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Imus, Autism, and America

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Imus is gone, but not everyone is cheering. Thousands of parents of autistic children around the country are reeling at the loss of the one true friend they had in the mainstream media. For them, the silencing of Imus could not have come at a worse time.

Of course the messy-headed host said a reprehensible thing, and some form of punishment was not only imperative, but desirable. Comeuppance, almost always, is a good thing.

Many enemies of racist and sexist trash talk wanted Don Imus gone, and they got their wish. If you are reading this blog, you may count yourself among them (though it's not clear if the Rutgers basketball players who accepted Imus' apology shared in this sentiment).

But consider, for a moment, who is cheering right alongside you. Certainly everyone who thinks the war in Iraq is going swimmingly, and deserves our full support, is happy to see the end of Imus - and that goes for the Vice President on down.

The bureaucrats who let Walter Reed's Building 18 degenerate into a moldy mess of neglect can't be too unhappy, and the last five supporters of Alberto Gonzales left in the country must be ecstatic.

And, of course, if anyone is happy to see Don's downfall, they are also in the fine company of Eli Lilly, Merck, GlaxoSmithKline and other big Pharma firms who loathed Don Imus for suggesting that mercury in vaccines -- maybe and only maybe - might be contributing to the growing crisis of childhood autism in the United States.

Feel better? Politics may make for strange bedfellows, but shock-jocking, apparently, yields allies that are downright bizarre.

Don Imus was one of the very few members of the mainstream media to speak out about autism on anything even resembling a regular basis. And he was the ONLY one brave enough (or stupid enough) to take on Big Pharma, the CDC and virtually the entire US Senate over the issue of mercury, vaccines and neuro-developmental disorders.

But now he is gone, and no one is left to speak up for all these damaged kids, and the frazzled parents who believe that mercury played a key role in their children's illness.

Here are some of the things that Don Imus will NOT be covering in the coming weeks. And don't count on the mainstream media to fill in the blanks:

On April 17, the Senate's health committee will hold hearings on how to spend federal dollars allocated by the Combating Autism Act - a bill that might not have passed without the unrelenting support of Imus and his wife Deirdre.

The hearing was scheduled without any input from autism organizations that support the mercury hypothesis, nor will these groups be allowed to testify. Imus would have gone ballistic over that injustice. But now he is gone, and he can't.

Just two days later, the Institute of Medicine will convene a two-day workshop on devising research protocols into environmental factors of autism, including mercury and vaccines. It is doubtful that the media will give it much thought, let alone coverage. Imus would have covered it intensely. But now he is gone, and he can't.

And of course, in June, the Federal "vaccine court" will hold a three-week hearing on whether mercury in shots and/or the MMR vaccine can cause autism and similar problems in some children.

There is a good chance that the proceedings will not be open to the press or the public. In other words, the vaccine trial of the century - one that could settle one of the most important controversies affecting our next generation -- will not be televised.

Imus would have been all over this story like, he used to say, a dog on a bone. But now he is gone, and he can't.

Of course, I am totally biased. I support research into a possible mercury-autism link. And Don Imus had me on his show three times to discuss it. The first time I appeared, in April, 2005, my book on the subject went from a 5-digit ranking on Amazon to a one-digit ranking, in the time it took me to drive home from MSNBC to Brooklyn.

But this is not about book sales. It is about getting to the bottom of a profound and poignant mystery: Why are so many American kids so damn sick? Sadly, not nearly enough Americans really care about the answer to that question.

Don Imus cares, but now he is gone.

Those three nasty words heard round the world may well end a career that began before the Rutgers Women's Basketball team was even born. Soon, these remarkable women may get married and give birth to kids of their own. If they live in New Jersey and give birth to a son, they can count on a one-in-60 chance that he will develop autism, according to the CDC.

Don Imus would have been the first to invite them on his show to talk about it. But now he is gone.

So, as we mark the demise of a foul-mouthed old man who showed an ugly, racist side to his complex personality, just remember who is also raising a glass.

Maybe mercury is linked to autism, and maybe it is not. But until we find out, go ahead and buy that Lilly stock you've had your eye on. With Imus out of the picture, your investment is safer.

Oh, and happy Autism Awareness Month.