Surprising accusations of “censorship” against popular online website from prominent liberal author, activist and longtime contributor
Lance Simmens has written approximately 180 articles for The Huffington Post. But his prolific career as a HuffPo blogger came to an abrupt halt on April 15 when he wrote on a subject that turned out to be Kryptonite.
“I’m blacklisted. Blocked out of my account.”–Lance Simmens
Even more shocking, he says, is that the article that earned the block isn’t the least bit controversial—journalistically.
“If I’m [pharmaceutical company] Merck, I see why it’s controversial. But if I’m a rational political being, I’m not gonna see it,” says Simmens.
The blog in question was entitled, “Why Our Kids Should Hate Us” [published below]. Simmens posted it under his Huffington Post account after he screened the controversial documentary “Vaxxed.”
“Vaxxed” examines the extraordinary account of Dr. William Thompson, a current senior scientist at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Dr. Thompson says he and his colleagues, senior CDC officials, engaged in a blatant conspiracy to manipulate data and hide links between MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccine and autism, particularly in African American boys. (CDC officials deny it.)
Simmens’ HuffPo article took no position on the alleged medical links between vaccines and autism that are the subject of heated debate among advocates and scientists on both sides. He simply argued that the unprecedented allegations of corruption at CDC, from a sitting CDC insider, deserve “serious consideration and a national dialogue.”
That was enough to get his blog unceremoniously yanked, and his ability to write for the website revoked without explanation. Simmens was perplexed.
“Have I struck a nerve? I believe I have and that raises a lot of questions.”
Friend turned foe?
Lance Simmens is an unlikely adversary of The Huffington Post. An author and public servant for 40 years in local and federal government, he’s served as a Clinton appointee and advocated for many liberal causes such as environmental awareness. For the past seven years, his blogs—largely political commentary—were welcomed at the heavily liberal HuffPo. He was blindsided by the discovery that he’d inadvertently touched a third rail.
At first, Simmens says he thought the removal of his article was a mistake. He sent repeated email queries to his editorial contacts at HuffPo, and then to editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington. On April 18, he received a reply from someone named “Stuart” who made it clear: on this particular topic, only one-sided views are permitted.
From: Blog Team
To: Lance Simmens
Sent: Mon, Apr 18, 2016 8:58 am
Subject: Re: account blocked
Hi Lance, we’re going to have to pass on your latest post because it violates a long-standing policy we have against disseminating conspiracy theories and inaccurate medical information. In the case of your post specifically, it presents as credible a widely known and debunked hoax that vaccines cause autism. Please bear in mind that we reserve the right to remove any content from our site for any reason, and at any time.
“It sounds like it’s coming straight from the PR room from [MMR vaccine maker Merck]. It shouldn’t be coming from a press organ,” remarks Simmens, referring to the email.
“Is HuffPo under Big Pharma’s tent?”–Lance Simmens
“They’ve taken a position which is cozy or symbiotic with Big Pharma or certainly Merck. How can you pass off the allegations in the movie as a hoax? As a conspiracy theory? You can make that determination once the allegations have been investigated, but they didn’t even want to give that a chance. You can’t just say ‘Well, this is a debunked myth’ when new allegations are coming to light which have not been settled.”
Censorship’s familiar ring
Scientists, activists, celebrities and journalists (including this reporter) have faced inordinate challenges when addressing issues of vaccine safety and alleged CDC or pharmaceutical industry corruption. Robert De Niro recently scheduled a showing of “Vaxxed” at the TriBeCa Film Festival, which he co-founded. But after a social media campaign and internal pressure to stop the film, he pulled it from the lineup. De Niro and his wife, Grace, have a son whom they say regressed into autism after a childhood vaccination.
“I think the movie is something that people should see.–Robert De Niro, speaking of the documentary “Vaxxed”
There’s a lot of information about things that are happening with the CDC, the pharmaceutical companies, there’s a lot of things that are not said,” De Niro told NBC’s Today Show. “I, as a parent of a child who has autism, I’m concerned. And I want to know the truth. I’m not anti-vaccine. I want safe vaccines.”
“Vaxxed” was also pulled from the Houston Film Festival. Organizers say Mayor Sylvester Turner intervened to prompt the withdrawal, reminding them that government grant money supports their event. And in New York City, the Village Voice accepted, then abruptly cancelled, a paid ad campaign for “Vaxxed.”
