Green Island Letters

The bizarre and scary measles witch hunt of 2015 Part III
- response from Current producer Jennifer Moroz to original complaint

Date: 19/03/2015 5:12 PM

Dear Mr. Patterson,

I am writing in response to your email of February 13 addressed to Esther Enkin, CBC Ombudsman, regarding The Current's February 9 discussion with two parents about vaccinating against measles. I apologize for the delay in doing so. It has been an unusually busy period, which coincided with my being away from the office for more than a week.

You wrote to complain specifically about our host, Anna Maria Tremonti's interview and interaction with Darlene Tindall, a mother who has chosen not to vaccinate her children. You called it a "brutal attack on a more-or-less innocent young Canadian woman very obviously invited onto the show under false pretenses for the bully to beat up in public, evidently for daring to disagree with the CBC's opinion."

You further wrote that we intentionally sought out "a weak opponent to humiliate." Had we really intended a "fair exchange of ideas," you wrote, "there are many learned and able defenders of the quite-mislabeled 'anti-vax' movement who would have been far, far more able to defend themselves."

You accused the show of "assuming the role of propagandist," saying you were "not writing to make any arguments for one side of this discussion or the other ... but to complain about the way this 'discussion' was obviously planned to have a specific outcome, a 'win' for the CBC side."

While I regret you are disappointed in CBC, I must tell you - and I do so with respect - that your view here is one with which I strongly disagree. You raise several points, which I will address in turn. But first, allow me to provide some context.

We mounted the segment that morning against the backdrop of a series of measles outbreaks in North America. Last spring, British Columbia was dealing with hundreds of cases of the highly contagious viral disease, which represents one of the leading causes of child deaths worldwide. At the time we aired our segment, there were six confirmed cases of measles in Toronto, and another nine suspected cases in Quebec, a number which has now reached 136 confirmed cases. Meanwhile, in the United States, the number of confirmed cases stood at more than one hundred. As new cases popped up, public discourse around the issue was mounting - and tensions rising between parents who keep their children up-to-date on their measles shots or whose children cannot be vaccinated due to medical reasons, and those who choose not to vaccinate their children. We wanted to have a conversation with parents from each camp to hear, first-hand, and better understand their stances and feelings on what has become a very emotional, fear-infused issue for many.

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, and protects not only the individual from contracting measles, but prevents its spread through so-called "herd immunity." You suggest that by relying on the established science, we were "assuming the role of propagandist." I disagree - and again, do so with respect. As journalists, we rely on facts. And the facts show that while there are some very remote serious adverse effects to the MMR vaccine, the chances of dying from measles are far greater. To suggest otherwise would be journalistically irresponsible -- as would allowing a guest to put forward inaccuracies or unsubstantiated extrapolations, unchallenged. So Ms Tremonti did challenge some of the statements put forward by Ms Tindall - not because, as you assert, we wanted a "win for the CBC side" but because we wanted to make sure our audience wasn't mislead or misinformed. Listening back to the conversation, I think that intent is clear.

We started the segment by setting up the stakes -- the impact of contracting measles. We first aired a clip of Pascal Tarakdjian, a school teacher from Drummondville, Quebec, who got the vaccine in the 1970s, but didn't get his booster shot -- and contracted measles in 2011 during an outbreak in his community. Then we heard a clip of Ruth Bahri, whose brother-in-law caught measles as a toddler, and seemingly recovered. But doctors later determined he had developed a rare neurological complication from measles, called subacute sclerosing penencephalitis -- or SSPE. He died from that complication..

Ms Tremonti then introduced Mallory Olsheski, whose 3-year-old son, Riley, had a heart transplant at five months of age and is now on immuno-suppressing drugs that medically preclude him from taking the measles vaccine. Ms Olsheski said it was "terrifying for our family because we have to rely on people who are vaccinating to keep him safe... And when people are choosing not to vaccinate, it's opening the door for him to become infected." Asked how she felt when she hears about parents who choose not to vaccinate their children, Ms Olsheski said she gets "very frustrated." "Measles is no joke," she said. "It's not a little fever and a little cough ... it's horrible..... And why you would intentionally choose to expose your child to that ... it blows my mind."

