Elle Magazine and the Believer: If a Story’s True, Why Lie to Tell it?

Christine Maggiore

Also see a letter by Helen Lauer, University of Ghana

Last fall, I met with Gretchen Reynolds, a freelance journalist on assignment from Elle, a fashion magazine that includes articles on health and current affairs. A self-described science writer, Reynolds said she was working on piece about AIDS that would explore unanswered questions about HIV, introduce some the individuals raising those questions, and include something on the controversy surrounding the death of my daughter.

As it turns out, Reynolds’ dishonesty was not limited to her pitch. I am the sole focus of “The Believer,” a mendacious and sensationalistic article that abstains from any intelligent examination of science fact. Reynolds errors are so extravagant and numerous, the magazine’s editor, Lisa Chase, asked me for a complete list to forward to Elle’s legal department for investigation.

Below please find my letter to Ms. Chase along with a summary of Reynolds’ deviations from reality. The article is found in the September issue of Elle, and if you can make your way through all the spins without becoming nauseated, please consider sending your own comments to editor Lisa Chase lchase@hfmus.com> and writer Gretchen Reynolds gretchenxr@msn.com.

Christine Maggiore to Lisa Chase, Elle’s Legal Department

August 25th 2006

Dear Lisa;

Thank you for your response to my concerns regarding Gretchen Reynolds’ article “The Believer” (Elle, September 2006).

As I mentioned during our telephone conversation, I asked Corrie Pikul for permission to tape record the fact check after noting two false claims at the beginning of our review:

  1. That my former boyfriend had died of AIDS years ago, when in fact, he is alive and well.
  2. That I held up my children to cheering crowds on stages and at rallies, when in fact, my children have never joined me on a stage or at any public event.

Below is a list of most of the errors in the article, which are divided between points major and minor as per our discussion. Please note that I provided Ms Reynolds with documents and explanations for all points of fact listed here.

I look forward to learning how this matter can be resolved, and in the meantime, am grateful for your interest and involvement.

With appreciation,

Christine Maggiore


Major Errors:

  1. Reynolds states that “In all probability, Eliza Jane became infected with HIV during gestation, labor or breastfeeding,” when in fact, the autopsy report does not give her HIV status, and we have no laboratory evidence from the coroner of a positive HIV test, despite multiple requests for such evidence by our attorneys.
  2. Reynolds states that the coroner found “strands of HIV’s molecular proteins throughout [my daughter’s] inflamed brain” when in fact, her brain was normal (not inflamed) per a CAT scan taken at the emergency room, per the findings at autopsy, and per a neuropathology exam included in the autopsy report. Further, the finding of a single protein, rather than “strands of HIV’s molecular proteins,” was added as an amendment to coroner’s report four months after the original autopsy.
  3. Reynolds claims that “the pathologists didn’t order an HIV test in the normal course of investigating the death of a white, middle class three year old” as if race and income dictate testing decisions. Instead, the coroner’s office has stated that cases of unexplained death “are not routinely tested for HIV because AIDS is so obvious.”
  4. Reynolds changes my definition of pneumonia from the correct one, “inflammation of the lung caused by disease,” to a medically incorrect interpretation, “swelling of the lungs,” and falsely attributes this mistake to me. The correct definition is crucial to the story as my daughter’s autopsy report states that medical examiners found “no inflammation” of her lungs, thereby ruling out pneumonia.

    Reynolds compounds this error by omitting a correct reference to swelling, that is, that the autopsy notes swelling of all my daughter’s vital organs, a hallmark of toxic reaction, especially in lungs described at autopsy as having “no inflammation.”
  5. Reynolds claims my daughter endured “a day of nausea, vomiting and wheezing,” before she died, a description of events that is not in 911 transcripts; in medical, EMT or hospital records; in my testimony included in the autopsy report; or in my interview with Reynolds