The Huffington Post did not respond to repeated requests for comment and information. Activists who perpetuate one-sided vaccine industry views and propaganda, including ScienceBlogs.com, SethMnookin.com, SkepticalRaptor.com, ScienceBasedMedicine.org, and writers at Forbes.com, have attacked HuffPo in the past when it has published articles examining vaccine safety questions. Verizon owns The Huffington Post. It purchased the website from America Online, which bought it in 2011.
Simmens says the suppression of his article has made him determined to push for investigations into issues raised in “Vaxxed”: alleged government corruption and news media malfeasance.
“Prejudgment is not the role of the press,” he insists. “It’s like if Woodward met with Deep Throat in the parking garage and, instead of listening, said, ‘I think you’re a crank.’ We’d have no Watergate investigation.”
“I’m always teaching both my kids and my students that if you don’t ask the right questions, you won’t get the right answers. I must have asked the right question here because the hammer came down on my head. Why in the world are you so sensitive about getting to the bottom of something unless you’re worried that if you get to the bottom of it, it might not say what you want it to say?”
After The Huffington Post was contacted for comment for this article, Simmens’ received indications that his Huffington Post account may be reinstated.
Original Simmens article (which was removed from The Huffington Post)
Why Our Kids Should Hate Us
Vaxxed, the controversial documentary alleging a direct causal relationship between vaccines and exponential increases in autism amongst children is a deeply disturbing and hence critically important piece of work that will cause many sleepless nights for parents of infants everywhere. I had the honor of both watching the film last night and participate in a discussion afterwards with its Producer, Del Bigtree and Director, Dr. Andrew Wakefield. It is a must see film and deserves to serve as a catalyst for national discussion of the role of mandatory vaccines for children and the role of the pharmaceutical industry in government decision-making.
What is equally disturbing, however, is that the film represents another in a cascade of documented allegations calling to task not only the corruption of government regulatory agencies but the corruption of science and scientific method itself. And to the extent that the current Presidential election contest has sparked virulent dissatisfaction with our elected leadership and the institutions of government we must take this opportunity to seriously question what many had taken for granted: namely, that government has as its most solemn mission the protection of public health, safety and welfare. The film carefully documents decisions by the Centers for Disease Control that lend credence to systemic corruption.
As a father of two millennials I have been bombarded with what has turned out to be a warranted cynicism, criticism, and rejection of government. As one who devoted nearly forty years to the promotion of public service and government I have come to reassess my initial reluctance to such criticisms. The kids have every right to be cynical and critical and as hard as it is for parents to accept it probably know more than we do.
The corruption of science and scientific method has manifested itself most prominently in recent years with a spate of attempts to deny the existence of global climate change and the role that continued fossil fuel usage plays in accelerating it. This, of course, finds refuge in the stalling tactical maneuvers perfected by the tobacco industry over a half century ago. These “Merchants of Doubt” cast an effective smoke screen that effectively blurs rational thought by an unsuspecting public that would much rather leave it to the experts. And the experts on protecting the public are those we elect to steer the ship of state.
But of late we have seen spineless political chicanery, which I must sadly admit is totally bipartisan, when it comes to issues like fracking and the substitution of natural gas as a purportedly transitional fuel to bridge the gap between coal and renewables. What is essence we are doing is substituting one form of greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide with its long-term atmospheric consequences, with a far more potent heat-trapping gas, methane, in the short- and intermediate-term. This is fossil foolishness that will sentence our kids and grandkids to a lifetime of gut-wrenching and maybe irretrievably lesser quality-of-life choices. But the effects will not show up until after those making the decisions have long left their lofty perches within the government.
Fracking is contaminating water supplies and the air we breathe, is causing public health problems and facilitating earthquakes in places that have never even had earthquakes in recorded history, yet the regulatory responses are negligible. While New York State maintains a moratorium on fracking its neighbor Pennsylvania continues to put communities at risk. California, with its tough talking Governor Jerry Brown loudly decrying climate change and promising to be a world leader on mitigation strategies is essentially missing in action when it comes to regulating fracking in the central valley and even within the city limits of Los Angeles. The inadequacy of California’s regulatory body to place the citizens’ health and safety above industry considerations borders on criminal.
