This weekend, actor Robert De Niro made headlines thanks to his appearance at the Not the White House Correspondents Dinner on Friday night. As expected, he had some pointed words for President Trump and he’s once again earning accolades across the lefty blogosphere. At the same time, measles is making a comeback in the United States. While that may seem like an unrelated topic, it’s not.
The event, hosted by Comedy Central’s Samantha Bee, was aired Saturday night as the actual White House Correspondents Dinner was being held. Thanks to Trump’s notoriously snowflakey nature, no comedians were invited to give the dinner’s keynote speech — a break from tradition that’s clearly meant to protect Trump from another scathing routine like the one comedian Michelle Wolf delivered to a none too pleased-looking Sarah Sanders in April of last year.
When De Niro took the stage, he wasted no time getting to what most rational people who dislike Trump already agree with.
“I’m happy to stand with Samantha Bee tonight to support the First Amendment, the right of the president to be a relentless and unrepentant, lying scumbag, the right of his supporters to not give a sh*t, and our right to do something about it,” De Niro said.
Which brings up an important question: Does that same First Amendment give people the right to spread disinformation that results in the resurgence of once-eradicated diseases? It depends who you ask, but De Niro clearly thinks yes.
The point is, De Niro has had a direct hand in promoting the work of another unrepentant, lying scumbag. Namely, the disgraced British surgeon Andrew Wakefield.
If you’re not aware, the modern day anti-vaccine movement that disseminates the fraudulent claim that vaccines are linked to autism, can be directly traced back to Wakefield. In 2016, De Niro planned to screen a documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival titled “Vaxxed” that was co-written by Wakefield, but thanks to an overwhelming outcry of people who aren’t easily duped by misinformation on the internet, he had second thoughts and pulled the screening.
Vaxxed focuses on a scientist, William Thompson, who claims to be a whistleblower; according to the Vaxxed website, Thompson confessed that “the CDC had omitted crucial data in their final report that revealed a causal relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism.” The film, produced by Del Bigtree (producer of the daytime show The Doctors) focuses on Thompson’s conspiracy theory, which claims that the CDC hid results that would implicate the vaccines in causing autism in a small subset of African Americans. (Scientists have described the accusations as a tempest in a teapot, i.e., “there’s no whistle to blow.”)
About a year later, De Niro teamed up with Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who is one of the most prominent voices in the anti-vaccine movement. As the two sat on stage during a panel discussion at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. in February of 2017, Kennedy pushed a conspiracy theory that claimed the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is colluding with the media to hide the dangers of vaccines — all made possible by an endless stream of money from the pharmaceutical industry, or something.
“What we’ve been told is not science. It’s more akin to religion. It’s orthodoxy,” Kennedy told the audience as De Niro sat beside him. “We need to break this impasse.”
Just a month before, Trump almost gave Kennedy the U.S. government’s stamp of legitimacy. According to reports at the time, the newly-elected Trump offered Kennedy the head seat on the Vaccine Safety and Scientific Integrity panel.
“President-elect Trump has some doubts about the current vaccine policies and he has questions about it,” Kennedy told reporters after meeting with Trump in Trump Tower. “His opinion doesn’t matter but the science does matter and we ought to be reading the science and we ought to be debating the science. And that everybody ought to be able to be assured that the vaccines that we have—he’s very pro-vaccine, as am I—but they’re as safe as they possibly can be.”
Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn't feel good and changes – AUTISM. Many such cases!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 28, 2014
The move had many in the scientific community completely freaked out. Trump, who had previously pushed anti-vaccine talking points to his millions of Twitter followers, just gave a platform to a growing minority of people who reject established science in favor of fraudulent theories that link vaccines to autism. It’s also been reported that Trump has met with Wakefield himself during the 2016 campaign.
To this day, the vaccine-autism link has been debunked countless times. The Pacific Standard points out that in 2014, a meta-analysis of 10 previous studies, including 6 that dealt specifically with the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine that Wakefield targeted in his debunked study, found that vaccines had exactly zero links to autism.
During his monologue this Saturday, De Niro scoffed at Trump’s usage of the term “fake news.” His words were perfect and biting. Ironically, the legendary actor has played a part in disseminating one of the most dangerous forms of fake news to ever saturate the internet, and today we’re seeing the very tangible results. Nineteen years after the CDC announced that measles had been eradicated in the U.S. (an achievement made possible by the 97 percent-effective measles vaccine), measles is back. Primarily stemming from three major outbreaks (one in the state of Washington and two in New York), there have been over 700 cases this year alone. Due to the imperfect nature of this kind of data gathering, the number of cases is likely to be much higher.
As much of a train wreck the Trump inner circle is, someone inside had the sense to speak up and convince Trump to ditch Kennedy and his band of idiots. Fast-forward to last week, Trump even contradicted his past statements on vaccines and encouraged people to “get the shots.”
Although De Niro has mostly laid low on the vaccine-autism claims since 2017, Trump is currently one step ahead of him on vaccine science. This isn’t to say that one shouldn’t feel any empathy for De Niro. It’s known that he has an autistic child, and his belief system is likely the result of being an agonized parent desperately searching for answers. But until he catches up on this particular issue, he shouldn’t be someone the lefty celebrity complex promotes as an anti-Trump voice.
Featured image: screen grab/Full Frontal with Samantha Bee