DELICATE SENSIBILITIES

Yesterday, the following link/headline appeared on the front page of CNN.com: "Bachmann's HPV claims disputed." Here is a screen cap:

I will spare you the video clip where her statement is discussed by Many Serious People, but here is what she said during the most recent debate regarding Rick Perry's executive order to have the HPV vaccine required in Texas:

"To have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat-out wrong," Bachmann said. "Little girls who have a potentially dangerous reaction to this drug don't get a mulligan," she said. "You don't get a do-over."

Afterward, she elaborated, explaining that "a mother" approached her after the debate:

She told me that her little daughter took that vaccine, that injection. And she suffered from mental retardation thereafter. The mother was crying when she came up to me last night. I didn't know who she was before the debate. This is the very real concern and people have to draw their own conclusions.

Let's briefly overlook the terrifying fact that the woman who wants to be president was repeating this story into a camera almost immediately after a complete stranger (or so she claims) said this to her in a chance encounter. Apparently that's the Bachmann mental vetting process – "Someone came up to me and told me vaccines made their daughter retarded. The best thing is for everyone to draw their own conclusions about the efficacy of vaccines based on anecdotal evidence." But I digress.

Having seen her statements, look again at CNN's link headline, "Bachmann's HPV claims disputed," in reference to the AMA and other medical organizations resoundingly rejecting her crackpot anti-vaccine statements. Only in a media environment in which Fox News and the cultural right have truly Won would this be summed up with such a headline.

"Claims disputed" might be an appropriate tag for candidates bickering over tax proposals – "Perry says cutting taxes would increase revenues, but Paul Krugman disagrees in today's column." Bachmann's statement, aside from being dangerously flippant and not thought-out, isn't "disputed." It's wrong. In an honest world the headline would read "Bachmann wrong about vaccines" or "Major GOP candidate does not understand basic science" or "Bachmann chooses anecdote from stranger over science."

But of course we don't live in that honest world. We live in one in which the media have been thoroughly cowed into "treating both sides fairly" – treating opposing viewpoints as equally valid regardless of whether the issue is objective or subjective – and are hyper-sensitive about offending their core daytime audience of stay-home moms with medical degrees from Parenting Message Board University.

For all the accusations of elitism on the part of the media, this is an instance in which a sense of superiority would come in handy. The media see their job as stenography, to quote people and then "let the reader decide" which viewpoint sounds better. What they should be doing is reporting facts. Michele Bachmann is wrong about the HPV vaccine, and she is wrong to repeat a story told by some random yahoo when its central claim has no factual basis. In fact the evidence is overwhelming that nothing like what this stranger told Bachmann can be caused by the HPV vaccine. But instead of reading a headline like, "Bachmann repeats debunked pseudoscience, offers inaccurate statement on vaccines" we see that her statement is "disputed," as though it is controversial, actively debated, and as-yet unresolved.

45 thoughts on “DELICATE SENSIBILITIES”

  • But facts aren't useful. Facts don't buy time for the rich to harvest whatever they can get from the rest of us. Fictions do, especially when two entirely separate fictions exist to distract people and set them at odds with one another.

    Viewed in a certain light, stratospheric nukes over New Jersey and LA might be the best things that could happen to the US in this day and age.

  • I think many news organizations treat both sides "fairly" because they know that if they do, members of the reality-based community won't raise a stink about it. When a "news organization" engages in this kind of cowardly bullshit, we should be the ones raising hell, boycotting their sponsors and advertisers, promising not to watch them or read them until they knock it off. But we don't, and they know it, so why should they?

  • Maybe it's proof that the media really are, in the aggregate, aligned to the Democratic Party in general, since the Party is equally inept at countering bullshit with factual rebuttals, usually preferring instead to punt on first down.

  • I'm being facetious of course — Faux aside, I don't think most media see red nor blue, so much as green. I guess I'm just not getting how that sort of bloodless stenography enhances the precious revenue model.

  • a government injection

    Well, that's nice, neutral language. Do Merck and GSK need to step up their campaign contributions?

  • We have a dysfunctional congress, dysfunction legal system, dysfunctional president, dysfunctional financial system, dysfunctional intelligence service and dysfunctional state governments, why do you expect a functional media?

  • It does seem to be another in the series: "Why we're kind of screwed" entry n+1.

    I'd hope antics like this would mean Bachmann is toast, but I get the impression the candidates are playing to a particular aesthetic: as long as they can pull off the look and attitude, the details just don't matter.

  • This is where 60yrs of post-modernism has led us. Some where along the line the boundary between subjective truth ie "meaning" and objective truth ie "facts", became blurred and therefore interchangeable.

    It's all about "the Market place of ideas", where all things are equal and yo can choose what yo want and leave the rest. Born in the time of M.A.D., where total global annihilation was at the push of a button, perhaps a bit of "I'm okay, you're okay" was a good thing. It's allowed for the Civil Rights movement.

