Cannavo Quigley Essay 2

According to recent studies, the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has risen significantly in the past two decades. Along with such a controversial, incurable, and mysterious disorder comes much speculation regarding the recent increase in diagnosable cases of ASD. From online blogs, to television news outlets, to government-released reports, our knowledge regarding the rise in autism is being managed to an exponential degree through language, tone, word choice, and information choices disclosed and excluded in such channels. In our previous essay, we discussed the tactics in which online blogs, medical journals, newspapers, and commercials utilize knowledge management to sway others opinions and perspectives concerning the latest statistics of ASD cases and, more importantly, the motivations for these decisions regarding the reputation and personal benefit of these outlets. Continuing our previous research, in this portion of our essay, we will discuss the means of knowledge management that television media and government agencies utilise under often times alterior motives.

Most Americans rely on mainstream television media outlets to stay informed of worldly matters. This phenomenon also holds true for the basis of opinions on issues concerning autism. Fox News and CNN, two of the most watched news stations in the nation, take full advantage of this benefit to conspicuously manipulate the knowledge of its viewers. In the midst of one of the most mysterious diseases known to man, the debate of the vaccine-autism link appears repeatedly as a hot topic of discussion in television media.

One of the most watched news channels in the country, FOX News, relies on Dr. Manny Alvarez to transmit a major portion of its health related news stories to the public. Alvarez, the chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Science at Hackensack University Medical Center, serves as the primary medical contributor and managing editor for FOX News Channel and appears most popularly on the channel’s daytime line-up. In regards to autism, the disorder lies as one which hits extremely close to home for Dr. Manny, who diagnosed his son with a mild form of ASD at age two. Alvarez’s autism coverage tends to divulge a hopeful, but pragmatic sense of the disorder. In an online FOX News article he writes:

“What can I say about autism? It encompasses my every daily thoughts. Why? Because I have a child affected by this condition. To say that I was not frightened when we confirmed that our blessed child was autistic would be a lie. I was sad, angry and confused. However, I overcame those feelings, first through my overwhelming love for my child and God, and second by learning to understand the problem.” (Alvarez) (,2933,234958,00.html)

Dr. Alvarez as a representative of FOX News establishes a platform for the broadcast outlet of an intimate, personal, and compassionate nature, one in which viewers will trust and depend on in search for information, truth, and answers. The audience’s faith in those like Dr. Manny results in their confidence in FOX News to provide the fair and balanced coverage that it promises, and FOX takes advantage of this influence to incorporate into its reporting clear opinions concerning controversial medical concerns involving autism the link between autism and vaccinations in children. In an article, “Debate Flares Over Vaccines, Autism Link”, FOX News reporter Todd Zwillich publicizes the frustration and concerns of discouraged parents in their fight against the federal agency’s manipulation of studies on this link. Zwillich quotes Bobbie Manning, vice president of Advocates for Children’s Health Affected by Mercury, saying, “In the interest of protecting the immunization program, they forgot about child safety. They are continuing that pattern of behavior and denial that thimerosal causes harm” (Zwillich). In its discreet headline choices, FOX News manages the knowledge of its audience in an attempt to convince them of the news station’s sensitivity to their wishes and develop a relationship with the audience by providing them with the stories they want to hear. Viewers feel comfortable with the knowledge that FOX News has the interest of the child at heart in the midst of federal scheming and corruption whose basis consists of mere self-interest.

FOX News reporter, Greta van Amstel, interviewed celebrity autism spokeswoman Jenny McCarthy ‘On the Record.’ During the interview McCarthy advocates her Green Our Vaccines rally for which she was visiting Washington, D.C. McCartney, whose son is diagnosed with a form of ASD, in her campaign, promotes her “Too Many, Too Soon” slogan, which argues that the over-vaccination of young children today (in 1983 the shot schedule was 10 vaccines given and today there are 36 shots given) is often harmful to many (Van Susteren). She states a lot of the ingredients, like the mercury, the aluminum, the ether, the antifreeze, “we think need to be removed and a lot of people say the mercury has been removed since 2002 and I beg journalists to go online and look at the FDA Web site, look at the CDC Web site and count the 11 shots that still contain mercury” (Van Susteren).

By discussing the promotion of a campaign working against over-vaccinations, FOX categorizes itself into the anti-vaccination platform for many of its viewers. In a Slate Magazine online article, a reporter writes, “Let it be FAUXnews that brings debunked medical causes for autism be advocated” (FoxNews Lets Autism be Tied to Vaccines). The magazine article criticizes FOX News for their interview with Jenny McCarthy in which she alleges MMR and vaccines are a cause of autism and the two court cases which reject this claim are too narrow in their focus. The article rebukes, “Yet scores of large, long studies have debunked vaccines as causes. After recieving the MMR vaccine, 100 of 1000s of children were followed for years and they simply did not show autism in any way related to the vaccine” (FoxNews Lets Autism be Tied to Vaccines). One response to the article even implies Jenny McCarthy’s autism rallying is a plot for television time that she could and should have been spending with her own child, in which case promoting the exact opposite behavior FOX News proclaims to endorse.

