By Anne Dachel
April 28, 2014, Dr. Paul Offit made an appearance on the Stephen Colbert Show on Comedy Central. I wrote about it on April 29.
Offit used that occasion to criticize parents who blame vaccines for their children's autism. He was adamant--there is no link!
Then incredibly, Offit was a guest on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart on June 2, 2024, just four and a half weeks later.
In a skit entitled, "An Outbreak of Liberal Idiocy," Samantha Bee blamed "right wing science denial" and made one big joke out of parents who don't vaccinate while interviewing vaccine developer, Paul Offit, whom she described only as an " infectious disease expert."
So just who isn't vaccinating?
Offit: "They're communities that have large populations of Caucasian, upper middle class residents who are college educated, often graduate school educated, and believe simply by Googling the term 'vaccine' on the Internet, they can know as much, if not more than anyone who's giving them advice."
Bee feigned shock that her neighborhood might contain non-vaccinating parents.
Does this make any sense in the real world? If white, upper middle class, college educated parents are MORE LIKELY not to follow the recommended schedule, then the reverse must be true: lower class, uneducated parents willingly vaccinate their children according to the recommended schedule. This disconnect from reality should raise lots of questions.
Bee was next shown interviewing "health and nutrition blogger," Sarah Pope.
Pope: "These vaccines are loaded with toxins and I'm not going to inject them into my kids." While Pope spoke, Bee appeared to foam at the mouth.
Brief film clips of parents at rallies carrying signs about mercury in vaccines and of Andrew Wakefield outside the GMC were shown. Then Offit continued speaking.
"They have an amazing ability to ignore scientific consensus."
"If you spend millions and millions of dollars to answer the question and you show people these great data and they still deny its existence.
Samantha Bee went on ridiculing parents who don't vaccinate and viewers were shown a clip of Jenny McCarthy on CNN. Paul Offit had the last word saying, "Sadly, the only way this gets better is when we start to see more and more outbreaks."
Bee: "So the cure for the anti-vaccination epidemic is observing very real negative effects of the anti-vaccination movement."
Offit: "Yes, I think that's exactly right."
My question is: How does Paul Offit command this kind of coverage? Imagine all the events happening in national and international news reports that could be topics for Colbert and Stewart. So why do they both focus in this one?
I'd also like to ask Jon Stewart about what Robert Kennedy, Jr said on his show in July 2005 during an interview about vaccine and autism.
Stewart: "Most recently you were talking about the link between autism and vaccinations. Pretty controversial."
Kennedy: "It's not all vaccinations. Between 1989 and 2003, almost all of our vaccinations included a material called thimerosal, which breaks down to form mercury. It was a preservative. It was unnecessary to add to vaccines. And we saw during that period, a dramatic increase in neurological disorders among American children. Today, one in every six American children born during that period has some kind of neurological disorder: speech delay, language delay, dyslexia, and at the opposite end of the range, autism. Autism rates in 1988, before they started adding all these vaccines, one in every 2,500 children had autism, today one in every 166 children have autism. And there is very, very strong science, really overwhelming science, linking those autism rates to the thimerosal that was in the vaccines. The thimerosal, people should know, has been removed from most of the vaccines in America. We still have it in the flu vaccine and in one or two other. But we are still giving it to children all over the world and there's now been a dramatic increase in the Third World in autism rates. A few years ago, six years ago, autism was unknown in China. We started giving them our vaccines in 1999, today there's 1.8 million cases of autism in China. . . . (Stewart is nodding and looking concerned here.)
"If you actually read the science, which most journalists don't do, the science is overwhelming that there is a link between the autism and the thimerosal."
Stewart: "So where then is the controversy? There are certain issues, if true, if validated, do boggle your mind with a sense of humanity. If these vaccine makers, or if the FDA, or other people are allowing a certain compound into these vaccinations that's causing autism and they now know it, why are they fighting so hard to keep that- Is it purely to save their asses, are they concerned about people then rejecting vaccines in general and then the public health suffers. I mean clearly a lot of these people are not malevolent."
Kennedy: "There appear to be two concerns. One is the pharmaceutical industry is terrified of the litigation. This is literally trillions of dollars of damage. Each autistic kid, if you have a kid with autism in your family, it shatters your family. so that's concern with the pharmaceutical industry. There's also a concern with scientists at CDC and the FDA, the federal agencies that green lighted [thimerosal].
Congressman Weldon who's a right-wing Republican Congressman who's also investigated this issue and is convinced that there's a link, what he says is that how many of us would want to admit that a decision we made had poisoned a whole generation of American children.
"The principal kind of benevolent rationale is that the federal agencies and the pharmaceutical companies want to make sure that the people don't get scared off of vaccines. What I've been saying is people are going to be frightened of vaccines if they don't trust the federal regulators to be honest with the American people. And the biggest threat to our vaccine program is that these people have now been caught red-handed conspiring to hide this information from the American people."
Stewart: "You've tried to talk about this publicly and there a real interesting story about what happened to you with ABC News where they had shot a story for you concerning the link."
Kennedy: "I had pieces coming out, the cover story of Salon.com and Rolling Stone simultaneously published the same piece. We had an exclusive deal with ABC to air the piece, to air a story about the piece on ABC Nightly News and Good Morning America. ABC told us they had read the piece, we gave them an exclusive so we didn't pitch it to the other networks. They told us that they believed in the story, that they were behind it. They wanted to be the network to expose this to the American people. The night before the piece aired, I received a call from the producer saying ABC has cancelled the piece. The order came from higher up at the network. They won't explain why they're doing it. Two days later, ABC was deluged with letters from the autism community, mainly mothers who have autistic kids. Hundreds and hundreds of emails. This is what the producer told me. And he said we are no longer going to cancel it. We're going to air it but we're going to recut it. They recut the show, but they recut it to make it virtually an advertisement for the pharmaceutical industry. And indeed, as if to emphasize the capitulation to big pharma, they bracketed the segment that they did on thimerosal with two ads for pharmaceutical products. (Stewart is smiling broadly here.)
"I have no idea what happened at ABC. I can't look into their heads and see what happened but that series of events was suspicious."
Stewart: "And if nothing else it does seem that it's very hard to argue the idea that putting mercury in things-some people would argue that we're surrounded by all sorts of mercury contaminates in everything and the vaccines aren't as much. But with so many passionate people on the case of it, there must be something there. Where there's smoke there's fire."
Kennedy: "I got into this serendipitously; it's not really my area. I've been working on environmental mercury for many years, from power plants. In nineteen states it's now unsafe to eat any freshwater fish because of mercury that's coming from our power plants."
Stewart: "It's a remarkable story. I wish we had more time but I appreciate you getting the word out and I know parents of kids with autism truly appreciate-and I know it's a very difficult thing for them to be dealing with so I'm sure they appreciate the help."
Getting the word out? The word is that the more educated you are, the chances are you won't buy the safety claims about vaccines.
Anne Dachel is Media Editor for Age of Autism and author of The Big Autism Cover-Up: How and Why the Media Is Lying to the American Public, which goes on sale this Fall from Skyhorse Publishing.