Green Island Letters



The bizarre and scary measles witch hunt of 2015 Part IV
- my response to Jennifer Moroz

Date: 30/03/2015

Mar 30 2015

RE: complaint to CBC Ombud re Current episode on measles vaccinations

Dear Ms Moroz,
Thank you for your lengthy email in response to my complaint to the CBC ombudsman, you obviously spent some time on it and I do appreciate that, but I am afraid I don't really find it in any way an adequate response to my complaint, and although I probably normally wouldn't carry this any further, there are a number of things you say in the response that are not accurate, and in at least one significant way you misrepresent what I say, and the situation we are disagreeing about, and I don't really want to let these comments stand without response as if I accepted your presentation of these things.

Some context of my complaint so it is clear what I referring to in terms of the actions of Ms Tremonti in this situation, and this response:

Your CBC 'journalistic standards' page says, in part:

  • Our mission is to inform, to reveal, to contribute to the understanding of issues of public interest and to encourage citizens to participate in our free and democratic society.
  • We are aware of the impact of our journalism and are honest with our audiences.
  • Accuracy: We seek out the truth in all matters of public interest. We invest our time and our skills to learn, understand and clearly explain the facts to our audience.
  • Fairness: In our information gathering and reporting, we treat individuals and organizations with openness and respect. We are mindful of their rights. We treat them even-handedly.
  • Impartiality: We provide professional judgment based on facts and expertise. We do not promote any particular point of view on matters of public debate.

- parts at least if not all of these statements were seriously if not egregiously breached by Ms Tremonti during the Tindall interview I first wrote about, which overall, when considered from the larger perspective, was pretty clearly both dishonest and unethical in the way it disregarded your own standards - very much, and very demonstrably, far more characteristic of propaganda than '..contribut(ing)e to the understanding of issues of public interest and to encourage citizens to participate in our free and democratic society.' and etc.

I will be asking the Ombudsman to review this again (not in any way a threat, I expect she will take your side, but just for the record), and thought it only fair I give some detailed response to your response to my complaint, to put it all in what I would regard as fair context.

And my apologies for the length, if you do decide to read this, I am sure you must be a very busy person and I don't do this just to waste your time. But simple 'I think this!' and 'But you're wrong!' and 'No I'm right!' and such statements are in no way useful in arriving at a clear picture of contentious issues such as this or why someone feels as they do, or explicating the various problems in your response, so it takes some time to even begin to explain the problems with your original show, and your defence to my complaint.

1. FRAMING IS NOT 'CONTEXT'
First: You begin your response by setting the 'context' of your interpretation of the segment, and thus your response - 'context', which to me was considerably 'minimal context'. As a senior CBC journalist, I am sure you well understand the difference between 'context' and 'framing' - 'context' is meant to fairly and as thoroughly as is required for clarity present the background of any situation that is about to be discussed, whilst 'framing' is carefully constructed to present only the sections of that background favorable to a certain position, and in a 'favorable' way in terms of leading language, etc, whilst hiding or 'spinning' things that might make that position seem weaker or worse, in an attempt to win or at least seriously prejudice any pending argument in a certain direction before it even gets under way by attempting to limit the 'discussion' to areas the framers feel certain will lead them to victory, and if possible simply exclude points of discussion that would weaken or even destroy their arguments. It's a tactic defence lawyers and others use to try to win arguments, but should very much *not* be a tactic of the CBC, with '.. .a mission .. to inform, to reveal, to contribute to the understanding of issues of public interest and to encourage citizens to participate in our free and democratic society...' 'framing' things is the very antithesis of 'informing' and 'revealing', and certainly puts big question marks around statements like '...We do not promote any particular point of view on matters of public debate....', 'we are honest with our audience' and '..treat them evenhandedly..'.

Your 'context' was very obviously, to anyone aware of the actual wider context of this controversy, just this kind of framing, presenting certain facts in something of a vacuum, to which you can point (and Ms Tremonti certainly did, often), saying 'These are facts, we support these facts, you either deny them or do not support them - therefore you have no logical acceptable argument, we win!' - and leaving other facts and ideas out that are really needed to fully inform the discussion, a wider collection of 'facts' which actually make your 'you're just wrong about this, science supports us, and therefore we win!!' approach to this controversy very much less conclusive than you want to present it as.

Let me add some things to your 'context' that any fair person interested in revealing pertinent facts to inform an open, fair discussion of this issue would have included, facts that put your position on much less secure footing than you seem to feel you are on.