Ms Tremonti then introduced into the conversation Ms Tindall, who has chosen not to vaccinate her two children, aged 10 and 12. When asked why she made that decision, Ms Tindall responded that "like any other mother, I've done my research as well and I've just made the best decisions I can based on what I've researched and talking with other parents and the experiences they've had. And I don't see measles as a serious threat to my children. I also don't see the measles vaccine as a valuable contribution to their health, either."

When Ms Tremonti asked Ms Tindall to expound on the research she had done to come to her decision, Ms Tindall responded "reading, watching videos, talking with people who have first-hand experience with children who have had complications due to vaccines, including death." Ms Tremonti then said "we're talking anecdotal research, then?" Ms Tindall responded: "Correct."

When Ms Tremonti asked Ms Tindall whether she was concerned about her children contracting measles, Ms Tindall said "I know it's a possibility. It doesn't concern me." Asked about her reaction to Ms Olsheski's situation, Ms Tindall responded: "You can't help but have your heart go out to any parent whose child is suffering. All we want is happy, healthy children. And as a person who works in energy medicine, my goal is to help people... So I wish her and her family just the best of luck and the quickest healing possible."

Asked whether she was concerned about the impacts of not vaccinating, Ms Tindall suggested she was more concerned after hearing stories of things going wrong, post-vaccine. Ms Tremonti then asked "how do you know those stories are statistically accurate and statistically realistic?" Ms Tindall said adverse effects of the measles vaccine are "very underreported,"adding "you can't go to your public health office, your health unit in town and find out what complications there have been. There's just a real lack of transparency and a lack of reporting. But when you talk to parents and hear the stories of their brain dead vegetative child immediately following their vaccine, it really makes you wonder."

Ms Tremonti corrected her, saying adverse effects are reported by public health agencies (See here and here) and are readily available to the public.. Ms Tremonti then quoted statistics from the Centers for Disease Control in the United States, saying the chance of contracting a severe neurological disorder from the vaccine were one in a million - while the chance of dying from measles is much higher, at 2 in 1,000.

Ms Tindall replied that "there are risks on both sides and a person's got to choose which side they want to be on." When Ms Tremonti prodded at that reasoning, asking why Ms Tindall doesn't trust the scientific consensus, Ms Tindall said "there has been so much bullying from people who are pro-vaccine and it puts a lot of concern to why that's happening, why we're not being presented with facts at the doctor's office." Ms Tremonti responded: "But you are being presented with the facts. Why is it bullying when somebody tells you the truth?" Ms Tindall replied: "I don't take it as the truth." Ms Tindall went on to say she didn't trust the scientific community, and questioned whether the research was being funded by pharmaceutical companies with a financial interest in vaccines.

Ms Tremonti then invited Mallory Olsheski back into the conversation to respond to some of Ms Tindall's comments, and vice versa. Ms Olsheski thanked Ms Tindall for wishing her family well, but said "it frustrates me when they say that we're bullying because we're not bullying. I find both sides have nice interactions both and forth for the most part. I personally have been attacked for coming out pro-vaccination, saying that natural selection should have taken care of my son and he shouldn't even be here, so why are we worrying about protecting him? Things like that. So when you talk about bullying, that's what I've had to deal with so I guess it goes both ways."

In the course of the ensuing conversation, Ms Tindall said "vaccines aren't 100%" and that measles could be spread by children who have been vaccinated. Ms Tremonti clarified that the chance of that happening is "extremely rare" as the effectiveness of the vaccine is extremely high. Ms Tindall responded that that was not what she had read, to which Ms Tremonti said: "you've admitted to me that what you're reading is not necessarily scientific. Doesn't it worry you a little bit that you might be reading stuff that just doesn't have any truth to it, that doesn't scientifically hold up?" Ms Tindall responded: "No."

Asked about the possibility of her children contracting measles, Ms Tindall responded "I feel like I would be equipped to help them boost their immune systems and deal with it with less discomfort." Ms Tremonti then asked "if your children got really sick with measles, would you expect the health care system to help you?" Ms Tindall responded "Well, I suppose I would, yes, but it wouldn't be my first course of action."

Asked by Ms Tremonti what she would like to say to Ms Tindall, Ms Olshesk said: "I try very hard to hear your side. I'm empathetic with your situation. I believe you love your children. We all love our children. ... But the problem that we're facing here is that you're not concerned for the risks for your children. You should be. The risks are high and you're not looking at a cough and a sneeze. You're looking at extreme risk including death. And not only that โ€ฆ but you're putting your children and ours -- not just mine, but immunosuppressed children with cancer, on chemotherapy, people like that that have absolutely no protection that are counting on you. And you're telling us that you have no science to back you up. You're telling us you've heard stories from other people. Well, I'm telling you my story and mine is scientific the doctors back me up, the science backs me up. So we're counting on you to make the right decision. And it's disappointing that you're not."

