False balance in reporting the case of a local mother jailed for contempt of court for reneging on an agreement to vaccinate her child

I sometimes like to write about things happening in my neck of the woods that are relevant to the kinds of things I normally blog about every day. This habit of mine dates back at least to the days when investigative reporter Steve Wilson of our local ABC affiliate used to lay down fear mongering barrages of nonsense about mercury in vaccines that would have made Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. proud if he ever knew about them. Then there was a report on “orbs” seen in photographs where the reporter speculated whether they were actual spirits. Then there’s the periodic fascination with veterinary quackery that pops up on local newspapers and media from time to time, including reiki and acupuncture for Fido.

This time around, it’s about vaccines. It started a week ago, when I saw this headline on the website of one of our own local news stations, basically Wilson’s old stomping ground WXYZ, Metro Detroit mom could be thrown behind bars for not getting son vaccinated. Now there’s a clickbait title if ever I saw one, guaranteed to inflame antivaxers andeven a lot of people who aren’t antivaccine with the image of overweening state power throwing a mother in jail to force her to vaccinate. Hell, ad a couple of apocalyptic adjectives, and this could be a NaturalNews.com headline! Watching the video of the report and reading the text made me wonder if the malign influence of Steve Wilson’s antivaccine “reporting” is still hanging around the WXYZ newsroom, even nearly ten years after he left.

So here’s the story:

Basically, Rebecca Bredow and Jason Horne are divorced. Horne wants their children vaccinated. Bredow doesn’t. A week ago, the case was in court, and Bredow was ordered by the judge to vaccinate her children within a week or face jail. (Spoiler that will surprise no one. She didn’t vaccinate her children and yesterday was sent for jail for contempt of court. More on that in a moment.) Now, try not to grind your teeth as you read the first passage of the story:

If you have kids, their health, their safety is your top priority. However, what if doing what you think is best, could land you behind bars?

A Metro Detroit mother is facing jail time because of her beliefs when it comes to vaccinations and her kid.

“I would rather sit behind bars standing up for what I believe in, than giving in to something I strongly don’t believe in,” says Rebecca Bredow.

This isn’t putting the reporter’s finger on the scale (or producer’s or whoever’s responsible for this framing). It’s dropping a brick on the scale on the side of the mother. She’s basically painted as a martyr for her beliefs, and the portrayal continues throughout the entire story. In the video, there is even a voiceover during the interview, “Wow. Rebecca Bredow, what a position this parent has been put in.” Elsewhere, the reporter, Andreana Isom, intones, Some may label this metro Detroit mother as overprotective, stubborn, strong, or…all of the above.” Seriously? That voiceover was about as unprofessional as anything I’ve ever seen, on local or national media. As I watched, I felt a bilious gurgling in the back of my throat.

Then I saw this:

Rebecca tells 7 Action News that she and dad made the decision to space out and delay some their little ones vaccines.

“It wasn’t until they started grouping them together that I backed off of doing vaccines,” she says.

Rebecca hit the books, educated herself, she says, on the research, literature and studies. She concluded that waivers were the best way to go, the best for her baby boy. After all, the state of Michigan offers that option, explains Joel Dorfman.

“We’re fortunate in the state of Michigan that’s still permitted, still allow religious, personal and medical exemptions for parents who chose to delay, to skip a vaccine to make various choices,” says Doorman.

Rebecca and her ex-husband do not see eye-to-eye. Their conflict has become a court battle.

According to court documents. the child’s father wants their son vaccinated. Rebecca makes it clear where she stands on the issue.

A bloggers at the antivaccine blog Age of Autism or Thinking Moms’ Revolution couldn’t have portrayed Bredow more heroically themselves. Heck, just look at Ms. Isom at the end of the story, basically touting how brave Ms. Bredow is, about how she will fight going to jail, in order to be there for her children. Gag me with a spoon.

Come to think of it, I’m rather surprised that I haven’t seen anything on antivaccine websites about this case, although I expect that will change now that this story has made national news and even international news, with a report on the BBC, which tells a different tale:

Rebecca Bredow would not let her nine-year-old be immunised after initially agreeing with the father to do so.

Her ex-husband has now been awarded temporary primary custody in order to get the boy the jab.

Michigan parents are legally allowed to skip or delay their children’s vaccinations due to personal beliefs.

But Bredow fell foul of the law because she reneged on agreements with her former spouse dating back to November 2016 to have the boy immunised.

So now it becomes more clear. Horne and Bredow divorced in 2008 and shared parental custody, although Bredow was the primary caregiver. When they were married, apparently they were of the “Dr. Bob” Sears ilk of vaccine-averse, in which they wanted to “space out” the vaccinations. Reading between the lines, the father remained in that camp, but the mother became more and more antivaccine as the years went by and she did more of her “own research.”