Your intro 'context' begins with the message that measles is a '..highly contagious viral disease, which represents one of the leading causes of child deaths worldwide..' - which is nice framing for people who don't know much about this subject, and who don't read widely and don't question things they hear on the CBC much, if you're pushing the idea everyone in Canada needs to be vaccinated to prevent a highly contagious and deadly disease from running rampant in Canada and killing some unknown but very high number of our children. But a couple of important, maybe even 'game changing', things are missing here. First, yes, measles is highly contagious, no one argues that, and I doubt that anyone contests the fact it kills a lot of children worldwide - But. But a bit more 'context' would then also note that the measles is **not** highly dangerous in a modern country like Canada, and has not been for many many years. True 'designed to inform rather than spin/frame' context would note that virtually all of the deaths you mention occur in what are basically 3rd world countries, with poor health throughout, in which any disease is going to be more deadly, and it is really very inconclusive at best and certainly has nothing to do with 'science' to try to draw actionable conclusions about the impact of diseases in the modern Canadian situation from statistics from impoverished 3rd world countries. True context designed to inform rather than 'frame' the information to push someone in a certain direction would give us some actual pertinent numbers - would tell us how many cases of measles and measles deaths there have been not 'worldwide' which includes primarily deaths from countries very different in pertinent health-related ways from Canada, but cases in the part of the world we are mainly concerned with, the US and Canada, over the last decade or three (for context), and how many people have died, and related demographic information about those who died, to get a true sense of how deeply we need to be worried that some isolated cases are showing up the last few months in this ~350-million-population area. And more information would be even more informative and would be provided by anyone doing a serious contextual offering - who is it that dies, in Canada, when they get the measles? Previously healthy children? People who are immuno-compromised in some way, for example, or with a medical history of previous serious disease, or who are living (rather shamefully, in Canada - it would be nice to see the CBC a bit more interested in this kind of thing rather than fear-mongering) in the kind of poverty that makes them more susceptible to such diseases in the same way 3rd world children are? Any particular age group? Any particular income bracket? All easily available demographic data, most of which, with much more that could provide useful context to any true investigation or discussion, should be on the charts of those who actually had measles the last few decades, and esp those who died from it. And I could think of many other things that would be informative for any true discussion if I was actually preparing a 'true' background 'contextual' introduction to this controversy in preparation for an honest, open conversation among concerned people, some at least of who had some questions about such things and who wanted some more information. If you were actually having a 'conversation' between someone who believed the disease was serious and dangerous and thus everyone should happily line up and get vaccinated against it, and someone who had done a little more research than has been provided by the mainstream media and was not at all sure of any of these things, then all such information, and more, would be relevant - but of course if you are actually only pretending to have such a conversation, but actually planning an 'evisceration' of an 'anti-vaxxer' ( as one Ottawa Citizen columnist cheered you for doing http://ottawacitizen.com/opinion/columnists/how-to-talk-to-anti-vaxxers , and as I noted in the original complaint certainly seemed to be the plan) - why, a bit of careful framing such as you offer would be much more suitable - 'It's a dangerous disease! 150 thousand children died from it last year! The vaccine is safe! What's wrong with you that you don't want to get vaccinated?!? - not really that much 'context' there, I'm afraid, when considering what 'real context' would offer, but suitable framing for a witch hunt and hanging.

So a *true* contextual background such as suggested above (it would not need to be a long detailed background which you would not have time for, just more inclusive and less obviously supporting only one side of the controversy, at least noting the various things I mention and you do not), rather than a framing, would then naturally lead up to a question along the lines of -' Is the current appearance of a few measles cases in North America a dangerous threat to Canada about which widespread concern is justified, and a national vaccination program a prudent response?' rather than, as you and most others pushing this program do, trying to make the framed discussion as limited as possible to 'We know the measles is dangerous. The measles vaccine is safe, and since it is, why don't you want to get vaccinated, when so many people are at risk?!?' - as noted, a kind of 'duhh' debate, once you sneak in the scientifically unproven assumption that the measles is very dangerous in Canada because a lot of kids died in Africa, as there is really little argument about the safety of the vaccine, leading to the 'anti-science' etc mocking insults - and it is good framing for its purpose, although quite dishonest and really unethical in its attempt to deceive, and not the kind of thing the CBC should be engaging in, to try to limit the debate to this question, with your '..mission .. to serve the public interest, to inform, to reveal, to contribute to the understanding of issues of public interest and to encourage citizens to participate in our free and democratic society' . . and other things in your 'standards' declaration such as treating people with respect - there was a lot more concealing than revealing in your 'context' introduction)

