Scarborough remarks unite much, but not all, of autism communities for a brief moment

26 Jul

Joe Scarborough is in the news. Yes, he works in the news, but he’s in the news for comments he made about the Aurora shooter:

“You have these people that are somewhere, I believe, probably on the autism scale, I don’t know if that’s the case here, but it happens more often than not, people that can walk around in society, that can function on college campuses, can even excel in college campuses, but are socially disconnected. I have a son who has Asperger’s who is loved by everyone in his family and who is wonderful, but it is for those that may not have a loving family and a support group and may be a bit further along on the autism spectrum, an extraordinarily frustrating, terrible challenge day in and day out. and so, I do think, again, I don’t know the specifics about this young man, but we see too many shooters in these type of tragedies bearing the same characteristics mentally.”

This has brought together various and disparate parts of the autism communities asking for a retraction. From the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) to the Age of Autism blog. AoA even linked to a petition set up by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg.

Such unity of voice should be telling Mr. Scarborough something.

I don’t think he got the message, though. In a follow-up to that statement, Mr. Scarborough wrote:

During a debate regarding the recent Colorado shootings, I suggested that the Aurora tragedy should make Americans focus more on mental health in this country. I also stated that my own experiences raising a son with Aspergers made me keenly aware of how important strong support systems are to those who might otherwise be isolated.
The growing Autism epidemic is a tremendous burden for children, parents and loved ones to endure. My call for increased funding and awareness for Autism and other mental health conditions was meant to support the efforts of those who work every day to improve the lives of Americans impacted. Those suggesting that I was linking all violent behavior to Autism missed my larger point and overlooked the fact that I have a wonderful, loving son with Aspergers. Perhaps I could have made my point more eloquently.
I look forward to continuing my work with wonderful organizations like Autism Speaks to provide badly needed support to millions of Americans who struggle with Autism every day

That nod to Autism Speaks brought on some criticism which demonstrates how this story shows the divisions within the autism communities even in this story. (a site I was previously unaware of) has at least three articles on the Scarborough story:

Autistic Journalist Demands Joe Scarborough Retract Comments Linking Autism To Aurora Shooting

Followed by these two with a partial focus on Autism Speaks:

Autism Speaks Whispers Response To Joe Scarborough’s Aurora Slur


First Autistic Presidential Appointee Lambastes Joe Scarborough And Autism Speaks

I thought I’d never heard of Joe Scarborough before. I forgot that he is or was a supporter of the thimerosal-causation idea and had interviewed Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on Kennedy’s “deadly immunity” articles (these ran in and Rolling Stone. If you are unaware of Deadly Immunity, the piece had five corrections after being published and Salon has since retracted the article.

A comment from Joe Scarborough in that interview:

Maybe it’s five years from now. Maybe it’s 10 years from now. We are going to find out Thimerosal causes, in my opinion, autism.

It’s been more than five years since then and the support for the idea has only gotten worse.

I am actually somewhat surprised that Mr. Scarborough received such criticism from those promoting the notion of mercury causation.

For a brief moment, a call for respect for autistics trumped support for an old ally of the mercury causation movement.

by Matt Carey

note: I made a few corrections, including changing the title, to this piece shortly after publishing it.

17 Responses to “Scarborough remarks unite much, but not all, of autism communities for a brief moment”

  1. Clay July 26, 2012 at 08:30 #

    Hi Matt,

    I just want to ask you to clarify something you wrote above:

    “It’s been more than five years since then and the support for the idea has only gotten worse.”

    Did you mean that support for the idea has subsided, or has grown, thus “gotten worse”? Whether the support is “worse” or not depends on one’s point of view, right?

    • Sullivan July 26, 2012 at 15:15 #

      Hey Clay,

      I didn’t see the double way that comes read. I was thinking of the fact that scientifically there is even less support for the concept.

      • Clay July 26, 2012 at 18:01 #

        Right, then of course I agree with you!

    • Yo-Yo July 26, 2012 at 17:57 #

      Opinions? On a journalism site? Say it aint so!

      And moreover supporting Thiomersal as a cause of Autism is just another of those crazy ideas.

      There isn’t any one cause of Autism.