Uninformed viewers place full trust in the gain of knowledge from the FOX News station. Is FOX News’s appeal to the personal lives of those affected by ASD an attempt to lure the viewer into FOX’s platforms on issues such as the autism-vaccine link? Are all television media outlets unreliable, egotistical, and self-driven?

Looking at another top news station, we delve into more answers on knowledge management in television news media. CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, follows a divergent style of reporting in comparison to FOX’s Alvarez. Gupta, who practices neurosurgery and also an assistant professor of neurosurgery alongside his work at CNN, takes an unclear standpoint for the news station in terms of the autism-vaccine correlation. Gupta’s reporting represents the general opinion of the entire outlet regarding the controversial issue. His articles of spineless, indecisive coverage in medical breakthroughs of ASD work to please the audience in what people want to see in news coverage but often fail to provide the amount of details necessary for the viewer to create an informed opinion on the subject matter. He persistently provides both sides to every argument, but in his effort to remain unbiased and neutral, offers uncommitted opinions amongst the facts. Gupta’s story, “Parents in vaccine case still see good in shots,” displays his knack for avoiding the confrontation that results from effectively reporting on a topic that will inevitably result in confrontation given its nature in spite of lack of opinion (Gupta). Posted on CNN’s “Paging Dr. Gupta” webpage in response to this article, an irritated viewer comments:

Dr. Gupta,
As CNN's medical correspondent, shouldn't it be your job to explain and interpret the scientific data for the public? And yet, you made no mention of the many studies that have tried and failed to find a link between autism and vaccines. By all means, present both sides and advocate for more testing of the bundled vaccines. But, you can't just ignore the data. (

In its news coverage of autism outside of Dr. Gupta, CNN continually tends to stray away from the conflict-ridden issues and highlight more intimate, personal stories of real people and their individual experiences with ASD. The majority of CNN’s news stories focus on the lives and families of those with autism, a very relevant and appropriate topic given the social constraints of those affected by the disorder. The news corporation even created an entire documentary, “Autism is a World,” in which autism viewers experience autism through the eyes of a woman with ASD (Foster). The production, nominated for an Academy Award, follows the once diagnosed mentally retarded 26-year old Sue Rubin, who opens the documentary claiming, “This is not my voice, but these are my words,” as she takes the audience through a social, educational, and personal journey into her intellectual and daily life (Foster). Rather than focus on the scientific aspects and uncertainties of autism that provoke controversy and negative feedback, the program aims to educate the public on the disorder in a practical environment that many people often fail to acknowledge. CNN also generously dedicated several days on air and online to mark the first ever World Autism Awareness Day, in which the Max Foster report aired the news headline “Fighting for Autism” (Foster). Other popular reports from the news corporation on autism include a new type of autism therapy on horseback and the life of a family who was transformed after their teen’s autism intervention. Yet, the autism-vaccine debate, one of the most popular and debated topics concerning the causes of autism, rarely even makes an appearance in CNN news coverage.

Like FOX, CNN also interviewed influential autism spokeswoman Jenny McCarthy, but managed to withhold all discussion regarding the autism-vaccine link, a topic close at heart for the mother who is convinced her son’s autism stems from his over-vaccinations and the harmful chemicals with which those vaccines are filled (McCarthy). While McCarthy discusses her “journey in healing autism,” the countless therapy sessions and drug treatments, and “the faith that keeps her moving forward”, it is difficult to imagine the celebrity ignoring her primary focus on autism, her very own “Green Our Vaccines” campaign (McCarthy). Did CNN purposefully withhold this topic of debate to preserve their stand on the issue and evade any resulting viewer altercations?

While the majority of autism exposure by CNN shies away from any topic with the possibility of producing unsettling feedback, their stand on the autism-vaccine issue inconspicuously seeps through the seams of their reporting. In his article, “Court rules vaccines not to blame for autism,” Gupta describes the Vaccine Court case and the “hundreds of pages that composed the ruling” and deem it “safe to say that the court found no biological plausibility of a connection between autism and either the MMR vaccine or thimerosal-containing vaccines” (Gupta). He continues further to quote Denice K. Vowell, the special master in the case Snyder vs. Secretary of Health and Human Services, stating in the claim, ““the families of ASD and the court have waited in vain for adequate evidence to support the autism–MMR hypothesis” (Gupta). CNN rarely reports on the autism-vaccination link, yet the story they do select to run aims to enlighten the public of a legal case discrediting the connection of the autism-vaccine link. Because this case’s nature rests on merely legal terms and no medical or scientific backing whatsoever, why would CNN choose to report this particular story without much of a rebuke at all for the opposing side, unless in an attempt to sway the opinions of its viewers by managing their access to or ease of access to particular information? Research implies that, much like other information sources studied thus far, television media outlets report according to the coverage that attracts the largest viewing population in an attempt to sway opinion and manage access to particular knowledge. Whether the initiative be monetary, authoritarian, or retributive, self-driven motives tend to always lie at the axis of television news media knowledge management.