We all witnessed the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and its dastardly cousin in Porter Ranch, California that has been described as BP on land, the release of nearly 100,000 metric tons of methane from a leaking natural gas storage well. Yet we merrily proceed to push forward with government-subsidized fossil fuel production policies that benefit the richest corporations known to mankind.
We see government failure and most likely criminal negligence if not outright prosecutable actions on behalf of government officials with regard to the contaminated drinking water in cities like Flint, Michigan and evidently in cities all across the U.S.
There are crimes against humanity being perpetrated by chemical companies like Monsanto as glyphosates and genetically engineered foods find their ways comfortably into our kitchens and stomachs. Steven Druker, in his seminal book Altered Genes, Twisted Truth has meticulously documented systemic corruption in the Food and Drug Administration.
In Malibu, CA there is a local effort to address the existence of PCB’s in window caulking in schools yet the school board spends millions of dollars to fight its removal rather than simply remove it. Once again it seems to be far easier to spend money denying the evidence than in fixing the problem. This is obscene and unfortunately the problem extends to schools throughout the country. Why is it we have so little regard for the injuries we are inflicting upon our children?
Last but not least we are witnessing a monumental failure on the part of the Fourth Estate, the media. Bowing to the pressures of deep-pocketed advertisers the media refuses to even make an attempt at investigative journalism. A glaring exception to this is the case of the Spotlight investigative team at the Boston Globe which uncovered massive corruption within the Catholic Archdiocese in sheltering child molesters and pedophiles among the priesthood. We celebrate this as an act of great valor, when in essence it ought to be business as usual. This should not be the exception it should be the norm and the media is abdicating its responsibility to expose the truth and instead prefers the safer course which is to be complicit in the cover-up. Richard Dreyfuss and I recently penned an article calling attention to this complicity here.
I have worked in numerous governmental agencies at senior levels where I attempted to defer to the scientific expertise when contemplating major policy decisions affecting millions of people. To see the systemic corruption that is occurring in government agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services including the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration not only makes me sad but it makes me mad.
There has always been an attempt in this nation to balance out the avarice of the private sector with a regulatory framework in the public sector that protects those most vulnerable in society. That balance has been totally upended and as the latest effort on behalf of those involved in Vaxxed shows we as a society can no longer depend upon our government leaders and institutions to protect us. We must begin by electing leaders who will restore the balance that is needed to protect at the very least our children. If we do not our legacy to our children will be one punctuated by scorn and anger. In this instance our kids actually know us better than we know ourselves. What a sad commentary on the state of affairs of the human race.
Follow-up Simmens article (which The Huffington Post declined to publish):
I wrote an article last Friday, April 15 entitled “Why Our Kids Should Hate Us” that was an outgrowth of the controversial documentary Vaxxed. The article took no position on the major theme of the movie: namely, corruption in the Centers for Disease Control with respect to manipulation of data linking certain vaccines (Mumps, Measles and Rubella) to the exponential growth in autism in children. Rather, the article called for serious consideration of a national dialogue on the allegations contained in the documentary. If in fact there is even a scintilla of evidence suggesting that the influence of Big Pharma on public policy decisions affecting our children may have created known adverse consequences, then it needs to be fully vetted. Nothing more and nothing less.
I also noted that public skepticism and cynicism with regard to our public institutions and elected officials is particularly heightened by high profile events such as lead in public water systems (not only in Flint but across the country), contaminated water and air along with adverse public health consequences and earthquakes directly attributed to fracking, PCB’s in public schools, the release of nearly 100,000 metric tons of methane due to natural gas leakage in Porter Ranch, CA which was the landlocked equivalent of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico just to name a few. Given the rather precarious nature of our loss of confidence in regulatory institutions of government that are ostensibly designed to protect our citizens from private sector greed and callousness careful examination of credible allegations is not only warranted but should be demanded.
The Fourth Estate, the media which includes organs such as Huffington Post has a solemn duty and responsibility to present balanced perspectives on important issues and let the reader decide what to do with the information. In this particular instance, however, I take exception to the decision by HuffPo to first publish the above mentioned article and then retract it within the space of about 20 minutes. But to add insult to injury they also subsequently blocked out access to my account so that I was unable to submit any articles for the next three days. And despite repeated email requests asking whether the disappearance was due to a technical malfunction or an actual decision to kill the story it was not until the morning of April 19 that I received an email from Arianna Huffington essentially reinstating my ability to access my account.
