How Autism and Broadcast Journalism Have Clashed (and What not to Do)

Autism is not often covered in local media, despite on the fringe blogs from the antivaxers and the #ActuallyAutistic types. I am neither individual despite having the condition, nor is it the definition of me or my site, or if this site has a certain taste, perhaps it’s the condition. I never like to talk about every nuance about it related to me,  only on the surface, when it does impact me.

The mainstream media’s delivery of this messaging is very crucial for my future (even in 2022), so it is impactful, and it should be a responsibility of all journalists to treat my group of people the same with the typicals for “the right to comment” .

For many years, Autism Speaks has not done this approach, the individual who has the condition is the topic, but the parents are always the subject. The child or adult child is featured in b-roll only.


In 2006, a film was distributed by Autism Speaks entitled Autism Every Day. Where the advocates stop, is where I chime in. There was severe ethical breaches in local media and Autism Speaks, ran for many years by Bob and Suzanne Wright, the former had the status known as the “patriarch of NBC” for a number of years, made enemies with local affiliates, and allies with the cable division (such as CNBC and MSNBC and alike.)

The producers of the film was a couple as Jim Watkins (well known as the 10pm anchor of WPIX’s The News at Ten and his wife, Lauren Theiery, who was at CNN at the time of production. Both had worked in local media for a number of years, including Boston, where, Watkins did Evening Magazine and Thierry did Eyewitness News on WBZ-TV in the late 1980s-early 90s.

In 2005 (or worse presently) autism was rarely covered, and when the media did cover it it was like what we would call today fear-porn. But even that, going back in my own memory, it wasn’t necessary fear, but just pure confusion, often an editorial sense.

Regardless, Autism Every Day had put a totally new dimension to the narrative. Again departing from the #ActuallyAutistic types, a woman who spoke on camera had “contemplated putting Jodi [the daughter] in the car and driving off the George Washington Bridge”, with her autistic child running in the background in the frame of the shot. The advocates withhold the specific largest thoroughfare in the East Coast. I’ve been on it twice, and the last time was late 2019, and even with a Big Scary Truck, you cannot drive off it. It was an illogical statement.

This embed is the moment of the barbaric statement

If one uses headphones, an audiable gasp is heard by the producer (unsure who that individual is.) Regardless, the woman who said that audacious statement is Allison Singer; that actually got promoted into society and actually became high ranking role at Autism Speaks, and later left to join an antivax organization.

This clearly showed how individuals can say the damnest things and get rewarded for it. Now with regards to Jim Watkins at WPIX, for anchor people, their contracts should have some clause of showing good behaviors even if they are not working for the station. For one Autism Every Day could not air on WPIX alone, if they had the option, just for the “driving off the” GWB alone, would hit the filters. But the parent company of WPIX at the time, Tribune Broadcasting was being sold to Sam Zell, and adult supervision was limited. One of these antidotes of the lack of adult supervision would be the 1-off sale of WLVI-TV to Sunbeam in that same year. There was a lot of mis-management that was well known in the gossip sites. Allowing an anchor to be a producer of a barbaric film, basically if they knew how to put the right mark-in and mark-out points by a few seconds and taking out a few frames would’ve accomplished a somber, but not a hopeless message. It’s important to not show all the positives like the #ActuallyAutistic types, but at the same time not write off the child.

And that was what Autism Every Day was a complete write off, legitimizing it through a film. I don’t know where the couple is today, but when I last checked Jim Watkins, he went totally down market to WTNH on the New Haven side of the Connecticut market, which is declining into deeper mid market as of this writing.

If this was a typical child there would be journalistic outrage, but when it’s special needs, the journo community just stays silent.

Also I may have a bias, but the opinions is towards the industry and towards the standards of how to tell a story appropriately to send out a message. In fact, there is actually a can-do approach, and I’ll tell you that story another day.

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