Much like the the self-driven motives of television news media, the ASD legislation passed by politicians is often portrayed as biased, or "politicized," but actually relies heavily on the knowledge the general public possesses and how they manage it. Recently, new knowledge about ASD held by the public resulted from increased awareness and additional funding for research, which does not always come from the government, but rather from the the private sector, who is strengthening and increasing funding, as well. Knowledge about ASD is still limited, but with more information becoming available, the public will be able to manage their own knowledge about the disorder and become more aware and accepting of individuals with autism.

Living with autism is difficult and living alone with ASD is even more complicated, and possibly hostile. With a lack of information available about ASD, people become scared and intolerant of what they don’t know. Take John, who has ASD, for instance: he lives up a steep hill in a flat alone where he never receives a friendly word from a neighbor (Harvey). They complain when they hear his screams of frustration or call the housing department instead because they are frightened of him. Because the general public has a lack of knowledge about ASD, neighborhoods, like John’s, reject these vulnerable individuals. However, with increasing research results being made publicly known through several different media outlets, awareness is rising, acceptance of ASD is growing, and legislation is being passed to help autistic individuals and their families.

Most recently, New Jersey, the state with the highest rate of autism, has voted on legislation to assist people with autism, especially adults (Shipkowski). New Jersey has also taken actions to raise awareness and encourage early diagnosis and intervention; it also became the 15th state to require health insurance coverage for ASD and formed a statewide autism registry. Currently, much national legislation involves protecting children and youth from discrimination and guarantees equal educational opportunities, like the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). However, there are not as many services and information available for adults with ASD. Recently, the Adults with Autism Task Force in New Jersey recommended bills that ensured measures to help adults with ASD in New Jersey, like registering for health care and revising discrimination laws against people with autism. Assembly House Speaker Joseph Roberts, D-Camden, who sponsored these bills, said the following about them:

“These bills represent common sense steps forward meant to ensure that adults with autism and development disabilities are given equal chance to succeed as they grow older. That’s crucial, not only to their lives, but to society as a whole. It will cost taxpayers severely if adults with autism do not get the services they need to live as independently as possible” (Shipkowski).

Because of recent research revealing that the prevalence of ASD has increased to 1 in every 91 children in the United States, it has increased the knowledge of the public and led to increased action, like the bills recently passed in New Jersey. Personally, I know the importance of these bills as I have seen the effects of autism in adults through my uncle, who happens to live in New Jersey. Fortunately for him, he was able to receive proper diagnosis and early intervention and was therefore placed in appropriate educational and residential settings. As an adult, he now lives in a group home with other autistic men, but because of anti-discriminatory laws, like the one passed in New Jersey, he works at a local store and is a productive member of society, living as independently as he can.

Because I have grown up with an autistic family member, I have seen the stresses and effects of the disorder on my family and have closely watched other people’s reactions when we are in public with my uncle. My hope is that with increased awareness and increased actions, the public’s knowledge of the disorder will be increased and not managed solely by their assumptions or previously held views. Through President Obama’s vow to budget $211 million in funding for autism (a 16% increase for research, compared to 5% for cancer research), and the proposed Autism Treatment Acceleration Act, I hope that community awareness, knowledge, action, and acceptance of ASD will increase (Goldston).

Before much of the recent legislation was passed, awareness about the disorder has increased through the help of advocacy groups like Autism Speaks, the nation’s largest autism science and advocacy organization. Without associations like Autism Speaks, the public might not acquire information and knowledge about the immediacy of ASD development. Because of this group’s initiatives to spread information to the general public through media outlets, the issue has become more eminent and funding, research, and education initiatives reached the political realm. These types of advocacy organizations are pertinent not only to lobby the government and increase awareness, but to also raise money to privately fund their own research. To date, advocacy groups have gathered almost $153 million in NIH and other funding for the continuation of scientific research (Singh). With the involvement of the private sector and their ability to increase public awareness for research, the landscape of autism research has shifted. Individuals with ASD now have advocates in positions of priority research decision-making and can help manage the knowledge of legislators to benefit autistic individuals.