Sadly, even the BBC report indulges in false balance of a sort I thought to have been mostly banished from reporting on vaccines and autism in recent years, quoting a woman to whom I refer as the grande dame of the antivaccine movement, Barbara Loe Fisher, founder of the Orwellian-named National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC). In the case of the WXYZ ABC report, the false balance comes in interviewing a representative of a local antivaccine group, Joel Dorfman, without identifying him as such:

Rebecca hit the books, educated herself, she says, on the research, literature and studies. She concluded that waivers were the best way to go, the best for her baby boy. After all, the state of Michigan offers that option, explains Joel Dorfman.

“We’re fortunate in the state of Michigan that’s still permitted, still allow religious, personal and medical exemptions for parents who chose to delay, to skip a vaccine to make various choices,” says Doorman.

Actually, Dorfman is (very) briefly identified in the video in a “blink and you’ll miss it” caption as being a representative of Michigan for Vaccine Choice, but not in the accompanying online article.

So, yesterday, having failed to vaccinate her child, Bredow appeared in court again, as described in this Detroit Free Press story, Ferndale mom jailed for refusing to vaccinate her 9-year-old son, where we also learn that Bredow lied about claiming a religious exemption:

The court initially ordered the immunization Nov. 16, 2016, but it still hasn’t happened. In between, Bredow cited religious objections.

But Horne’s attorney said in court pleadings that the religious objection was phony arguing that both Bredow and her current husband, Gary, “testified that they do not practice the tenets of any organized religion,” and calling a waiver document the couple filed with the child’s school “a convenient lie.”

Bredow said in court pleadings that her ex-husband has long known of her objection to vaccines and is only making an issue of it now because she’s been attempting to collect back child support.Last week, McDonald issued an ultimatum, to Bredow.

“You have seven days to get your child vaccinated,” McDonald told Bredow Sept. 27. “If not, you will appear here Wednesday and if you have not, I’ll send you to jail. Let me say it one more time, you have seven days. It’s ridiculous. Don’t make me do that.”

But when Bredow appeared in court today, the child still had not be vaccinated, and McDonald made good on her promise and ordered Bredow to jail.

First off, I don’t understand why Bredow would have lied about religious belief to claim a religious exemption, given that Michigan allows personal belief exemptions to school vaccine mandates. In any case, the story sounds complicated. It also sounds as though Bredow either lied to the judge when she promised to vaccinate or later reneged on a promise to vaccinate. Either way, judges do not take kindly to that; so it’s not surprising that Bredow is now spending a week in jail for contempt of court.

But what of Bredow’s claim that Horne is only pushing the vaccine issue now because she has been trying to collect back child support? Certainly divorce and custody battles are often complicated, and it’s rare that there aren’t…issues…on both sides. Who knows? What I do know is that the reporting of this case has been sensationalistic and full of the false balance that used to irritate the hell out of me back in the day, when seemingly any story on vaccines would inevitably have an antivaxer interviewed for “balance.” Unfortunately, the Free Press falls prey to this same trope:

Horne will have temporary custody of the child with an opportunity to get the boy vaccinated, a prospect that alarmed Joel Dorfman of Michigan for Vaccine Choice, a group that advocates for parents’ rights to refuse vaccines.

“If this child is injured as a result of being given eight immunizations, who do you think is going to take care of the child?” Dorfman told the Free Press. “The judge?”

I’ve discussed Michigan for Vaccine Choice before. It was one of the sponsors of a visit from Del Bigtree, producer of the antivaccine propaganda movie VAXXED, in which Bigtree got—shall we say?—a bit overwrought, basically calling for armed rebellion against the government for forcing children to be vaccinated. Basically, Michigan for Vaccine Choice is rabidly antivaccine. Unfortunately, local media have elevated its status to that of a legitimate advocacy group, treating it not as the crank group that it is but as a group whose views are as valid as those of scientists and physicians who cite the evidence that vaccines are safe and effective.

Meanwhile,. antivaxers are sliming Jason Horne with memes like this:

As an aside, I can’t help but mock the man, Joseph Sikora, for posting things like this:

Dude, it’s “laboratories,” not “labratories.”

And this is his profile pic:

You get the idea.

Basically, local antivaxers are attacking Horne in a most despicable manner by claiming that the reason he wants his child vaccinated is because, if that child dies, he won’t have to pay child support any more. Yes, they really are that depraved. Meanwhile, local antivaxers protested outside the court hearing.

It’s never a good thing when divorced parents fight over custody issues. The child always loses. In this case, the addition of antivaccine beliefs only makes it worse, as the child’s health care hangs in the balance. I suspect that this is only going to get uglier. I also predict that antivaccine groups will latch onto this case to portray vaccine mandates as fascistic assaults on American freedom. Cue Mike Adams. You know it’s coming. I’m only surprised it hasn’t happened yet. Maybe by the time this post goes live, it will have.