Disability and Representation

Changing the Cultural Conversation

On Autism and the Colorado Shooting: An Open Letter to Joe Scarborough and MSNBC

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.

Sincerely,
Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg

© 2012 by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg

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  1. 7/28/2012 | 2:10 pm Permalink

    This is nicely written. Thank you.

  2. 7/28/2012 | 7:31 pm Permalink

    I agree with everything you said about him retracting it. The problem with your article is that its completely inaccurate to state nobody on the spectrum has been charged with murder. In fact many have been convicted. This doesn’t make scarborough’s statement ok, but that part of your article isn’t factual.

    • 7/28/2012 | 7:46 pm Permalink

      Heather, please read more carefully. I am speaking of mass murder, which is the subject at hand. According to the FBI, mass murder is the murder of four or more people within a single event, with no cooling-off period. My statement is factually correct. No one with a diagnosis of autism has committed mass murder of the kind carried out in Aurora, CO.

  3. 7/28/2012 | 7:44 pm Permalink

    My son with Asperger’s has said to me, “Great! I hope the kids at school haven’t seen this!”, referring to your comment, Mr. Scarborough. He REALLY did NOT need another social worry, he’s been through enough bullying. Please, apologize, on the air, and make this right.

  4. 7/28/2012 | 8:24 pm Permalink

    Ignorant Comments like this will not be forgotten !!

  5. 7/28/2012 | 9:05 pm Permalink

    Wonderfully written. Thank you! I am the parent of a child with autism and the amount of ignorance in this world never ceases to amaze me. Just one more uneducated moron opening his mouth and letting stupid nonsense fall out. He should be ashamed.

  6. 7/28/2012 | 9:46 pm Permalink

    Some people under the spectrum already innocently have issues dealing with people. They don’t need added misinformation put out there by irresponsible media typed like Scarborough.

  7. 7/28/2012 | 11:57 pm Permalink

    Please issue a retraction. Make this about your son and others like him instead of about you and savig face. Please.

  8. 7/29/2012 | 4:22 pm Permalink

    What made Mr. Scarborough’s statement more surprising is that he apparently has a son with Asperger’s. See
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/23/joe-scarborough-james-holmes-autism_n_1694599.html
    He gave an explanation for his comment, but I think a full apology and retraction would be better.

  9. 7/30/2012 | 11:08 am Permalink

    You are a warrior Rachel! I stand with you. MSNBC and Joe Scarborough need to take action now!

  10. 7/30/2012 | 1:29 pm Permalink

    Ugh, of course in his response he feels the need to justify himself as a “hard-working autism parent” and show how much he supports the community by working with Autism $peaks.
    I don’t understand why it’s so hard for people to recognize they’re wrong.
    And honestly, by even mentioning Autism $peaks, he pretty much proved that he knows nothing about autism or how to support people on the spectrum.

  11. 7/30/2012 | 4:10 pm Permalink

    Beautifully written…and oh so true. Thank you for setting this man straight. In one moment, he set back years of work in educating the public. As the Mom of twins on the spectrum, the public needs to learns the FACTS of autism. This man had a responsibility, and he abused it. Hopefully, NBC/MSNBC will see the error of his ways. Rachel, you have stated the facts eloquently and beautifully…thank you!!

  12. 7/30/2012 | 4:48 pm Permalink

    Comments like this set the autism community back years! Your ignorance is unacceptable. You need to held responsibly for your actions. Just because you sit behind a news desk doesn’t give you the right to report false information that is completely damaging and will effect so many people! Shame on you, shame on you!!

  13. 7/30/2012 | 8:14 pm Permalink

    This is typical NBC and MSNBC, never let the facts get in the way of a story. Time and time again, MSNBC have proven they have no shame.

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