Asked what she had to say to that, Ms Tindall responded: "I guarantee you I will go back and will look at the science. And I really do take into consideration families like Mallory's. You know that really is important. Our community is important. Caring for our kids together is important. And I don't disagree at all. I don't expect to agree or feel the same way on things."

Asked by Ms Tremonti whether she would vaccinate her children if her community needed her to help protect other susceptible children, Ms Tindall responded: "I would definitely consider it. I'm not against that. I'm not against listening and reading and having a conversation and I think that's really important. When we have a conversations like this, it's very difficult for a person who has made a decision when everybody else you talk to has made the other decision and you're automatically considered wrong."

Ms Tremonti responded: "Well, it's not that you're automatically considered wrong. It's again that you're quoting things that are inaccurate... You're entitled to opinions, but you're not entitled to facts."

In your complaint, you wrote that the two anecdotes we aired in the introduction of the segment, illustrating some the effects of contracting measles, were accepted as "evidence" of the ills of not vaccinating - while the anecdotes Ms Tindall had heard, raising her fears about vaccinating, were "dismissed." You suggested this constituted an unfair, and unbalanced approach. I disagree. The personal stories we aired in the introduction - illustrating the potential impacts of contracting measles - were both documented and verified by us. In the first case, Mr. Tarakdjian, the school teacher from Quebec, described what it was like coming down with measles and the symptoms he suffered. In the second case, Ms Bahri described her brother-in-law contracting the illness as a toddler, recovering, but then later developing a rare - and fatal - brain disorder caused by measles called subacute sclerosing penencephalitis. In both cases, there was a documented cause and effect. Whereas, there was no established causal link between the measles vaccine and the stories of "brain-dead vegetative" children put forward by Ms Tindall. Hence Ms Tremonti's questioning of those stories, and their scientific validity.

I disagree with your characterization that Ms. Tremonti was a "bully" and "attacked" Ms Tindall. Did she ask Ms Tindall some pointed questions? Yes, but they were not unreasonable questions. Parents who do not vaccinate their children against measles risk not only their children contracting the illness -- but spreading it to others who are susceptible as well. And that has much of the public trying to understand where they are coming from. Ms Tremonti was trying to do just that -- to understand Ms Tindall's reasoning and explore her emotions. In the course of the conversation, Ms Tindall brought up information that was inaccurate or misleading, and Ms Tremonti corrected and clarified where needed -- as any good journalist should do. Our job certainly entails giving voice to different perspectives on an issue, as we did here, but that does not mean allowing on-air guests to freely broadcast misinformation to the public, unchallenged or uncorrected.

I take great exception to your suggestion that we "cherry picked" Ms Tindall - whom you deem a "weak opponent" - for what you wrote was a "preplanned assault" in the place of a "fair debate." That is ridiculous - and assumes, once again, that this segment was meant as a debate on the science behind the measles vaccine. This was not a debate, but an exploration of two parents' views and feelings. In Ms Tindall's case, it became clear throughout the conversation that she is a mother trying to protect her children.. And based on the information to which she has been exposed, she is worried about the risks of vaccinating her children -- and distrustful of the science that says the chances of dying from measles are infinitely greater than the chances of a serious adverse effect from inoculating against it..

Thank you again for your email, and again, my sincere apologies for the delay in responding. Nevertheless, I hope my reply has reassured you of the continuing integrity of our program and CBC News.

It is also my responsibility to tell you that if you are not satisfied with this response, you may wish to submit the matter for review by the CBC Ombudsman. The Office of the Ombudsman, an independent and impartial body reporting directly to the President, is responsible for evaluating program compliance with the CBC's journalistic policies. The Ombudsman may be reached by mail at Box 500, Terminal A, Toronto, Ontario M5W 1E6, or by fax at (416) 205-2825, or by e-mail at

Sincerely, Jennifer Moroz
Executive Producer
The Current
CBC Radio One

Tel: 1-416-205-5985 BB: 1-647-239-2671

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

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