News Analysis by Joshebel Ramlakhan and Janet Hernandez
Verification, independence and accountability are the distinguishing features of good journalism and worth considering when wading into anything written by anti-vaxx crusaders. The anti-vaccination movement thrives off the use of misinformation to gain momentum and further the agenda of changing vaccination laws. A recent article, “How anti-vaxxers target grieving moms and turn them into crusaders against vaccines” by Brandy Zadrozny and Aliza Nadi highlights key problems with one anti-vaxx mother’s story and uses VIA (verification, independence and accountability) to counter the false claims that helped propel a movement.
According to Catelin Clobes, her 6-month-old daughter Evee died 36 hours after receiving vaccinations at a check-up. Clobes blamed the vaccines and used her child’s story and image to plaster billboards with anti-vaxx propaganda in Minnesota. As you can see below, the anti-vaxx billboard includes a photograph of a baby, the child’s full name and a website address that directs the public to HealthChoiceMN.org. The details of her tragic death are chronicled there and fueling the anti-vaxx movement. Here’s the problem: Journalists at NBC found that an autopsy concluded the baby died from accidental suffocation from co-sleeping with her mother and included the medical examiner’s letter in its article as evidence.
Verification, independence and accountability, must be used when analyzing this mother’s story on the website HealthChoiceMN.org. In this case, posting a story that neglects these three elements of journalism is harmful to parents and children.
The public must ask whether information is verified before believing it. On her website, Clobes cites information she says was given to her by a clinical professor of pathology, making her story appear credible. However, when contacted, the professor said he concluded there was no evidence that vaccines contributed to Evee’s death. Clobes was also not accountable, since she directed questions regarding the medical professional’s conflicting statements to her lawyer, who did not return many requests for comment. In addition, she is clearly not independent as a grieving mother and member of the anti-vaxx movement, and therefore her account of what happened cannot be considered journalism.
Takeaway: Verification, independence, and accountability are the three defining attributes of journalism with good reason. At first glance, the billboard and Clobes’ claims are convincing, but when her story about Evee’s death is evaluated for verification, independence and accountability, it is clear that it’s patently untrue. This story highlights the importance of news literacy and proves that the public must be trained to tell the difference between journalism and tragedies manipulated to promote a cause.