Did WGBH News hire a science reporter who doesn’t believe in science?
That’s the question being asked by some employees of the PBS affiliate after learning that Mish Michaels, a former meteorologist at WBZ-TV who has been outspoken in her controversial belief that vaccines cause autism, had been hired as the station’s new science reporter.
Among those who wondered whether Michaels was right for the job was Jim Braude, host of WGBH News’s “Greater Boston,’’ for which Michaels was supposed to report stories. We’re told that Braude this week raised his concerns with station bosses, including WGBH News GM Phil Redo and “Greater Boston’’ executive producer Bob Dumas, and they have since changed their minds.
“The decision was made that [Michaels] is not a good fit for ‘Greater Boston’ and she won’t be working there,’’ Braude told us late Wednesday.
Reached on her cellphone Wednesday, Michaels said she would call back, but has not. Nor did she respond to an e-mail seeking comment. She had announced her new job on Twitter Jan. 31.
At issue are Michaels’s views on vaccines. Despite overwhelming research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among other public-health agencies, showing no link between vaccines and autism, some parents — and celebrities like Jenny McCarthy — continue to argue that vaccines are unsafe. They often cite a 1998 British study that was later retracted and discredited.
President Donald Trump, before and during the campaign, has also voiced doubts about the safety of vaccines, claiming a connection to autism. We’re told Redo and Dumas were aware of Michaels’s views on vaccines but hired her anyway.
Michaels, who began her TV career in Boston at WHDH-TV (Channel 7) in 1992, was a meteorologist at WBZ-TV from 2001 to 2009. According to her website, Michaels, who was born in India, received a bachelor of science degree in meteorology from Cornell, and a master’s degree in technology in education from Harvard.
In 2011, after she’d left WBZ-TV, Michaels testified before the Massachusetts Legislature in favor of a bill to add parental choice to the list of reasons children without immunizations may attend school. Currently, kids who aren’t immunized may only go to school if they have documentation from a doctor, or if a parent submits a written statement declaring that immunization conflicts with their religious beliefs.
In her testimony before the Legislature, Michaels said her work as a “trained scientist and environmental reporter’’ had led her “to ask difficult scientific questions that often [took] me beyond scientific consensus.’’ She said she and her husband have a family member who “contracted leukemia after exposure to vaccines and pesticides,’’ and they have many “Ivy League-educated friends’’ who have autistic children.
“Up to that point, we believed what the media told us, that all vaccines were safe and effective,’’ Michaels said.
When she became pregnant in 2006, she told lawmakers, she began to “avidly research vaccine safety’’ and began to “present scientific research that was current and recent and new to news management [at WBZ-TV] and also began to present them with stories of vaccine-damaged children.’’ But Michaels said her bosses at the station were not interested.
“What I was told time and time again was that there is no story, that the science is settled, that there’s no reason to present stories of this nature on TV because simply these are fringe stories. This was not representing the masses,’’ she told lawmakers.
“To me, this was surprising because I thought the media was supposed to be the voice of the people, and clearly at that point, in my newsroom, it was not acting as the voice of the people,’’ she testified.
The YouTube clip of Michaels’s testimony has been making the rounds in the WGBH News offices this week, and of particular concern to her prospective co-workers was her statement that she repeatedly pitched stories at WBZ-TV linking vaccines and autism. (Michaels’s testimony before the Legislature is also included in the 2014 book “The Big Autism Cover-Up: How and Why the Media Is Lying to the American Public.’’)
In addition to her skepticism about the scientific consensus on vaccines and autism, Michaels also isn’t on board with the widely accepted science related to climate change. On her website, she writes: “I spent hours and hours reading about climate science to be able to generate related stories. Given my exposures to date, I do feel strongly that politics has warped the scientific process and natural variation has a much stronger hand than humans do.’’