    Please note that the error about “a day of vomiting” was specifically corrected during the fact check yet appears in the article nonetheless, and the unsubstantiated allegation that my daughter was also “wheezing” and had “nausea” was not mentioned during the fact check.
  6. Reynolds claims that, “a number of pathologists have examined both the original autopsy and the alternative version. All have publicly concluded that the original was correct,” when disagreement with the original findings by pathologists and other medical experts appears in the public record. In fact, the “alternate version” of the original autopsy was published in a peer reviewed medical journal with an editorial board consisting of 10 PhDs and 12 MDs with whom I have no association.
  7. Reynolds claims my response to the coroner’s September declaration was “an immediate – It’s not true!’” when in fact, my first public statement on the issue came during a December 5th broadcast of ABC’s PrimeTime, and did not contain the words “It’s not true!” (Per the program transcript: “I believe the unfortunate irony in this situation is that the one time we were asked to and that we complied with mainstream medicine, we inadvertently gave our daughter something that took her life.”)
  8. Reynolds claims I “fought back” against the September declaration my daughter died of AIDS by hiring a pathologist. In fact, the pathologist’s request to receive a copy of the autopsy report was submitted to the coroner’s office in May, four months before the declaration was issued.
  9. Reynolds claims “as soon as Eliza Jane had been declared dead, a large, unwieldy investigative mechanism swung into action” when in fact, the police investigation began several weeks after her death, and the Department of Children and Family Services was not involved until four months later.
  10. Reynolds states that “DCFS closed its investigation after insisting that [my son] be tested for HIV or lose custody” when in fact, Charlie had three times tested HIV negative prior to the DCFS investigation. As reported in the Los Angeles Times, “After reviewing recent test results from three labs showing that the boy is HIV-negative, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services is expecting to close its child endangerment investigation&Mac183;”
  11. Reynolds claims, “When I ask [Maggiore] about the current HIV tests that isolate actual viral RNA, she dismisses them as meaningless, saying they reveal only ‘protein strands,’” when in fact, I cited the test kit’s disclaimer for Reynolds which states that it is “not intended to be used as a screening test for HIV or as a diagnostic to confirm HIV infection.”
  12. In her “quick primer” on AIDS, Reynolds mentions that AIDS conditions occur when CD4 T lymphocyte cells are depleted, weakening the body’s ability to fight off infection,” but does not mention that my daughter’s total lymphocyte count at the time of her death was well above normal and five times higher than World Health Organization’s guidelines for diagnosing AIDS via total lymphocyte count (Costello C et al. Predictors of low CD4 count in resource-limited settings. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr 39: 242-248, 2005).
  13. Reynolds states that my daughter had “sores in her mouth suggestive of herpes” when the autopsy report makes no mention of sores of any kind in her mouth.
  14. Reynolds writes that I looked into “HIV deniers at the suggestion of a friend,” omitting the well known fact that a year into my positive diagnosis, I experienced a series of conflicting HIV test results that fluctuated between positive, negative and indeterminate, and that this prompted my investigation into AIDS science.
  15. Reynolds quotes Dr Jay Gordon as saying, “I’m sure I urged [Maggiore] to have the children tested,” yet medical records show that Gordon did not discuss or order HIV tests for Eliza Jane or her brother Charlie, not even at an exam with Charlie two days after his sister’s death.
  16. Reynolds writes that “At last on May 14th Maggiore called Philip Incao [to see Eliza Jane]” omitting a May 7th exam with Dr Incao that followed the visit with Dr Gordon. Reynolds also omits that at the May 7 and May 14 exams, records show my daughter had no cough. Instead she writes, “the child’s runny nose, cough and malaise lingered.”
  17. Reynolds’ article leaves out why my daughter’s case was referred to the LA County Coroner’s office: A physical exam, two chest Xrays, a CAT scan, a spinal tap, blood work and other tests performed at the ER provided no insight into why Eliza Jane had died.
  18. Reynolds omits mention of the fact that the credibility of Dr James K Ribe, the coroner brought in to resolve my daughter’s case, has been challenged by the District Attorney as well as in numerous judicial proceedings, or that Ribe is currently a defendant in a civil suit for having altered autopsy reports of several murder victims to conform to a confession later determined to have been fabricated by police.

Minor Errors:

  • A two-month pre-coital courtship with my husband is described as “they met, dated once or twice, had sex.”
  • My two day wait for treatment of a faulty root canal is described as me “still being bothered by an excruciating mouth abscess” a year after my daughter’s death.
  • My husband’s four-day trip to New York last year was described as him “spending long periods away from [home] in New York and elsewhere.”
  • I am described as wearing a “cut off denim miniskirt” when I wore a skirt with a hemline that falls mid-knee.
  • The article states, I “scheduled the appointment [for an abortion], arrived at the office, and then, at the last moment, uncertain, unsettled, left.” In fact, as I explained to Reynolds, a doctor halted the procedure after a pre-operation ultrasound mistakenly indicated I was 15 weeks pregnant.
  • My husband is described as having “dark, unruly hair” when his hair is sandy blonde and straight.
  • The article includes a fictitious scene in which I “set my son up with his homework at the kitchen table.” In fact, school he attends does not assign homework until third grade which he begins this fall.

Christine Maggiore

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