  2. mooncatadams July 26, 2012 at 09:13 #

    I’ve just now finished reading the articles and viewing the videos on those links, and all I can say is, “Three cheers for Tommy Christopher, Mike Elk, and Ari Ne’eman for what they said and are trying to do to get Scarborough to make a real apology.” Mr. Christopher is an excellent writer, and his abilities of critical thinking towers over that of Mr. Scarborough’s.

    I hadn’t heard of Mike Elk before, but was impressed with him, as I am with Ari, who is an excellent representative of the Autistic community. He’s far more diplomatic than I’m capable of being. 😉

    I want to advise people NOT to read the comments in the sections below those articles, so many of them are just flat-out ignorant, and really depressing!

  3. Yo-Yo July 26, 2012 at 17:54 #

    Of course Autism Speaks wouldn’t unite about it. Every single one of the organisations you mentioned apart from Autism Speaks aren’t a bunch of overpaid, shill-funding, anti-autistic, bigoted, eugenic. marketeering scumbags.

    Age of Autism might say I am part of an Autism Epidemic but I’d trust them over an Autism Speaks sellout like Alex Plank on Wrong Planet any day of the week because they aren’t afraid of letting Autistic People post views which don’t EXACTLY match their own.

    • lilady July 28, 2012 at 17:43 #

      AoA is a heavily moderated blog. They only let through some relatively benign comments that are not in lockstep with their “beliefs” about autism being caused by vaccines.

      Just which particularly comments are you reading on the Autism Speaks blog, Yo-Yo?

      Here are (the only) two comments made on a recent Autism Speaks blog. One commenter touts Wakefield’s research and the other is one of the *journalists* from AoA. Both commenters defame journalist Brian Deer:

  4. Michael John Carley July 26, 2012 at 21:12 #


    I run GRASP, the largest membership org of adults on the spectrum ( We’re preparing some stuff on this issue and I was not aware that Scarborough had “vaccine theories” or was a part of that infamous Salon article. Do you have a copy of the original text (Salon doesn’t have it up any more) so that we can verify that Scarborough said that?

    If so, can you email it to me at

    Thanks for all your great work!

    Michael John Carley
    Executive Director

  5. stanley seigler July 27, 2012 at 05:40 #

    In a message dated 7/26/2012 8:35:58 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time, reliablesource [not stanley seigler] writes:

    This is what our field gets for not INSISTING that Autism Spectrum “disorders” are a neurological problem and NOT a mental health problem! Rather than a controversy about what the proposed DSM-V says about autism, the fight should be to remove autism altogether from this psychiatric manual and let it be diagnosed like any other physical condition.

    • K Hedges July 27, 2012 at 08:49 #

      Although I agree that ASDs don’t belong in the DSM, we shouldn’t be so quick to throw people with mental illness under the bus.

      According to the stats Kassiane compiled here ( ), not just autistics, but people with mental illness are also more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violent crimes. Although some crimes result from paranoia or delusions, most crimes are committed by sane neurotypicals.

  6. Roger Kulp July 28, 2012 at 14:56 #

    I do think this shows a bit of ignorance about just what people at different places on the spectrum present as.I know it isn’t right to generalize,but often as you go further up the spectrum,into areas where there are more profound developmental disabilities,or intellectual disabilities,and you can have one without the other,you will find these people are a lot LESS prone to violence than the rest of the population at large.Self-abuse,definitely,but not violence towards others.Fragile X being a prime example.

  7. Catherina July 31, 2012 at 08:47 #

    Essentially what his comment says (IMHO) is “my parenting of my son with Asperger’s is superior, otherwise he’d turn into a mass murderer” – how sad is that?

  8. stanley seigler August 1, 2012 at 05:46 #

    re: Scarborough remarks unite much, but not all, of autism communities for a brief moment…

    most all…stupid remarks, abuse, murders, benign neglect, p-poor support, etc,… are sadly brief, feel good, moments of unity…little sustained effort to improve the quality of life for our children and friends…pray there aint no hell…

  9. Neel@Micrograam August 1, 2012 at 10:36 #

    Thanks Matt for these articles !!

  10. julia August 1, 2012 at 17:56 #

    This was a really powerful post.


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