A new study by the Autism Genome Project (AGP) chalks up the disease’s primary cause to genetics, not environmental pollution, ABC’s Bill Blakemore reported on the February 18 “World News.” But in 2005, media outlets including ABC showcased an environmental activist fingering mercury as the culprit.
“Today’s study pinpoints the probable culprit: not just one, but many genes and abnormalities,” Blakemore told his evening newscast audience.
“The evidence suggests that autism is over 90 percent caused by genes,” said Dr. Joseph BuxBaum of the AGP in a sound bite aired during Blakemore’s report.
But back in 2005, ABC and other media outlets latched onto environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s assertion that mercury in vaccines was to blame for the trend of rising autism cases.
As the Business & Media Institute (BMI) reported in the summer of 2005, CBS, The New York Times, and ABC all paid heed to Kennedy’s claims, even though many scientists disputed it, and Kennedy himself lacks the medical or scientific credentials to have argued a link between mercury and autism.
Indeed, the June 22, 2005, “World News Tonight”  devoted a four-minute segment to a story it would later report was completely untrue. Anchor Charles Gibson gave air time to Kennedy, but documented evidence that overwhelmingly contradicted the environmental lawyer’s claims.
“The researchers say this study shows environmental toxins are not, as some argue, a major cause of autism,” ABC’s Blakemore noted in his February 18 story, but without mentioning the attention his network paid to Kennedy and his role in furthering the mercury scare.
BMI also noted at the time that CBS “Evening News”  and The New York Times  also advanced Kennedy’s claims as one side of a medical debate, even though they noted the scientific evidence weighed heavily against Kennedy.