An exclusive investigation into what - and who - is really driving the relentless smear campaigns directed at those who champion children's medical safety.
By Miri Anne Finch (www.miriaf.co.uk)
(Originally published 14/04/22)
When I first started publishing, shall we say, “counter-narrative commentary” on the web, way back in the wilds of 2015, one of the first supportive voices I encountered was that of Joanne Allman. A tireless autism campaigner, with a background in teaching and English Language, I was immediately struck by Joanne’s passion and dedication – and her extremely eloquent writing skills.
When I went on to develop a website to host my content – particularly, strongly-worded letters - Joanne became (and remains!) the only person to ever have featured as a guest columnist. Her superb skills of investigation and research, coupled with a brilliant flair for writing, mean reading her letters leaves one with a sense of awe (and, if you are me, intense epistolary envy…). She has used her skills to hold to account many corrupt officials and organisations, as well as extracting an official correction from the Liverpool Echo, upon the command of IPSO, regarding their promulgation of false information relating to Covid and lockdown.
Yet the transition from teacher to activist has not been an easy one for Joanne. Although she worked as an English Language teacher for many years, including in the Philippines where her older son was born, her life took an abrupt and different direction after her second son, David* (*name changed to protect privacy), suddenly regressed, losing skills and language at the age of two. Previously a happy, gentle child, David became aggressive and prone to sobbing bouts, as well as developing severe bowel problems. He was diagnosed with autism shortly before his third birthday, and Joanne and husband Terry were informed all David’s other issues were “just a part of autism”, about which nothing could be done.
Refusing to accept this, Joanne scoured the country looking for proper help for David. While the established autism charities would provide a degree of support, there was very little in the way of recognition or signposting towards help for treating David’s many medical and behavioural issues – until Joanne discovered the Thinking Autism charity (then Treating Autism) in 2008. A more open-minded and progressive organisation, Thinking Autism supports families to explore a wide range of different approaches and treatments to help alleviate the more distressing symptoms associated with the condition.
With Thinking Autism’s help, Joanne was able to stabilise David’s moods and resolve his bowel issues, as well as help him regain some language and skills. Recognising what a profound difference Thinking Autism had made to her family, Joanne wanted to help other families to receive the same support, so she became an active volunteer for the charity in 2009. Since that time, Joanne has undertaken many roles on Thinking Autism’s behalf. These include treasurer, administrator, letter and press release writer, event organiser, social media coordinator, and more.
Joanne has undertaken all these positions as a volunteer and has never received a penny for her autism charity work, nor for any of her other campaigning and activism.
It is also worth mentioning that, as well as her many talents, Joanne happens to be one of the nicest, kindest, and most considerate people you could ever hope to meet.
So, it stands to reason that a disreputable muck-raker from the gutter press would decide to do a hit piece on her.
On the 9th of April of this year, the “journalist” (and I use the term very loosely and with great reluctance), Shanti Das, composed a preposterous piece of pharmaceutical propaganda for The Guardian “newspaper” (previous bracketed disclaimer applies), lambasting Joanne and her activities for Thinking Autism, on the basis that she had expressed some Covid-sceptic views on her personal social media accounts.
Das attempted (wildly unsuccessfully) to conflate Joanne’s personal views on the Covid vaccine, with her role as an autism charity volunteer, attempting to insinuate that, somehow, because Joanne (along with at least six million others in this country alone) is sceptical of the Covid vaccine and other pandemic restrictions, she is therefore endangering families via her autism work.
This is such a patently absurd and roundly ridiculous position that even The Guardian’s four or five readers ridiculed it in the online comments’ section.
As such, I am not going to spend much time refuting the idiocies and absurdities of Das, beyond referring to the statement released by the Freedom Alliance political party on the matter. One of Joanne’s many campaigning roles has been to stand as an anti-lockdown candidate in the May 2021 council elections, a fact alluded to in The Guardian’s piece. Please read the short statement here as a comprehensive rebuttal to the spurious claims made in the article.
What I would rather focus the main body of this article on is the author of The Guardian piece, Shanti Das, an individual whom I have previously encountered, and in very similar circumstances. In 2019, Das, along with colleague, Jonathan Leake, wrote a malicious and defamatory smear campaign for The Sunday Times (a veteran vehicle of such pieces, more on that later), regarding the renowned and internationally celebrated scientist, Professor Christopher Exley.
In this piece, Das and Leake alleged that Professor Exley was engaged in a “vaccine misinformation” campaign, an allegation which resulted in Professor Exley’s funding avenues being terminated and that, ultimately, extinguished his prolific four-decade career. I wrote up Professor Exley’s shocking story in full here.
At the time The Sunday Times article on Exley was published, I sent Das and Leake a letter of complaint, which I reproduce below.
