepting of autism biomed and blaming the system, rather than the murderers, for the death of Alex Spourdalakis. Oh, sure, as either a disclaimer or afterthought, they will say that murder is never acceptable—but often in the same breath that they express sympathy for the mother, who is portrayed as a saintly woman completely devoted to Alex but having no help, being at wit’s end, and driven to the brink where she came to the conclusion that she and Alex would be better off dead. The result was that she and Skordzka planned Alex’s murder for a week. They then tried to poison him. When that failed they apparently tried to slash his wrist. When that failed, they stabbed him in the heart with a kitchen knife.

I do find it rather amusing how Olmsted describes us, though. When he turns up the rhetoric and insults, he’s clearly worried. He’s also destroyed my irony meter in accusing us of trotting out words like “crank,” “quack,” and the like to shut down conversation right after he has just referred to his critics as “pharma-phunded shills,” “vaccine injury apologists,” and “self-appointed advocates for themselves.” If those aren’t ad hominem attacks designed to demonize one’s opponents rather than responding substantively to their arguments, I don’t know what what is. Olmsted definitely owes me a new irony meter. (I’ll just add it to his tab for past blown irony meters.) As for my accusation (and the accusation of others) that the AoA contingent empathize far more with the murderous Dorothy Spourdalakis than they do with the murder victim Alex Spourdalakis, just look at a sampling of quotes from the comments, one of which is so egregious that it bears repeating, specifically the comment by Sheila Tzorfas:

WHO really killed Alex? …
The Doctors WHO shot him with Aluminum, thimerosal (Mercury) embalming fluid, fetal cells, rats brains, parts of cows, pigs, caterpillars, ether and more in the name of health. The SCHOOL system that did not send viable home services or place him a nurturing, caring environment, the Medical Staff that did not DETOXIFY him; the Spiritual Community too buy to help, the ER doctors whose training in Autism was close to nonexistent, the Neighbors who hid their eyes, the Insurance Companies that waged a battle, the MEDIA, that hides the increase of illnesses from the viewers as 1 in every 6 children have been afflicted with Developmental Disabilities starting in 1991 when all newborn babies get a shot for a sexually transmitted disease that they CANNOT get,the Psychiatrists that did not give him relief, and the surrounding communities which include all…. Shell of,”Recovering Autism, ADHD, & Special Needs.”

As I pointed out before, notice that there’s no mention of the mother on the list of “who really killed Alex.” Apparently she isn’t the one who “really” killed him. Everyone else involved in the case “really killed Alex” but his mother, if we’re to believe Tzorfas!

Then there’s John Stone:

It’s very speculative. What is not speculative is the very extreme circumstances they found themselves in, very low psychological condition, exhaustion, abandonment, destitution. I don’t know that anybody has said what they should have done next? Obviously not that, but then what? No one was going to help Alex’s pain. Bureaucratically it didn’t exist.

So kill Alex and put him and his mother out of their misery. That’s the real message here. Then there’s John Stone again:

I don’t know to what extent the concept of “diminished responsibility” is relevant to legal process in Illinois. There are potentially levels of mental exhaustion, sleep deprivation and physical abuse, not to mention the blind terror of not knowing how you are going to cope in one or two days time (let alone a week or a month) which by any ordinary reckoning might push these ladies well outside the category of first degree murder.

First degree murder seems to me to be the state washing its hands of its own culpability in these awful events. Some people might think that there should be no such distinctions but in a dispensation where there is it seems surprising (not to say vindictive) that they should not have been operative here.

So, to Stone, the state prosecuting the mother and caregiver for murder is “washing its hands of its own culpability,” because, you know, autism and the medical system drove the mother to kill her son. It’s not her fault!

Then there’s Jenny:

Why would anyone think the criminal justice system is any more fair at handling this type of situation than the allopathic medical system? It that naivite or narrowmindedness or what, exactly? They are run by the same folks. To portray these caretakers in the same light as regular killers underserving of pity is to reinforce the false political paradigm that allows both situations to continue to exist. It’s like judging slaves, saying slaves were responsible for their own slavery and any of them them that committed suicide or killed their children to prevent them from living through the hell they lived through themselves was unforgivable, instead of placing the blame where it really belongs, the people placing the stressors on another human being and driving them out of their minds. These women are victims of their captors, the same as people with stockholm syndrome, but probably even worse.