{{{Again, I am sorry about the length, but as always it takes a lot more words to properly deconstruct superficially 'good sounding' information that has some serious problems than just to make the original assertions. But let me anticipate and respond to one of the common responses to the points made above, to preclude an 'Oh, but this ....!! - therefore end of your argument!' response: Oh, but wait, is the common objection to this question of how many people have died in Canada the last few decades - yes it is a low number, but we have had almost universal vaccination since the 1960s, so of course there have not been many deaths - the danger is that now many people are not vaccinated, so this terrible disease could run amok in the unvaccinated population, and cause some terrible number of deaths if the people not vaccinated don't get vaccinated now.

Sure, that makes sense ....

But but but -

Well, again, some very important context missing from this framing - actually, if the fears of those pushing the vaccination are justified, some very mysterious missing information. For if the measles really is that dangerous even in a modern country like Canada, and the vaccine so effective in preventing deaths - where is the obvious evidence proving this, that should be easily available in Canada, indeed it is quite remarkable it is not front and center in these discussions - which would be a chart of say the years 1900 to 2000, with a couple of simple lines tracing the numbers of measles cases, deaths, and serious sequelae by year during this time - and then with a line showing when the measles vaccine was introduced, and, assuming your insinuations are correct about the great toll measles could have if it got loose in Canada, and the great saving power of the vaccine, the dramatic drop off in all 3 stats following that line? Assuming there is the big drop in measles cases and deaths after the introduction of the vaccine, your case would be pretty much unassailable, and since very early on when I started adding my voice to the 'what the heck is the urgency here??' side of the discussion I have wondered why nobody is showing such a chart to pretty much prove the 'pro vaxxer' case beyond argument - it is a serious disease with significant mortality, and the vaccine has a dramatic impact on this death rate. Of course, if, as seems to be the actual case from what I can find on the net, measles deaths had dropped to almost nothing a decade *before* the introduction of the vaccine in Canada - then the opposite would happen, your exasperated demand that "all you stupid anti-vaxxer people get the vaccine or we're all in great danger!" would face some very serious questions (including why is the Cdn media en masse trying to raise such hysteria over a relatively non-dangerous disease - have you just not done your 'due diligence' as 'journalists' before spreading panic and division among Cdns, or do you have some other motive?), which you wouldn't really have any good answers for. Regardless, such a graph would be very obviously included in any true 'context of issue' story, and considering all the public health people pushing this 'get vaccinated!!!' story, and experienced media people and their research capability, the fact there is no such graph pretty much leads to only one conclusion - there is some massive selling job going on here, trying to turn a very low-level public health concern into a national panic, with no real evidence available of the actual 'urgency' of the situation here in Canada. (There are various graphs from the US, all showing that measles deaths had dropped to very small numbers well before the introduction of the vaccine, you could find easily using google if interested).)

{{{- and this same point applies to the oft-declared statistic you note further on that is oft quoted in these discussions that for every 1000 people who get measles, 1-2 will die. But given the way the people promoting this vaccination program misuse and spin the 'deaths' statistics in general, as noted above trying to get people in Canada worried because of the death rate in 3rd world countries, one who is actually thinking about things then finds some sense of skepticism about this '1-2 deaths per 1000 people' stat as well - is this again based on people with measles in 3rd world countries, where public health is much poorer, and general health, in which case the death rate for an essentially mild disease like measles would be expected to be much higher than in a population of healthy kids? Can anyone confirm the death rate for measles, in the modern US or Canada? Surely there must be some scientific studies about death rates in a modern country such as Canada going back over the years, as separate from death rates in 3rd world countries for this disease? I understand the problem with the claimed reduced death rates because of the vaccine, but my concern about this is as stated above, is the vaccine responsible for a serious reduction in the death rate, or just a relatively insignificant reduction in a rate already at low levels, and there must be something from Canada that could be used to establish some more actual contest than telling me a lot of people in 3rd world countries die from the measles - this would be 'context', of which there seems to be precious little *useful* in your letter - and as time goes on, and no such stats from Canada are ever produced, the skepticism about this whole thing only increases. }}}