Dear Shanti Das and Jonathan Leake,
I am writing to you in regards to your article of 07/04/19 regarding Professor Chris Exley.
Professor Exley is recognised as the world's leading authority on aluminium toxicity, with a research career that spans four decades, and encompasses extensive publication in multiple top international journals. So to claim that 'experts' disagree with him is a misnomer. He is the expert, and the other scientists you quoted are not. None of them claim any proficiency in aluminium.
Your piece details that Exley's funding avenues are being terminated, with the latest attempt to raise money on GoFundMe being shut down by the funding giant because ''[c]ampaigns raising money to promote misinformation about vaccines violate GoFundMe's terms of service and we are removing them''.
Yet the funding drive was not promoting any information about vaccines - it was attempting to fundraise to finance a study. This study would be carried out under all the proper protocols, and the findings reported accurately and appropriately in the apposite journal. GoFundMe does not know what the findings of this study would be, so by shutting down the efforts to fund independent and unbiased science, GoFundMe and the Sunday Times are confirming that independent and unbiased science is unacceptable, because there is a possibility it will find that vaccines are unsafe - and this, apparently, constitutes 'misinformation'.
This is, clearly, deeply troubling. If vaccines are indeed safe, and the aluminium adjuvants are not causing serious adverse events in a significant number of individuals, then that is what the study will find. To prevent the study from being done clearly belies that vested interests know the study will find something else, and are therefore crushing funding attempts in order to continue to retail a dangerous product.
I am sure that when you both entered journalism, it was with the best of intentions, to share important and enlightening information with as many people as possible, and not to produce propaganda to enrich the coffers of pharmaceutical companies.
I did not receive a reply.
What we can glean from this is that Shanti Das possesses a powerful incentive to direct malevolent and devious hit pieces at those who question the dominant orthodoxies regarding vaccination, with a view to crushing these dissenting voices permanently. The most pressing question, then, is what these incentives Das receives are, and what individuals or organisations are providing them.
Let us reiterate once again that Joanne Allman receives no monetary compensation nor other direct personal incentive for her charity or campaigning work. So, to suggest she has some sinister vested interest for the work she does is nothing more than a baseless slur. Can the same be said for Shanti Das? Let’s see…
Shanti Das qualified as a journalist in 2015, with an NCTJ Diploma in Journalism, from the Brighton Journalism Works, a training college which closed down in 2019, after just 13 years. After a brief stint at The Argus, Das went on to work for the next three years for the SWNS Media Group, in both Bristol and New York.
The SWNS Media Group umbrellas a number of news organisations and services, one of which is ‘Inside Media’, a subdivision of the group that offers “targeted campaigns”. These are described on SWNS’ website as “campaigns in a number of sectors to build and sometimes protect the reputations of those we work with”.
A “targeted campaign” is another word for PR, and pharmaceutical companies make an enormous amount of use out of “targeted campaigns”, using, as SWNS describes, “the support of dozens of editors, journalists, writers, photographers and videographers across locations throughout the UK” in order to achieve – again to quote from the SWNS website – “the impact intended for those we support”. In plain English, a “targeted campaign” is brand management and strategic communication. It’s propaganda.
It is interesting and perhaps revealing that Shanti Das cut her journalistic teeth with a news agency offering such a service.
After three years with SWNS, Das moved to The Sunday Times, as a news reporter, in 2019.
The Sunday Times is owned by News UK, which is headed by Rupert Murdoch, and it is the same vehicle that produced the comprehensive attack on Dr. Andrew Wakefield in 2004 regarding his whistleblowing on the MMR vaccine, ultimately leading to Wakefield being stripped of his licence to practice medicine in the UK and driven from the country.
The Sunday Times also, in 2017, made an attempt to viciously smear the UK phones billionaire and philanthropist, John Caudwell, in regards to his autism work, with an article entitled: “Caudwell Children autism charity ‘a magnet for quack therapies’”.
Prior to The Sunday Times’ interventions, Caudwell through his charity had funded a wide range of alternative and complementary therapies for autistic children, treatments not available on the NHS and that struggling families would not ordinarily have been able to afford. Caudwell was heralded across the autism community as providing critical help to families and making a real difference to children, by acknowledging the fact that autism can be related to toxicity and environmental insults – and one such insult can be, for some children, vaccination.
The Sunday Times categorically denounced this with all the might of an evangelist excommunicating a blasphemer, and, immediately, all Caudwell’s crucial funding providing a lifeline to families dried up.
Then, in 2019, The Sunday Times produced the career-ending assault on Professor Chris Exley – another dissenting voice whose work has proven that, in some cases, for some individuals, vaccines can be dangerous.
So, do we see a pattern emerging here?
