News about the news media has been chilling for longer than any self-respecting journalist would care to admit. Last fall, public trust reached a historic low, when Gallup pollsters found 57 percent of respondents did not trust the news media to report stories “fully, accurately or fairly.”
In an era when Brian Williams, Katie Couric and Bill O’Reilly are considered “journalists,” the public’s cynicism is unarguably well-deserved. But commercialized news is only part of the story. The best traditions of American journalism are alive, if not necessarily well, at nonprofit outfits like the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (WCIJ), whose chief reporter and Web producer visited Bloomington from March 1 to 4.
I found myself on the other side of the journalistic equation this past week, when the Indiana Daily Student published a front-page story about my work on autism and the environment, including links between vaccines and the pervasive developmental disorder.
The story drew the expected shrill and vitriolic reaction from vaccine industry defenders, none of whom identify themselves by name. The comments section attracted more than three dozen responses from some of the highest profile actors in the national debate. What follows is my response to the fallout.
News from and about Indiana this past week should scare its citizens and the nation straight about the quality of leadership produced in the Hoosier state, and what role it should play in America's future.
A Jan. 26 study from the nonprofit group Environment America ranked Indiana fifth nationwide in the release of mercury into the environment. Two days later, CBS News reported that the first political ads of the 2012 presidential race will air during the NFL Pro Bowl game this weekend to promote Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels.
While the world watched America respond to the Tucson Massacre, I've been preoccupied with how that same nation has reacted to tragedies of a different nature. I'm teaching a class this semester on the environment in the news, and for the first discussion I developed a timeline of environmental milestones and legislation in the post-World War II era, from early concerns over pesticides to the ongoing autism epidemic and global climate change.
A few glimmers of hope are tucked away in this particular view of American history -- especially the power public opinion wielded in the 1970s. But the nut graf to this tale isn't good. As illustrated by the following environmental retrospective, gleaned mostly from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the WorldWatch Institute and government Web sites, the milestones were mostly tragedies. And American leaders didn't react to them very well.
A new study linking autism to a specific type of neurological problem has buttressed the case against one possible environmental cause of the pervasive developmental disorder. And the conclusions are particularly compelling, given its release three months after the U.S. Vaccine Court awarded $20 million to a Georgia girl for the same condition.
The court ruled Hanna Poling's pre-existing mitochondrial disorder was aggravated by the MMR vaccine, which led to a brain disorder that manifested itself "with features of autism spectrum disorder." The just-published University of California-Davis study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found "children with autism were more likely to have mitochondrial dysfunction."
If you think you're going to hike with Ron Habney, you'd better be prepared. The 6-foot-tall, 130-pound, 25-year-old treks an average four to six miles a day on some of the most challenging trails in Southern Indiana's Upland regions. Not everyday, to his chagrin, but multiple times a week. Last summer, on one 96-degree day, Ron hiked 9.4 miles through the Charles Deam Wilderness Area in two hours and 20 minutes.
So says John Willman, who knows. He's been Ron's hiking companion and caregiver for almost eight years now. "He's truly an athlete," John says of Ron. "His hiking skills are almost unmatched." Beneath close-cropped, thick, black hair, Willman's blue-green eyes beam proud-parent-like as he recounts Ron's on-trail achievements. But they're just a footnote to this rainy-gray November afternoon interview.
Ron has autism, and John, who is not Ron's parent, is preoccupied with his fate.
The final blow to the I-69 opposition was almost too poetic to be believed. Mark Kruzan standing over the victim, hiding one hand behind his back while imploring the community to believe he didn't do it, that he really meant all those things he said the past two decades. The next day, according to the Indiana Daily Student, the Hoosier Environmental Council (HEC) gave him an award for his "courageous stand on I-69."
"Enjoy your Interstate Bloomington."
That juxtaposition of events says it all, so this is the last time I will write Interstate 69 on these pages. But for the record, the opposition asked many times, and both I and former HEC director Jeff Stant told and showed them what they had to do to have any chance whatsoever to stop the I-69 boondoggle.
Enjoy your Interstate Bloomington. I suggest you call it the "Mark Kruzan Memorial Highway," in memory of the beautiful community his failed leadership left behind. (Actually, it should be broken up in three segments, with the other two dedicated to John Fernandez and Vi Simpson, who are equally culpable for this community disaster.)
It's been an epic 20-year journey. The Bloomington Alternative has now signed off on I-69.
Update: At 6:23 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 13, Bloomington Mayor Mark Kruzan responded to this article and declined my interview requests. "Given that you've already reached a conclusion for your article, it doesn't seem necessary to do an interview," he wrote. He sent me a link to the MPO meeting referenced below.
I believe that when an elected public official betrays his or her oft-repeated public positions as brazenly as Mark Kruzan did with his MPO vote with INDOT and I-69 proponents, he or she has a responsibility to explain that contradiction with more than sound bites and prepared defense speeches. Every other elected public official from Bloomington and Monroe County on the MPO voted "No."
I reiterated my interview request and assured the mayor that I would videotape and post the entire conversation, unedited, on the Alternative Web site so his constituents can judge his performance for themselves. - sh
Saying "I told you so" is never a gratifying experience, even when the warning was prescient. "There is no cure for this strain of American Ugly," I wrote two days before the 2008 General Election. "If Barack Obama is elected on Tuesday, the virus will mutate, and it will only get uglier." I also wrote at that time, with slightly less zeal, that Democrats would squander the mandate for change voters ultimately gave them.
It's less than two weeks before the 2010 General Election, and even the most fervent Democratic apologists agree that is exactly what has happened, and ugly is poised to punish them for their impotence come Nov. 2. Talk about bait and switch. Despite the Democrats' 2008 talk, the only change their fleeting rise to power has wrought has been driven by Sarah Palin and the radical, religious and racist right. Indeed, the Palinistas have proven to be the only political force in America that understands how to effect change.
Editor's note: On Oct. 5, 2010, Gov. Mitch Daniels fired IURC Chair David Lott Hardy over the ethical scandal that followed the controversy reported on below.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels didn’t exactly get his presidential bid off to a stellar start when he alienated his party’s Radical Right last spring by telling a conservative publication it was time to “call a truce” on social issues. The Republican’s admonition that the economy trumps values, published in the Weekly Standard in June, drew harsh and immediate rebuke from the pro-life community.
It would seem that Daniels' approach to governance, as expressed through his actions as governor, would generate as much animosity from a Tea Party Right that preaches the evils of socialism as it does from a Progressive Left that rails against oligarchy. Ditto those who believe the money changers must be thrown out of the temple of democracy.