Two final related things a good 'context'-ual introduction would note would be: First, that there has been a great deal of research on vaccines over the years, and while certainly most of it has supported the safety of these drugs, there is also a considerable body of legitimate research that documents problems with these and other drugs, and thus there is a very legitimate discussion to be had about the balance between the safety of the vaccine and the need for a widespread vaccination program if the disease is not really that dangerous to most people (and let us note with some emphasis here another piece of very illegitimate framing/spin on the part of the 'pro' vaxxers - everyone points at the infamous Wakefield study of 1998 claiming to link the MMR vaccine and autism as having been found to be a fraud, which is fine - but then they attempt to extrapolate and generally claim (without actually saying it) that 'the Wakefield study has been proven fraudulent - therefore there has never been any valid study questioning the measles vaccine!!!' - which is very much NOT ok - there are many other studies out there, many 'peer reviewed' and published in 'name' journals, linking vaccines to health problems, which are even fully acknowledged by the CDC and other health organisations - yes, not many problems and not many articles, but still 'real' science, and to be examined impartially but openly in any discussion about the necessity for everyone to get vaccinated (note again - not a discussion about the safety of the vaccine, we all admit it is generally safe and you need to stop trying to pretend this is 'the issue' of contention as it is not - but considering all things - is there a solid case to be made that the is disease dangerous enough to warrant a full citizen-wide vaccination program, or would it be sufficient to have a 'targeted' program for people most at risk? And it is very disturbing that places like the CBC are trying to prevent such a debate by a false presentation of the situation (aka 'propaganda'),

>> and Second: there is also a considerable body of legitimate research in recent years which asks some serious questions about modern medical research, in which large drug companies have been proven on numerous times to have conspired to have research unfavorable to a new drug not published; drug companies are also important advertisers in medical journals, which are thus in a conflict of interest position regarding publishing research unfavorable to their big advertisers, and even medical doctors, who receive various 'perks' from the large pharmaceutical companies. Thus a legitimate part of the 'context' of this debate is just how reliable is that science so many people put complete faith in - and to pretend such realities do not exist is something one would need to wonder about in someone calling themselves a 'journalist' truly looking out for the public as well.

2. DEBATE? CONVERSATION? PUBLIC SCOLDING? You go on to say - '...I should stress that this discussion was never meant as a "debate" -- and certainly not a debate on the science behind the safety of the MMR (Measles-Mumps-Rubella) vaccine. There is near unanimous consensus within the scientific/medical community, based on a wide body of research, that the vaccine is safe and effective...' - well, first, as noted above, I agree that the over-riding conversation of which this show was a part is not a 'debate' about the safety of the vaccine, and it has never been that to me, and many others. I accept the general safety and effectiveness of the vaccine, most people you accuse of being 'anti-vaxxer' accept that as well, although some certainly have questions about the necessity of risking it because it is not, of course, 100% effective or safe, I am sure you understand that also, even the CDC admits that, and there are legitimate questions as to whether the risk of getting vaccinated outweighs the risk of not getting vaccinated. But you say this was never meant to be a 'debate' - so what was it then? You don't make it clear, nor does the website, whether this was to be a conversation or what. But Ms Tremonti certainly seemed to have her 'debating' hat on, continually challenging Ms Tindall to 'prove' what she was saying with some kind of scientific reference and telling her her opinions were thus invalid if she had no such 'proof' ready to hand, or 'correcting' her by calling her wrong, informing her that 'science proves' this or that, contrary to what Ms Tindall was saying. Adding this to your statement that 'this was not meant to be a debate - the science is conclusive' - one wonders why then did you actually invite Ms Tindall onto your show, if there was to be no 'debate'? And the same one could easily form the opinion that what you, or Ms Tremonti, were doing was calling a stubborn child (in your view) who needed to be corrected into your studio for a public scolding or spanking (as noted elsewhere, the Ottawa Citizen columnist certainly had this opinion - http://ottawacitizen.com/opinion/columnists/how-to-talk-to-anti-vaxxers , and a number of your commenters on your following Thursday show where you check out past episodes from the week and comments were also quite pleased at the public spanking of Ms Tindall). This raises the question - was Ms Tindall clearly told that she would be facing a hostile, aggressive interview on the Current that day, and she better be prepared for that, as two gladiators entering the arena - or was she lured onto the show, a meek heretic thrown to the lions for the entertainment of the masses, by being told it was just a conversation among a couple of concerned citizens with different ideas about a current controversy moderated by the friendly and neutral Ms Tremonti, for which she did not need to prepare anything, as she obviously had not, as Ms Tremonti, experienced CBC interviewer with the full research capabilities and questioning capabilities of the Current behind her, prepared the tools of a 'take no prisoners' ambush? gotta say, it sure seemed the latter way. }}}

3. NOT PROPAGANDA?? SURE IT IS ....

In that same sentence, you seriously misrepresent what I say here, again a 'framing' trick, suitable for defence lawyers whose job is to spin things in a favorable light for their client, perhaps, but we are supposed to be talking honestly to one another here, aren't we, the CBC listener and the CBC producer? - 'I should stress that this discussion was never meant as a "debate" ..... >>>> you suggest that by relying on the established science, we were "assuming the role of propagandist."