In 2022, Shanti Das, co-author of the assault on Exley, moved over to The Guardian – and took her ‘targeted campaign’ proclivities with her. She had barely been there five minutes when she produced an article entitled, ‘Don’t take the damn thing: how Spotify playlists push dangerous anti-vaccine tunes.’
I must admit, I did have a rueful chuckle at this silly sensationalist headline, which would surely be more at home in a down-market right-wing tabloid, than what was once the publication of choice for visionary liberal intellectuals.
The Guardian used to be read by rebels, pioneers, and other general champions of freedom and dissent. That it has now devolved to the point where it is trying to crush creative expression by labelling anti-establishment music “dangerous”, and demanding state watchdogs censor it, really represents a staggering new low.
One particularly terrifying track quoted in the article goes, “They fooled the whole world with PCR testing. The thought police are patrolling. Can’t you see what’s unfolding?”
Hm, truly treacherous indeed.
The article goes on, in The Guardian’s usual scolding stepmother tone, to give pearl-clutching examples of further such shocking, subversive content (“Don’t take the damn thing,” presented as an example of especially egregious enunciation), but – just as with Das’s attempts to smear Joanne Allman – does not make any attempt to explore these views (you know, do some actual journalism) nor present any kind of evidence as to why they might be wrong.
Rather, the strategy employed - a time-honoured tactic in ‘targeted campaigns’ - is to simply ridicule and belittle certain views as self-evidently ridiculous, without needing to present any of said evidence to confirm this position. “Look at these crazy lunatics!” is the strongly implied undertone. “Only dangerous maniacs believe nonsense like this!” – with the more sinister implied threat being, “so you’d better not either… or else.”
Why is Shanti Das quite so desperate to control the viewpoints regarding vaccinations of everyone else? Is she an authoritarian despot who cannot bear the reality that millions of people have views different to her own? If so, should the “liberal” Guardian really be employing her?
To answer that question, we’d better take a closer look at The Guardian Media Group. This group (encompassing The Guardian and its Sunday sister paper, The Observer) is wholly owned by The Scott Trust Limited. It is of note that The Scott Trust recently had to change its status from charity to that of a limited company, having had its charity status stripped from it for failing to submit its accounts, including trustees’ annual returns.
I wonder what it was in those accounts that The Scott Trust so desperately didn’t want people to see? Princely sums from pharmaceutical companies or those who benefit from pharmaceutical profits paying for ‘targeted campaigns’, by any chance? Surely not…
Interestingly, the same body that stripped The Scott Trust of its charitable statis – The Charity Commission – is now being petitioned by The Observer newspaper to “investigate” the Thinking Autism charity. If, as I strongly suspect, The Charity Commission finds no evidence of wrongdoing within the Thinking Autism charity, and it retains its charitable status, whilst The Scott Trust has lost its own, presumably we must then conclude that Thinking Autism and its content creators are more trustworthy than The Scott Trust and those who write under its umbrella?
The main “allegation” that Das attempted to pivot her article around was the fact that the Thinking Autism charity received funding from the National Lottery. However, it has not done so since 2020, and when approached for comment, the National Lottery stated that: “We looked into it and were satisfied that the funding was being used in line with the agreed proposal.”
Das includes this quote at the end of her story, therefore confirming it is actually a non-story, given that no fraud or other misdemeanours are taking place in regards to Thinking Autism’s funding – which, of course, is something we are unable to say with any clarity regarding Shanti Das’s employers and their owners, The Scott Trust.
With allegations of financial impropriety quashed, the only remaining substance of Das’s article effectively amounts to, “other people have opinions I don’t like”. Or perhaps, that her lucrative paymasters don’t like.
Trying to pin allegations of misdemeanour or fraud on Joanne Allman or the Thinking Autism charity is a non-story. The real story here is Shanti Das, The Sunday Times, News UK, and (that shimmering beacon of moral integrity and spotless ethics) Rupert Murdoch - and The Scott Trust and The Guardian Media Group.
It is, of course, not incidental that one of the top financial supporters of The Guardian is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Aggressive promoters of vaccination around the world, and with almost limitless cash at its disposal, this Foundation has the means, should it wish, to bankroll as many ‘targeted campaigns’ directed at those who highlight safety and ethical issues with vaccinations, as it likes. It would be profoundly naïve to believe that sponsorship from this organisation plays no role in determining The Guardian’s editorial policy on vaccination.
So, to sum, please ask yourself this simple question: who is more likely to tell you the truth? A devoted mother tirelessly campaigning, unpaid, for her unwell son, whose story is being told by a freelance journalist not beholden to any employer, trust, or advertiser (that’s me, by the way: I don’t run adverts on my site or put anything behind a paywall: I am completely independent, and my content is 100% funded by optional donations from readers).
Or opaque, ultra-wealthy news companies and media scions, whose biggest and most lucrative sponsor is, and always has been, the pharmaceutical industry?