The murders committed in Newtown, Connecticut this week are an unimaginable national tragedy that’s still sinking in, and while there’s little the news media can do to help, they should, at the very least, do no harm at a time like this. Unfortunately, in addition to piles of reported “facts” that have wound up not to be true, our news media has been engaged, to varying degrees, in a campaign to falsely link autism with the sort of violence that resulted in this unthinkable event. Fox News’ Hannity program and The New York Times are among the latest to err on the extreme end of this spectrum.
The gold standard for irresponsibly and falsely linking autism with mass murder still belongs to MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, who, in the wake of the mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, told his audience that killers like Aurora shooter James Holmes are “somewhere, I believe, on the autism scale,” and that while he didn’t know if this was true of Holmes specifically, “it happens more often than not.”
Scarborough never corrected his utterly false and damaging statement on-air, but in that case, there were no other media figures mentioning autism, so Scarborough was the lone voice of irresponsibility. As I wrote extensively at that time, there is absolutely no evidence of any kind linking Autism Spectrum Disorders with criminal violence.
This time, there is widespread reporting that Connecticut shooter Adam Lanza allegedly had an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), possibly Asperger’s Syndrome, reporting that has been poorly-sourced, at best, and fits within a context of…