- at no place, in no way, do I even remotely imply or actually '...suggest that by relying on the established science, we were "assuming the role of propagandist." - nor would I ever suggest such a thing. It's your framing again, a kind of 'straw dog' technique, which is used to set up a false argument you accuse your opponent of, which you can easily shoot down and then, ignoring more troublesome arguments that would be much more difficult to answer, proclaim you have somehow countered the opponent's position and thus 'win' the argument. Obviously 'relying on science' is not propaganda, and anyone suggesting such a thing would not be too bright and not need to be taken too seriously - so 'we win, everyone can go home now!'. But what I actually suggest is considerably different, and not all that complicated to understand, and very much more difficult to dismiss or deny, because it is simply true, and much more problematic for the 'pro-vax' position you push - you *do* assume the role of propagandist in this controversy, not because you 'rely on the science that says the measles vaccine is safe' - but because rather than actually arranging a neutral, open presentation of facts and arguments from both 'sides' of the controversy and truly letting your audience form their own opinions, about some quite debatable things other than the safety of the vaccine, you try to arrange the entire show to make sure the position promoted by the Current (measles is dangerous, vaccine is safe, what's wrong with you stupid anti-vaxxers?) 'wins' the 'debate' - which is exactly what propaganda is, telling whatever audience you are propagandizing that there is only one thing to believe, and anyone saying anything different is not to be believed, using various techniques to ensure your desired view gets promoted above any other view you are trying to bury - and even demonizing or mocking your opponents as someone too stupid to talk to, to bring a kind of mob together to follow your commands without thinking about anything. At every step of the way, Ms Tremonti either cut off Ms Tindall's attempts to offer ideas counter to what the Current was pushing (her attempt to explain that for most people the disease was not actually very dangerous) or interrupted her when she tried to talk about things counter to what Ms Tremonti was saying, laughing dismissively at least once, as being 'unscientific' - and on the other side, Ms Olsheshki was approached very sympathetically, even when bringing wild exaggerations about the disease into the conversation. Really, very blatant propaganda. Although she continually claimed 'science' supported her, she had no scientific evidence on the show at all, just quite blatant, and again very unbalanced, appeals to emotion with the sad stories - again a propaganda technique, simply appealing to fear rather than calmly discussing hard evidence - from both sides (Ms Tindall was quickly cut off when attempting to talk about her own stories of bad things happening following vaccinations - propaganda, one-sided assertion of some things, closing out things the propagandist does not want 'muddying the waters'.

- and here ends the letter, Ms Moroz, let me explain - I had quite a bit more in the original 'first drafts', responding to the various things in your letter (notably your claim to rely on 'facts' in a show very much exaggerating some 'facts', hiding others, spinning others, even apparently making others up, in support of one particular side of the controversy) - as you see above, it takes some considerably more time for me to respond to your various 'responses' to my original letter, for example your 'here is the context' bit, or 'we were not doing propaganda' than it does to make the simple assertion in the first place, and I was trying to go through you letter point by point, showing how I thought/think you are mistaken in your many assertions that are easy to assert but take more time to rebut - but at some point I realised I was going to have to also write a response to Ms Enkin the Ombudsman, and started that, and it grew and grew as things tend to do, and wound up taking most of my free time last week, and I really do have other things I need to be doing now, so I am just going to have to put this away for now - I have cc-ed you of course the letter to Ms Enkin, which covers most of the other things I say in this letter to you, and that is why this letter seems to end in the middle, if you were wondering.

I've tried to keep any 'animosity' out of the letter, I do believe in civil discourse, but you may have noted, I was quite upset at what I still believe was an unwarned and unwarranted and abusive attack on Ms Tindall in the original show, for very unacceptable reasons, pushing propaganda rather than offering the open and fair discussions the CBC should be doing, which is why I have responded to your response and asked the Ombudsman to make her own ruling on this case - I believe that if this is let stand, it is setting a very dangerous precedent in how your own 'standards' are to be interpreted, allowing the CBC to be going places it should not be going.

Dave Patterson



Dave's Challenge of the CBC Current's Evisceration of an Anti-Vaxxer


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