Covering Vaccines | Reporting on Health
What I experienced in the wake of my Wired story was similar in tone (although my child was spared). Like Offit, the vast majority of the feedback I received was positive, but the negative stuff would make your hair stand on end. As I blogged at the time, “Here are some of the questions I’ve been asked: ‘Do you believe in anything?’ ‘Do you have children?’ ‘You went to Yale?’
I’ve been called stupid, greedy, a whore. (You can read reader comments here.) I’ve been called the author of “heinous tripe.” J.B. Handley, the founder of Generation Rescue, the anti-vaccine group that actress Jenny McCarthy helps promote, sent me an essay titled, “Paul Offit Rapes (intellectually) Amy Wallace and Wired Magazine.” In it, he implied that Offit had slipped me a date rape drug. Later, he sent me a revised version that omitted rape and replaced it with the image of me drinking Offit’s Kool-Aid. That one was later posted at the anti-vaccine blog Age of Autism.
On Thanksgiving of last year, as the furor seemed to be dying down a bit, the website Age of Autism — the same site that published Handley’s “Kool-Aid” screed — posted a Photo-shopped portrait of me, Dr. Offit and several others who have written or reported on the vaccine issue (and not blamed vaccines for autism or numerous other maladies) sitting around a table, about to dig in to a holiday feast. The greeting on the card said, “Happy Thanksgiving from The Hotel California.” Instead of a turkey, the main course we were about to dine on was a baby.
Still, until Dec. 23, I had this to be thankful for: no one had sued me. Then came the rapping at the door. Here is what Barbara Loe Fisher, who I’d described in my story as “the brain” of the anti-vaccine movement and as “a skilled debater who often faces down articulate, well-informed scientists on live TV,” alleged in her suit: That a two-word quotation (Dr. Offit says of Fisher, “She lies.”) constituted a false statement of fact about her that would cause people to conclude that she is not a person of honesty or integrity. In this way, she alleged, I (along with Dr. Offit, and Conde Nast) had defamed her and caused her to appear “odious, infamous and ridiculous.”