So Dorothy Spourdalakis and her son were slaves to autism, and it was actually not her fault hat she decided to murder her own son. Rather, to Jenny, the “system” was to blame. This would be hilarious if the situation weren’t so tragic, particularly in light of reports that I described before that Spourdalakis was offered help from multiple sources and turned it down. It’s also jarring given that Andrew Wakefield swooped in to try to raise money and ended up doing nothing of value for Alex. Meanwhile, after Alex’s death, Polly Tommey and Wakefield, through their Autism Media Channel, are shamelessly trying to sell the 18 minute documentary they made about Alex, footage from which was used by Sharyl Attkisson in her report. The vultures are circling, then swooping down to feast on Alex’s cold flesh. Attkisson is just the biggest, fattest vulture out there right now. Maybe she and Wakefield are fighting over the scraps.

Not to Kim Stagliano, though:

We’re seeing the full assault on low verbal, behavior-intense boys, girls, teens, young adults with autism right now in the Alex Spourdalakis story that ran on CBS week. We couldn’t get the attention of a single media outlet while he was in the hospital. Now, after his gruesome murder, the PR machine has slipped into gear and roared out of the gate to make sure that somehow, anyhow, the non-genetics segment of the autism populations would be tinged, no make that engulfed from head to toe, in guilt. Especially anyone associated with gut injury, and you know who that means, dear AofA reader.

So, apparently to Stagliano, the outrage over the murder of Alex Spourdalakis is a “full assault” on low functioning autistic children and their parents. As for “making sure” that Wakefield and autism biomeddlers are named, well, they were involved. We know this for certain now, thanks (unwittingly) to Sharyl Attkisson, who showed us that one of the chief biomeddlers, Dr. Arthur Krigsman, examined, apparently scoped, and treated Alex. This makes the question of whether the reason the mother isolated herself and Alex was because she viewed the help offered to her by conventional medicine and state authorities to be the “wrong kind” of health all the more plausible. She wanted autism biomed. Conventional medicine and the state recognize most of those interventions for the quackery they are and therefore won’t provide them.

Whatever the true case (which will, I hope, come out during the trial), Olmsted issues a challenge:

Maybe these geniuses could show us what a healthy gut looks like and we can compare it to Alex’s.

I note that much is made of my having made references to The Dog Whisperer and What Not To Wear in discussing the Autism Media Channel’s plans for a reality show about autism. I knew that reference would offend the AoA contingent. That was entirely intentional, as a means of demonstrating that Wakefield’s promo for The Autism Team reality show really does hew very closely to reality show formulas. I’m not the only one who noted this. Matt Carey did too.

Olmsted and the AoA “brain trust” also make much of the endoscopic images. This truly amuses me, because, even though at the time I didn’t say much about them. I now correct that mistake. I have to point out here that I’m not a gastroenterologist or a surgical endoscopist, but I have done upper endoscopies. Actually, I did quite a few of them as a resident. During my residency, I also did clinical rotations on the service of one of the leading surgical endoscopists in the country. Unfortunately, that was over 17 years ago; so my experience is old. I do, however, have far more relevant experience than anyone commenting at AoA, which is why certain comments over at AoA amuse me to no end. (I’d love for a real pediatric gastroenterologist to comment, though.)

As for the images of Alex’s esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD) compared to normal mucosa, well, Mr. Olmsted, how about this Gastrolab archive of high quality images from endoscopy or images from the El Salvador Atlas of Gastrointestinal Video Endoscopy, which contains a bunch of videos of endoscopic findings? The more I looked at the images from Alex’s endoscopy (which were flashed on the screen so fast that I really couldn’t get a good look at them and which are not the greatest resolution when I freeze the frame), the less sure I am that there was actually anything abnormal there. For one thing the images shown were taken with the lens of the endoscope oddly close to the gastric mucosa, and the two white patches now look to me like normal reflection of the light of the endoscope off of the mucosa. There doesn’t appear to be any obvious inflammation, but it’s really impossible to tell without a wider view of the whole stomach. In fact, on that brief picture, the “lesions” look more or less like veins to me. Certainly, those “ulcers” didn’t look like ulcers I’ve seen. Take a look at ulcers over at the Gastrolab site and you’ll see that they are much more obviously holes in the mucosa than anything seen in the brief image shown in Attkisson’s report.