With the help of organizations like Autism Speaks, autism has progressed from virtual ambiguity to the heart of media interest and public awareness during the past two decades (Singh). However, some parents of autistic children feel that their voice is not being heard in court. Michelle Cedillo, a mother who lost her case for medical care compensation for her autistic child, says of the debate: “Unfortunately it has turned into a political controversy, and the children get lost in the middle” (People). While politicians do have their own agendas, their decisions on how to distribute taxpayer money among different diseases is often portrayed to the public as biased. What most citizens do not realize, however, is that government funding for science research becomes complicated when dealing with different diseases. However, David Goldston, a lecturer at Harvard University’s Center for the Environment says that these decisions “cannot be politicized because they are inherently political.” For instance, Goldston argues that if Congress delegated the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) budget decision to NIH officials or other scientists, that they too would have their own politics and agendas that they would follow in allocating money.

When it comes to facing the government, many parents feel helpless like Cedillo and worry as their children and family become lost in the shuffle of politics and legalities. Because of the lack of information previously available, parents often had to promptly make life-changing decisions without actually understanding the consequences of their choices, such as educational and residential placement, therapy and healthcare services, and so on. Money and healthcare is often a major concern as many individuals with ASD may not meet the eligibility rules under the Medicaid program or their state has already reached its enrollment limit (Federal Autism Activities). As recent studies cited by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention have shown, the estimated lifetime cost of caring for an individual with ASD is $3.2 million, with average yearly medical expenses of $4,110 to $6,200 (CDC).

However, because of the increased awareness and knowledge available due to recent medical studies and advocacy groups, more funding for programs has become available for parents and families on how to deal with ASD and the options available to them. For example, the proposed Autism Treatment Acceleration Act includes components such as registry, insurance coverage, adult demonstration project, and a demonstration project, which allows beneficiaries to assign personal primary care coordinators as a contact for families (Long). The Act also includes a component dealing with a public education and awareness campaign (Long). This plan includes developing a national multimedia campaign targeted at the general public or specific audiences, like medical and criminal justice, and does not rely solely on television news media outlets to deliver information to the public.

The campaign’s goal is to increase public awareness and education about autism development and milestones throughout one’s life. With awareness and education rising through the new campaign and advocacy groups, television news media outlets will be effected in the ways they present ASD information because they will no longer be a primary source of ASD knowledge to the general public. By sharing information about ASD and increasing awareness and knowledge outside of television news media, the general public can form their own opinions on autism, including how autistic individuals should be able to function in society with out discrimination and how to fund autistic research.

Along with such a controversial, incurable and mysterious diagnosis as an autism spectrum disorder comes much speculation and controversy in which online blogs, television news outlets, and federal agencies fight to manage the knowledge of the public through language, disclosure of information, and fabrication of the truth. The motivations behind the majority of these outlets focus primarily on self-driven intentions regarding reputation and personal/corporate benefit, leaving the public severely manipulated and their reliance on honest professional communication exploited. As a result, society must take matters upon themselves to manage their own knowledge concerning autism. Through thorough research and an even-handed approach to the release of public knowledge, individuals must acquire a method for forming personal opinion stripped of negative corporate influence. Together, society can make a difference in the world of autism, fighting for those in need of our help, a step in the positive direction that the insensitivity of corrupted corporations only hinders in their misguided efforts for a cure.

Work Cited
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Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

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“Federal Autism Activities: Funding for Research Has Increased, but Agencies Need to Resolve Surveillance Challenges.” United States Government Accountability Office. July 2006. p1.

Foster, Max. "CNN 'Fighting For Autism' Max Foster Report on YouTube." Blogger News Network (2008): n. pag. Web. 2 Dec 2009. <>.

Goldston, David. "Don’t cry politicization." Nature 460.2 (2009): 24. Web. 6 Dec. 2009. <>.

Gupta, Sanjay. "Parents in vaccine case still see good in shots." (2008): n. -pag. Web. 2 Dec 2009. <>.

Harvey, Jennifer. “Left Out by the Community.” Community Care 1782 (2009): 6. Academic-Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 12 Dec. 2009.

Long, Leslie. “Current Policies Impacting People with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).” July 2009. Insight on Federal Policy: EP Magazine.

McCarthy, Jenny. "Jenny McCarthy: The day I heard my son had autism." (2008): n. pag. Web. 2 Dec 2009. <>.
Shipkowski, Bruce. "NJ Looks to Expands Services for Those with Autism." ABC News. Web. 12 Dec. 2009.

Singh, Jennifer, Judy Illes, Laura Lazzeroni, and Joachim Hallmayer. "Trends in US Autism Research Funding." Springer. EBSCO. 16 Jan. 2009. Web. 9 Dec. 2009.

Van Susteren, Greta. "Jenny McCarthy 'On the Record' on Her Autism Crusade." (2008): n. pag. Web. 30 Nov 2009. <,2933,364496,00.html>.

Zwillich, Todd. "Debate Flares Over Vaccines, Autism Link." (2006): n. pag. Web. 28 Nov 2009. <,2933,191167,00.html>.

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