    But now we confuse "fact" w "meaning". We can no longer say, "you're wrong" as we might hurt the other person's feelings, or that their opinion is not equal in the sacred "Market place of ideas". It's why Wikipedia is so popular, and there're so many blogs. Why else do we comment here?

    We've gotten to a point where we now debate, with all seriousness, the very nature of Gold. Ie, that Au and Pb are mutually exchangeable items, with no differences. That 1g of Pb can be traded for 1g of Au. We confuse the facts β€” Au sits here on the period table with these properties while Pb sits here with these properties β€” with our subjective meaning, ie while Au is a pretty shiny metal I sure as heck won't sell my mother or first born to get 1g of it. This does not change the nature of Au, and no amount of wishing will turn Pb into an interchangeable item.

    Some how we've done with ideas what alchemists aspired towards for centuries. We've legitimised this f-wittery that Shelly espouses, to being a credible fact.

    All I can think is that we need to watch out for that space goat, sorry giant space goat.

  • 1. I have to agree with Middle Seaman.
    2. I thought you were talking about Jenny McCarthy – but she has a son…
    3. Is this a result of the "everyone wins" mentality?
    4. Has Wikipedia been updated yet? Bachmann said it on TeeVee it has to be true.

  • Typical news stories report something that happened. The OpEd page or commentary section is where you make assertions.

  • "Bachmann's Flat Earth Claims Disputed."

    "Bachmanns's Earth-centric Universe Claims Disputed."

    "Bachmann's Claims About German Attack on Pearl Harbor Disputed."

    Now, substitute any other Republican candidate for her, and those headlines pretty much all still hold true.

    Too maby voters in this country are either under and/or misinformed, stupid and/or ignarant, because we have a Corporate MSM full of lazy, untinterested, cowered, compliant, or downright complicit cowards.
    But then, why see or say what you're paid NOT to see or say?

  • Liars get encouraged when there's no refutation, as when Perry said that Obama's stimulus plan "created zero jobs." He was off by at least one million, we were remindedβ€”but not that same night, and not from teevee at all. This is the less colorful but more profoundly insidious lie that goes unchallenged.

    I monitor ABC Nightly News, where the word "controversial" replaces "erroneous," "faulty," "misinformed," and "bat-shit crazy." Count the repetitions some night.

    Gentle hints don't work with the mouth-breathers who decide elections.

  • Of course you are absolutely right, as usual, in your contempt for our pathetic media. But you overlooked one point: the very high probability that Bachmann simply made up the mother and daughter anecdote.

  • Sure – "GOP, Dems differ on shape of Earth" is a staple of modern news reporting, but you're losing track of a couple of things:
    1. A big reason for this is that the GOP has made it a conscious strategy since Watergate to pound the press into submission ("No more Nixons!" could be their guiding principle), while the Democratic Party has taken the guiding principle to be "We're obviously right, and surely you will realize it without us having to demean ourselves by explaining it." The American people have clearly responded to that by saying "We like bumper-sticker sound-bites, and don't call us Shirley!"
    2. The media have grown to need to keep their self-image as the judges of the beauty pageant that is political campaigning. They love the feeling that they are the ones who choose who gets elected, and they think that's how it shold always be. The GOP knows this and uses it to their advantage. The Democrats, being idealistic doofuses, keep operating as if the press is some sort of neutral referee. Those of us who grew up watching what happened to our basketball teams when they played in Madison Square Garden know what's really going on.

  • c u n d gulag beat me to it, and, really, there should be an equivalent to Godwin's Law that says that the invocation of Orwell ends any rational discussion, but really, I find it very hard not to imagine the headline: "Bachmann's claims that 2+2=5 are disputed." "Teach/report the controversy" is the greatest victory that the right has ever had in changing the nature of truth. But it's more proof that she is as crazy as a rat in a coffee can; there's no need to make up (and in her sad, sad case, *believe*) such bullshit to be against the vaccine. Any conservative politician can just say "If we inoculate these girls, we'll lose a reason to tell them not to fuck." For a GOP candidate, that's Flawless Victory.

  • In all fairness, there HAVE been some (extremely isolated and rare) adverse effects from vaccines, and the Gardasil vaccine does have Guillain-Barre syndrome as one potential side effect. That said, I doubt a parent of one of these very rare cases actually approached Bachmann, and even if they did, she's being irresponsible by presenting that case as an even remotely-likely outcome from vaccination.

  • "Democrats, being idealistic doofuses, keep operating as if the press is some sort of neutral referee. "

    Bingo- media was always a business.

  • @Dryden: The irony is, that whilst he's done his stadium prayer rally, and has the lowest rate of insured and comes down on the no f*****g w/o marriage agenda, Perry at least has one good Invasive BIG Government idea.

