Dear Mr. Scarborough and MSNBC:
Nearly one week has passed since you, Mr. Scarborough, made the false and unsupportable claim that most people who commit the kind of violence seen in Aurora, Colorado are on the autism spectrum.
Your statement was both prejudicial and factually incorrect. Not a single mass murderer has ever been diagnosed with autism. Not one. Moreover, there is no evidence linking autism to premeditated, criminal violence. Absolutely none.
You have not set the record straight. Your employers as MSNBC have not set the record straight. Why is that? Journalists have an obligation to provide accurate information and to issue a retraction when they are in error. It’s really quite simple. What has gone awry at MSNBC that no such retraction has occurred?
It’s not as though, in the past week, retractions and apologies are without precedent. The president of ABC News has issued an apology for Brian Ross’ irresponsible statement that the Colorado shooter was a member of the Tea Party. Why has MSNBC not followed their lead? Why has MSNBC failed to retract and apologize for an equally incorrect and potentially damaging statement?
Many of us have spent years in the trenches educating people about autism, dispelling myths, working toward acceptance, and advocating for inclusion. Many of us have spent countless hours worrying about what will happen to people on the autism spectrum — the children coming up, the young adults beginning to make their way in the world, the older people dealing with a lifetime of rejection — in a world full of so much negative and false information. Many on the spectrum have borne the brunt of physical violence, bullying, and shunning. Countless family members and friends have watched their loved ones bear it.
And all of us — all of us — have cried bitter, bitter tears over a world that does not see people on the autism spectrum as fully worthy of the rights and protections that most people take for granted.
And yet, through our tears, we keep trying. We keep building. We keep working.
And then you come along, Mr. Scarborough, with both the privilege and the responsibility that come with reaching millions of people, and you utter falsehoods that have the potential to undo the progress we have labored for so long to achieve. And you did it at a moment at which the nation was wounded and our hearts were bleeding — a moment at which we were hungry for answers.
And you gave America the wrong answer, Mr. Scarborough. You made a group of innocent people the representatives of the horror wrought by one man.
You can go a long way toward healing the damage. You can take responsibility for yourself and for your words. You can issue a full on-air retraction, one that will reach millions of viewers, and you can clarify that autism does not in any way, shape, or form predispose people toward the kind of heinous violence perpetrated in that movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.
And if you don’t take responsibility, Mr. Scarborough, your employers at MSNBC certainly should.
Over 10,000 people have signed a Change.org petition demanding a full retraction, and the numbers are growing. They are outraged, and rightly so. They know an injustice when they see it.
Listen to them. They are telling you what you need to know. Please fulfill your professional and ethical obligations. Set the record straight.
© 2012 by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg