Years ago an editor from the travel section of the Oregonian cold called me. He found my name from a colleague at the paper who had tossed a copy of a recent Smithsonian onto his desk. I had written the cover story in Smithsonian Magazine about the last herd of West Africa’s giraffes, and the Oregonian editor was impressed. They needed someone in Southern Oregon. Did I want to do some work for them, starting with writing and shooting a story about the bald eagle fly-out in Klamath Falls?
Did I? It’s every working writer’s dream to have an editor come to them with an idea, some flattering words about their work, and an offer of generous remuneration. I made a motel reservation, charged up my camera batteries, and started researching birds of prey.
Back then I subscribed to the Ashland Daily Tidings, where I had been writing weekly columns and monthly travel articles. I didn’t have a subscription to the Oregonian but I bought a copy at least once a week to read the travel section, and I was in the habit of reading the paper from cover to cover whenever I was visited my best friend in Portland.
I wrote travel articles for the Oregonian for a few years, including stories about wines in Walla Walla, Washington, free activities in Kauai, Hawaii, letterboxing, and things to do in Medford, Oregon. Then I took some time off from newspaper and magazine work to finish writing my fifth book. When I came up for air I found out that my editor had left along with hundreds of other journalists who were laid off.
In June 2013, the state’s largest circulation newspaper announced it was going down to four-day delivery only. People on the inside knew that they had been having budget problems for years, the remuneration to freelancers had been dwindling, and morale at the paper was at an all-time low. My friends in Portland decided not to renew their subscription.
Though some excellent journalism can still be found on its pages, since then the Oregonian has continued to have shrinking pains. Their readership continues to dwindle. Like so many other newspapers in the country, they continue to struggle with how to be financially successful in the digital world.
A newspaper is not a blog. Newspaper reporters are not bloggers. If you are writing a journalistic article you have an obligation to your readers to check your facts, present the most accurate information possible, and give equal weight to both sides of a reported debate.
Yet in covering the ongoing controversy about the Oregon state legislature’s attempt to mandate vaccines, the Oregonian showed a disappointing disregard for basic journalistic practices. Unlike Salem’s Statesman Journal, which has been covering questions about vaccine safety, vaccine risks, increasing vaccine rates, parental choice, medical freedom, and whether medical decisions should be made in a doctor’s office or by the state legislature in a fair and balanced way, the Oregonian continues to present biased reporting and propaganda as journalism.
Sonja Grabel cancelled her subscription to the Oregonian because she was tired of reading propaganda masked as reporting.
Here is a version of the letter she sent to the newspaper last month explaining why.
To date she has received no response from the editors.
Why I cancelled my subscription to the Oregonian
by Sonja Grabel
I called the Oregonian to cancel my paper. When I explained why, the lady on the phone encouraged me to send in a letter. She said that she could only write down a few notes, but she thought the editors should hear why I cancelled.
I love reading the newspaper. In print. I’m an oddity in my generation of digital-media consumers.
Today, with a heavy heart, I permanently cancelled my subscription to The Oregonian. Why? Because I can no longer trust the information you provide.
My main concern is regarding your coverage and editorials of (now withdrawn) SB 442. At first, I assumed that your position and coverage was due to lack of information. But, even after I know you were presented with the accurate statistics, you continued to publish misleading information. Chiefly, you continued to print that Oregon has a “7 percent exemption rate” and alluded to that meaning that 7 percent of Oregon kindergarteners are completely unvaccinated, which is far from the truth.
In fact, when looking at the data disease-by-disease, Oregon falls about average – and above average for some vaccines – with the rest of the country.
In fact, Oregon meets or exceeds all CDC goals for herd immunity. This accurate data was easily available via the School Law Immunization Office. I got the actual statistics with a simple phone call.
The tone of your articles was condescending and irresponsible. You call Andrew Wakefield a “fear-mongerer,” yet that is exactly what you did in your articles. Calling measles “deadly” when, in developed countries, it is incredibly rare to die from the measles – especially for school-aged children (the subjects of this proposed bill) is fear-mongering. Comparing exposing children with peanut allergies to peanut butter with a healthy, non-vaccinated child is ludicrous. (Kids who aren’t sick can’t make someone else sick.) You dismiss “nutritional strategies,” ignoring the vast knowledge that nutrition **IS** important for combating measles, especially vitamin A, and that most who suffer ill-effects from the measles are the malnourished. You have made so many biased and inflammatory statements in your biased coverage of vaccine safety and the legislative debate that I can’t list them all here.
You dismiss concerns about vaccines as being related to “the debunked study,” completely ignoring all of the studies that do suggest that parents should have concerns about side effects from vaccines, the billions of dollars that have been paid out to families of children with devastating vaccine injuries, the absence of studies that prove the safety of the entire vaccine program, the skyrocketing rate of child developmental disabilities and immune dysfunction, the egregious conflicts of interest between the CDC, FDA, and vaccine manufacturers, the Congressional reports slamming said conflicts of interest, and the current fraud cases in U.S. courts against vaccine manufacturers. In fact, I don’t know a single person who declines vaccines or selectively delays vaccines who cites Andrew Wakefield’s “debunked study” as the reason. (And, I know MANY people who question vaccine safety.)
I’m not writing to argue about vaccination or why I opposed the bill. That would be an extremely long letter. I’m writing to tell you how disappointed I am by your grossly biased coverage of this debate. In your February 3, 2015 editorial, as in many of the subsequent “news” articles on this issue, you only gave a voice to the proponents of the bill. I didn’t see a single quote from the opposition.
In contrast, the Statesman Journal had more comprehensive coverage, let the opposition have a voice in the discussion, and provided more accurate data. While I don’t expect you to agree with my position, I DO expect you to provide thorough, fair, and accurate coverage.
I did not cancel my subscription just because I disagree with your position. I canceled it because your coverage of this was so one-sided and biased that I have completely lost trust in your paper.
How can I trust anything else that you print?
Sonja Grabel, a native of New Orleans, has been a teacher for the past 15 years. She suffered from asthma, significant allergies, and chronic gastrointestinal issues until she moved to Oregon after Hurricane Katrina and began learning about natural and alternative medicine. A former pharmacy technician who was once on multiple medications, she has been able to heal herself though dietary and lifestyle changes. She lives with her husband and daughter in Portland.
Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D., is an investigative journalist, a former Fulbright grantee, and the author of Your Baby, Your Way. Her writing has been published in the Oregonian, the Medford Mail Tribune, the Ashland Daily Tidings, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Greenfield Recorder, and dozens of other newspapers around the country.
Why the CDC is right and you should vaccinate your kids
Why Every Oregonian Should Oppose SB-442
Oregonians Spoke and the Legislators Listened
What Horses Can Teach Us About the Measles