Sunday, 16 December 2012

When the Media Fails - Piers Morgan and CNN

Normally, I post a lot about beauty and make-up, but today I want to talk about something different.

You would have to be living under a rock not to have heard about the atrocious mass killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conneticut, committed by a lone gunman, whose name has been widely publicised but I refuse to name him here (Knowing his name, and not the names of the 20 innocent children and 6 adults he killed, portrays him as a name worth knowing, which I think we can agree, he isn't). There has been 24-hour coverage on many news networks all over the world, keeping us abreast of developments in this case, and most networks are doing well to report as factually as they can, trying to filter out the majority of the unsubstantiated claims, rumours and hearsay that inevitably arises when awful acts of violence such as this occur.

However, CNN, on Piers Morgan's show, decided to report on the shooter's background and possible mental state leading up to and during the shootings. During the show, they decided to discuss unsubstantiated reports that the shooter may have had autism or Asperger's Syndrome. I would like to stress that the only evidence they had for this was statements from family members who said they thought this man may have had autism; there was no mention of any formal diagnosis being made by a medical professional, and no firm evidence at all. Piers Morgan, being the sensationalist that he is, decided to run with this angle on the story however, bringing in a medical "expert" who claimed:

"...a symptom of autism [is that] something’s missing in the brain, a capacity for empathy, for social connection, which leaves the person suffering from this condition prone to serious depression and anxiety.”

 Some of you may know that I work for an autism charity, and my job involves supporting adults living with autism and ASDs in the community and in their homes. I might not be a medical professional, but I can tell you that from my experience in working with autism, this doctor is talking absolute nonsense. Yes, people with autism suffer from anxieties, but they do have a capacity for empathy and the capacity for social interactions and connections with other people. As for "...having something missing in the brain...", that's simply not known yet. Autism is a life-long, developmental condition that affects people's sensory perception, their ability to socialise (through the fact they need support to recognise social cues and conventions), and their ability to think flexibly (e.g. understanding routines, changes to these routines, dealing with unpredictable circumstances etc.). No-one knows definitively yet what cause autism, so for this doctor to reduce autism to "something being missing in the brain" effectively belittles the condition and stigmatises its suffer by portraying them as being mentally deficient.

People with autism are not mentally deficient. Piers Morgan is currently tweeting to anyone who will listen that the shooter was mentally ill. Autism is not an illness; illness implies deficiency, people with autism are, again, not mentally deficient, but are people who are capable of so much. The reason I am so angry at Piers Morgan in particular is that although (as far as I am aware) did not say anything directly about autism, he let someone else make sweeping generalisations without actually checking anything this "expert" was saying was even true. Each person with autism is completely unique, their autism is completely different to someone else's autism so to make a comment like that is completely unfair to people with autism. By letting this happen, Piers Morgan is standing by and leaving the autism community completely open to stigma, abuse and ill-informed bias. I imagine people with autism would also feel completely insulted and marginalised by being described as 'being ill' or as 'suffering from autism.'

The other reason I feel that Piers Morgan is culpable here is that another part of my job is promoting awareness and understanding of autism and ASDs. Again, by standing by and giving an unsubstantiated rumour air time on a world stage, without even bothering to check if this was true or having any real proof, is completely negating the job that myself (and other people like me) are trying to do in promoting a better knowledge of autism and ASDs. It is staggering how ignorant people are when it comes to ASDs, and Piers Morgan is making it even worse by making these assumptions about the shooter. The last thing we need is people assuming that the shooter definitely had a form of autism, and that all people with autism are inherently violent. They are not. People with autism can become anxious for many different reasons, and for some, their anxieties can lead to aggression, verbally and sometimes physically. However, for this doctor to imply that all people with autism are capable of this level of violence is completely idiotic. Allowing this doctor air time is also completely idiotic, Piers.

What I would love to happen, would be for Piers Morgan to actually research autism (and evidence his research by doing an informative piece on autism), to admit it was wrong of him to allow this doctor to make so many sweeping generalisations about autism and ASDs, and I would like him to actually show us some evidence that the man who committed this awful crime had a form of autism. However, I suspect that Piers Morgan doesn't really care much, and will continue his coverage, without realising the uspet and hurt he is (ironically) causing for those with autism.

This is just my opinion, based on my experiences working with people who have autism or ASDs. Feel free to agree, disagree or comment at will :)

Christina xo


  1. Reading this really upset me - I know about the terrible shootings but I had no idea they'd attributed it to Aspergers or Autism. My dad has a mild form of Aspergers - he gets angry when taken out of his comfort zone, doesn't understand emotions. he absorbs information like a sponge but unless its a scientific scenario he can't apply what he knows in every day life (do you know what I mean? I don't think I'm the best at explaining it - sorry) That doesn't mean he's going to suddenly take up arms and massacre the nearest school. Morgan and CNN need to shut the F*** up and think about what they've broadcast. I'm actually outraged right now.

    Thanks for posting this Christina - I will definitely be sharing it! Helen xxx

    1. I know exactly what you mean about your dad, it's kind of similar to skill transfer, for example we've just moved our service users into new homes, and some have the flexibility of thought to transfer skills such as washing the dishes and hoovering, but some don't realise that the things they've learned in one house they can still do the same in their new homes. Hope that makes sense!

      It just infuriates me that he is allowing people to make false claims in order to back up something that, as yet, hasn't been proven. It's such shoddy journalism. But then I think Piers Morgan's idea of what journalism is is different to everyone else's...

      Thanks for reading it :) I just thought something needed to be said! x x