My honesty about my uncertainty over whether the section of Alex’s stomach shown represents any actual pathology or not (I accept that it might) notwithstanding, I doubt that such minimal changes could account for such severe abdominal pain. Also, I do notice one thing no one is showing us, though. Just looking at the gastric mucosa isn’t enough. First off, a wider view is necessary to judge how much of the stomach is involved, if it’s even involved with any pathology. Second, notice how no one is showing or talking about the colon, which leads me to believe there isn’t even a hint of a wisp of pathology there; otherwise, the AoA crowd would be talking about it, and Krigsman would be showing pictures of it. More importantly, though, notice how neither Attkisson, Krigsman, Olmsted, Wakefield, or any of the antivaccinationists and autism biomeddlers claiming that Alex had such horrific GI issues is showing what really matters: A pathology report of gastric mucosal biopsies showing ulcers, inflammation, or any other pathology. Why is this, I wonder? I have to conclude that, most likely, it’s because they don’t have it. Either Dr. Krigsman didn’t take any gastric biopsies, which would be really bizarre and not consistent with his prior practice as far as I can tell, or the biopsies that he did take showed no abnormalities that Wakefield or the antivaccinationist leeches hanging on to the Alex Spourdalakis case could exploit.

Olmsted finishes with a flourish of such utter black hole grade cluelessness that no clue can escape its event horizon:

Hey Ari, this comment you made to Sharyl is the definition of a straw-man argument: “I think an ideology, a dangerous ideology that preaches that people are better off dead than disabled is what led to Alex Spourdalakis’ murder.”

What ideology, preached by whom?

Seriously? Doesn’t Olmsted even read his own commenters, some of whom I quoted above? Such ignorance is either epic cluelessness or willful ignorance. Take your pick.

Regular readers might reasonably wonder why this whole story matters enough to rate three long posts, look no further than a story hot off the presses in my neck of the woods:

A teenager recently dismissed from an intensive autism treatment program in Kalamazoo County remains unconscious in a Grand Rapids hospital Thursday morning, suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning authorities say was part of a failed murder/suicide attempt by her mother.

The 45-year-old Benzie County mother is hospitalized, too, and has been arrested and a warrant authorized charging her with attempted murder; she is under protective custody, according to a news release by the Michigan State Police in Cadillac.

Friends have identified the mother as Kelli Stapleton, who has written of her experiences with her 14-year-old daughter, Issy, in a blog, “The Status Woe.”

The family was featured in an Associated Press story in March that told of Issy’s acute autism, episodes of violence, and the family’s struggle to fund a full eight-month treatment program in Kalamazoo County.

It’s disturbing reading in retrospect, particularly Kelli Stapleton’s last post on her blog, entitled When a power player takes you down, which is a mixture of exultation over Issy’s having finished her intensive autism treatment program and despair over the local school refusing to accept Issy at the last minute before school started, apparently after having agreed to take her. This appears to have been Kelli Stapleton’s final straw.

This case has gained national attention, and the sorts of arguments being made are almost exactly the same as those being made by the Age of Autism contingent about the Alex Spourdalakis case. Just look at the Facebook page Support and Prayers For Kelli and Issy and the Stapleton Family, which is prefaced with the statement, “Please pray and support Kelli, Issy and their Family. Sometimes we are given more than we can handle. Walk a mile in our shoes and save your judgment. We are here for the Stapleton Family no matter what.”

One wonders how long it will be before the same group latching on to the case of Alex Spourdalakis latches even more tightly onto the Stapletons. We’re already seeing the same excuses for attempted murder, minus the autism biomed angle. Becoming “advocates” for the Stapletons would be a good way for the antivaccine movement to try to distract attention from the autism biomed angle on the Alex Spourdalakis case and promote the same message, but without the Andrew Wakefield baggage. I also can’t help but wonder whether irresponsible reporting like that of Sharyl Attkisson had any any influence on the Stapletons, and whether we can expect to see any more cases like this. I hope not; I really don’t want to have to write about this case again for a while (perhaps until the trial begins). However, I fear that we might.