IN 2009, I wrote a cover story for Wired magazine about the anti-vaccine movement and profiled Paul Offit, a leading proponent of vaccines for children. Dr. Offit is a man. I am a woman. That was sufficient grounds for things to get ugly.
In online comments and over email, I was called a prostitute and the C-word. J. B. Handley, a critic of childhood vaccination and the founder of the autism group Generation Rescue, affiliated with the actress Jenny McCarthy, sent me an essay titled, “Paul Offit Rapes (intellectually) Amy Wallace and Wired Magazine.” In it, he implied that my subject had slipped me a date-rape drug. Later, an anti-vaccine website Photoshopped my head onto the body of a woman in a strapless dress who sat next to Dr. Offit at a festive dinner table. The main course? A human baby.
I thought of this early this month, when I saw another Photoshop hack job. An advocacy group called Food Democracy Now was displeased by an article in The New York Times about public hearings regarding a proposed ban on genetically modified organisms on Hawaii Island; the article pointed out that many of the anti-G.M.O. arguments ignored science. In response, FDN cut off the head of the article’s author, Amy Harmon, and pasted it atop an image of a woman in a leopard-skin bathing suit.
So a few journalists get heckled, you may be thinking. Why should we care? Here’s why: This kind of vitriol is not designed to hold reporters accountable for the fairness and accuracy of their work. Instead, it seeks to intimidate and, ultimately, to silence female journalists who write about controversial topics. As often as not, even if they’ve won two Pulitzers, as Ms. Harmon has, these women find their bodies — not their intellects — under attack.