A well-known newsman whose highly publicized PBS NewsHour series this month sparked debate about the portrayal of autism in the media will respond to viewers on the program Tuesday.
Robert MacNeil returned this month to the PBS NewsHour — which he helped create in the 1970s — for the first time in more than 15 years for a six-part series on autism. Segments looked at everything from causation, treatment and prevalence to issues faced by adults with autism and MacNeil’s grandson’s personal experience with the developmental disorder.
Many praised the series for taking such a comprehensive look at autism. But not everyone was pleased with MacNeil’s reporting on the issue. In blog posts, comments and e-mails to PBS, self-advocates are chiding the veteran reporter, saying that their perspective was left out. What’s more, they are criticizing MacNeil for comments they say suggest that those with the disorder lack empathy and can be violent.
“There’s always a problem when you talk about autism and do not include autistic people in the discussion,” says Ari Ne’eman, president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, who suggests that the series featured “dehumanizing rhetoric” and language insinuating that people with autism are “violent and that we’re a burden on society.”
Now MacNeil will respond to questions and concerns raised by viewers during a segment that will air toward the end of Tuesday’s edition of the NewsHour, according to Anne Bell, public relations manager for the show.
In a move that was planned before the series aired, Bell says that a digital correspondent for the NewsHour will pose questions to MacNeil selected from the flood of viewer responses submitted by e-mail, phone and through the show’s website.
Specifically, MacNeil will discuss his comments about the ability of individuals with autism to show empathy.
“There are a lot of issues we addressed in the series and we’re finding that the questions and concerns are just as broad and diverse,” Bell says.