Scaring You to Your Kids’ Deaths

A few weeks ago, Jon Stewart had the last and least Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., on to plug his latest crusade. I meant to blog it a while ago, but it was something that required some work to pull together all the technical refutations of his argument. Fortunately, Arthur Allen at Slate has done an excellent job of just that.

Kennedy’s argument is that vaccines contain thimerosal, which is a preservative that contains a variant of mercury. Mercury poisoning’s effects are well-known, but starting with a British doctor who had a grand total of 12 cases to work with, various people have claimed that childhood vaccines have caused the increase in reported incidence of autism. Allen pulls together the story and lets you see that the drug companies aren’t the only researchers with financial incentives (the primary sources for Kennedy’s latest attacks make money testifying in trials for “victims” of vaccines).

But Kennedy’s appearance on The Daily Show has problems far beyond the specifics of his argument.

First, Jon Stewart dismisses criticisms against The Daily Show by claiming they’re just entertainment, not journalism–despite his own criticism of journalism as practiced by chat show hosts. Throughout this interview, he more or less just asked Kennedy what he had to say, and listened. He drew out a few criticisms of other media, but never once asked a skeptical question or even made much attempt at humor. He certainly acted as if he had a breaking story that the world needed to know about on his hands.

Hey, Jon, if you’re going to do an unfunny segment, at least practice maybe one or two of your criticisms of other media outlets just to prove that you actually read your own scripts after you present them. Try a contrarian question, instead of lickspittle. With reports that people are getting their news from The Daily Show, you might have wound up with a responsibility you didn’t set out to have, but are making no effort to shrug: journalism. Bringing someone on to make charges without even the possibility that there are other points of view is just hackery of the sort practiced by…Fox News. At least their interviews are frequently unintentionally funny.

But it was Kennedy’s Elmer-Fudd-lisped criticisms of media outlets that were the most ludicrous. He said he’d “arranged to have a piece in Rolling Stone and Good Morning America.” Not that he’d suggested a story idea and they had done an independent bit of reporting that included him as a resource, but that he’d more or less produced a piece for them (he took the byline in Rolling Stone. He praised Rolling Stone for running the piece, but condemned it when the medical editor got involved in the piece for GMA and revised it. According to Kennedy, it was like “an ad for the pharmaceutical industry.”

Sez him. He offers no evidence of this, but since his opinion of a balanced piece is one over which he has total control, I tend to doubt his description. He then cinched his argument by claiming the piece was bookended by prescription drug ads. Um, Bobby, baby, have you watched network television sans TiVo in the last five years? It’s all prescription drug ads nowadays, particularly around health segments. As a lawyer, you might stand to earn a pretty penny in lawsuits as well, yet I noticed Stewart neglected to mention your actual role at NRDC in his bio.

There’s an additional inaccuracy in his appearance that I didn’t hear mentioned, and I listened to it twice. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I didn’t hear him point out that thimerosal is no longer in vaccines in the US. He made it sound like vaccines are still dangerous, but he wants to make drug companies stop using it. Um, they have. For three years already. Despite copious studies that find no link and aren’t funded by “big pharma”.

So basically Kennedy is, despite his protestations to the contrary, in a war against childhood vaccination. By doing that he will not just give autism to kids, he will kill them. Guaranteed. Every time various vaccine scares have come up, rates of fatal childhood diseases have climbed as well. The autism scare is actually fairly old, and the only new bit Kennedy pointed to on The Daily Show was supposedly leaked objections at a secret conference nobody but him knows about, and he’s not sharing his data with the rest of the world.

Trust him, he’s a lawyer making money through media appearances and suing industry. He has no reason to sensationalize.