  • I think it's obvious to everyone that our craven, idiot media system is a massive impediment to actual progress. Why do you think Jon Stewart criticizes the media as much as politicians?

  • "I'm offended for all the little girls and the parents that didn't have a choice," says Michele Bachmann at the end of the video. So, in her world view, they can CHOOSE to not get life saving vaccines for their child (potentially leading to the child's death from a nasty, painful cancer), but they can't CHOOSE to not have the child to begin with?

  • Neal Deesit, you're so right! and you may be on to something. think about it…have you ever seen michele and thomas in the same place at the same time?

  • The whole Gardasil-causes-mental-retardation remark has made everyone completely forget the actual sane assertion Bachmann made in the debate: Perry made his decision based on being paid by big pharma. And the best part was his reply that he only got $5000 from (whichever big pharma company) and was insulted that she implied he could be bought so cheaply (my words).
    Turns out he got $30,000 or so and had an aide who worked the swinging door between pharma and Perry's office.

  • The very fact that Perry and Bachmann can be considered serious contenders for the Presidency proves that we're living in Bizarro World.

  • I cannot overstate the amount of fun I've had with this. Thank you Michelle Bachman! "I just put on some bug spray and now I am retarded." "I just brushed my teeth with fluoride and now I am retarded." "I just got a flu shot and now I qualify for SSI." It's tasteless, especially when you hear me doing it with a "retard accent" but, God, this stuff is just so unreal. The only response is to completely mock it without mercy.

  • My daughter became very ill after getting the HPV vaccine, she vomited constantly, and complained of massive headaches.

    Now this might be due to the fact that I had her out siphoning gasoline from cars all-day (she told me that she swallowed a fair amount of gas on accident, but don't worry I punished her for such wastefulness), so that I could sell the gas at a cheap price, and then buy drugs.

    But I don't see how drinking gasoline could possible cause vomiting and headaches, so it must have been the vaccine. I mean my car drinks gasoline all the time, and rarely throws up. Also KITT never complained about headaches.

    I think we can all agree that Bachmann has been vindicated by this anecdote.

  • And yet she is correct to say that children should not be forced to be vaccinated by the state. Whether or not the risks of vaccines are overstated.

  • @Kirk – Another great example of the kind of framing language we all know and love, and are oh-so used to in "debates" of this nature.

    Won't somebody please think of the children? And by this, we mean the imaginary children being lined up against an imaginary wall, and terrorised with giant, unnecessary (and possibly* dangerous) needles by imaginary, sadistic State (boogedy boogedy boo!) physicians.

    Not the legions of actual children who are actually made safer through mass immunisations of this kind. Fuck those guys.

    *though almost certainly not

  • @Kirk: so where do start to dismantle your stupidity.

    Let me start with your sheer lack of understanding of your "libertarian" ideology. Libertarianism in essence states "do as you want, *but* do no harm". The second half of that always gets dropped, which is why libertarianism *always* trends towards narcissism, basically human nature.

    Required vaccinations and libertarianism can coexist. Given that "herd" immunisation affords safety to those who *cannot* be immunised (ie ppl w compromised immune systems). Therefore, by your choosing to not immunise either yourself or your children you now expose those *cannot* be to increased risk. In doing so, you *are* inflicting harm upon others. Therefore, you are no longer a libertarian but a narcissist.

  • THANK YOU for saying this: "We live in one in which the media have been thoroughly cowed into "treating both sides fairly"

  • Somehow my comment got truncated. I MEANT to say:

    THANK YOU for saying this: "We live in one in which the media have been thoroughly cowed into "treating both sides fairly" – treating opposing viewpoints as equally valid regardless of whether the issue is objective or subjective."

    Mainstream media seems to think that if they report that there are two sides to an issue, they have done their job, regardless whether facts overwhelmingly support one side over the other.

    That, and ineptitude and laziness on the part of mainstream media, are MAJOR problems we have. I've been saying this for years, and I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who feels this way.

  • I think that the odds that Bachmann just made the woman up are pretty high. She's a known serial fabulist; when she was caught on camera spying on a pro-LGBT rally (she was actually crouched down where she apparently thought that no one could see her), she claimed that she was resting her heels.

  • The media is reluctant to fact-check, at least if it's a conservative talking. As for Bachmann, the zealot/hack doesn't care if a what a stranger says is true, or if said stranger ever existed – it's ammunition to use in an argument at that moment.

  • According to Michael Steele, once a player but now quite IN the media (works for MSNBC), politicians when talking to their "base" are allowed to say absolutely anything they wish, without regard to it's truth or falsity. This is what Bachmann was doing.

  • And so it begins…the T party has found a candidate to challenge Boehner.

    Look for Michelle to go rogue (or maybe 'rouge') on the GOP as the T party delight when they turn her out…or Maybe Dr. Paul and Miz B could team up for the Libertarians since they have a structure in place and might accept them.

    Boom Baracka Locka

    //bb

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