Photo credit: Shutterstock/Lev Radin
By Phil Plait
In late March, the Tribeca Film Festival announced it was pulling a “documentary” from their lineup. The film, called Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe, was a clear piece of propaganda designed to bolster anti-vaccination nonsense.
The trailer is loaded with easily debunked claims, and the producer, Andrew Wakefield, is the founder of the modern anti-vax movement. Not so incidentally, the paper he authored linking vaccines and autism was retracted, he also lost his medical license for acting unethically (really, really unethically), had a huge conflict of interest in his aim to cast doubt on the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, and has been accused of fraud by the British Medical Journal.
It’s very, very clear this film was going to just be more of the same tired arguments made by anti-vaxxers who rail in the face of reality.
Tribeca is run in part by actor Robert De Niro, and the film got in the lineup due to De Niro’s influence. He has a child with autism and wanted an open discussion of it.
On Wednesday, he and Tribeca co-founder Jane Rosenthal appeared on The Today Show to talk about the festival and Vaxxed. In my original article about this I praised De Niro for pulling the film. I now rescind that praise.
At the time, he said, “But after reviewing [the film] over the past few days with the Tribeca Film Festival team and others from the scientific community, we do not believe it contributes to or furthers the discussion I had hoped for.” You can watch the video here; the discussion about vaccines starts at 2:15.
But for some reason he has completely backtracked on this. In this more recent interview he parrots quite a few false anti-vax claims and phrases, and clearly buys into the movement’s falsehoods.
For example, he says, “The movie is something that people should see. … Definitely there’s something to that movie. … There’s a lot of information about things that are happening with the CDC and the pharmaceutical companies.”
What he’s talking about is the alleged “whistleblower” who claimed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was lying about research into a connection between autism and vaccines. However, that’s been widely debunked. Interestingly, although the trailer of Vaxxed heavily features this conspiracy theory, the whistleblower reportedly isn’t even in the film.
De Niro goes on: “I, as a parent of a child who has autism, I’m concerned and I want to know the truth. I’m not anti-vaccine; I want safe vaccines.”
This is an old chestnut. Jenny McCarthy claims she’s not anti-vax either, and just wants safe vaccines, but then dives right into making false claims about vaccines. But the thing is, if you do that, you’re an anti-vaxxer.
And that’s what De Niro does. When the interviewer tells him that scientists have found no evidence at all of a link between autism and vaccines, De Niro responds, “It’s more complicated than that. There is a link, and [scientists are] saying there isn’t. The obvious one is thimerosal, which is a mercury-based preservative.”
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