Make no mistake, this was welcomed and I think shows a dedication to the spirit of the publication to provide an open forum for discussion of ideas and freedom of expression. But the issue of republishing the original article was left unaddressed. I wrote back urging her to personally review the article and reconsider the decision to kill it. As of this writing I have not received a reply to this request.
I did receive an email on April 18 from someone named Stuart at HuffPo informing me that they decided to pass on my post “because it violates a long-standing policy we have against disseminating conspiracy theories and inaccurate medical information. In the case of your post specifically, it presents as credible a widely known and debunked hoax that vaccines cause autism.”
I fully respect and accept the decision to reject articles but the reasons for rejection must be well founded and solid. I have grown used to editors and rejection but this was both perplexing and troubling at the same time. First off, I was not disseminating a conspiracy theory. To the contrary I was asking for a national dialogue surrounding an assertion made by a senior scientist at CDC that data was manipulated. I firmly believe that whistleblowers are essential bulwarks against collusion and corruption in governmental agencies and ought to be taken seriously. Thus a transparent and full public discussion seems to be a prudent course of action in order to protect our kids.
Secondly, I most assuredly was not disseminating inaccurate medical information, I was not disseminating any medical information at all. Rather I was requesting that the assertions made in the documentary be given a fair and intensive examination to determine whether they were of merit. Once again a prudent course of action in order to protect our kids.
Thirdly, I was not promoting a widely known and debunked hoax that there is a causal relationship between vaccines and autism. Those allegations are certainly contained in the film and there is an obligation to our children that they be fully vetted in public so the parents of potentially affected children can adequately assess whether they are willing to run the risk of hurting their children. Are editors at Huffington Post sufficiently trained in science and medicine to make a determination as to what constitutes a widely known hoax?
Thus, the major objections used to kill my piece are neither sufficiently grounded nor meritorious enough to suppress freedom of expression. I would gladly welcome a forum on HuffPo to debate the merits of differing positions with respect to the impact of vaccines on the growth of autism. It should be anchored by medical doctors and experts grounded in statistical analysis that allows for a full and free discussion of the data available, including that of the senior scientist turned whistleblower, Dr. William Thompson.
Let me state for the record I am not anti-vaccine, but neither am I for unchecked promotion of vaccines unless there is a high degree of certainty that there will not be widespread adverse consequences for a large subset of children. As a father of two I was presented with the decisions surrounding vaccination when my children were small and must admit I was grossly uninformed about potentially lethal or dangerous side effects.
But the important issue here is the transparency associated with such devilishly difficult decisions. Censorship is a dangerous and slippery slope in any society. We here in the U.S. witnessed blacklisting in the McCarthy Era of the 1950’s that destroyed many lives and careers and spawned a level of public hysteria that turned neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend, and colleague against colleague. Censorship has no place in a civilized democratic society dedicated to the principles of free speech and a viable and vibrant press. Unfortunately, we see all too many examples in the contemporary environment of a media that is complicit in promoting sensationalism instead of news, fantasy instead of facts, theater instead of truth.
The purpose of this article is to plead my case to the editors of Huffington Post and to Arianna Huffington herself to reverse their decision not to run my original piece which has garnered significant interest over the internet after it was published in the Los Angeles Progressive Magazine. Stand up to those who would stifle full and free expression of controversial issues. Controversy often gives birth to creativity that can be either positive or negative. Show the intestinal fortitude to tackle this difficult and critically important issue if not for the sake of your integrity then for our kids. Arianna, you will sleep better at night by doing so.
The government and vaccine industry have worked together to portray various alleged scientific links between vaccines and autism as a discredited myth or hoax. Representatives from CDC, vaccine corporation public relations and law firms, medical associations and nonprofits tied to the industry routinely contact news organizations and executives to urge them to shape their reporting accordingly. Some also lobby members of Congress to prevent or halt plans to hold hearings on related topics. They say they are simply trying to preserve the integrity of America’s vaccination program and save lives.