In the wake of a US measles outbreak, the media, politicians, and even celebrities have quarantined the country in a vortex of paranoia and fear. The combination of false science and government distrust has given a pedestal to the irrational, and the self-evident necessity of vaccines has come under attack. Bob inoculates with a little history and a lot of common sense on the anti-vaccination "controversy."
Song: "New Grass" by Talk Talk
BOB: This week, finally, reality began to dawn. Not quackery, urban myth, and belief, but physiology and contagion and sickness.
CLIP: Now to the latest on the measles outbreak: the government says 102 people are infected across 14 states now. And the American Academy of Pediatrics is urging families to vaccinate their children against the disease...
CLIP: Measles outbreak, the biggest in years, and traced back to Disneyland...
CLIP: “The measles outbreak spreads to a fifth bay area county. One local pediatrician accuses vaccination opponents of undermining a basic survival concept...
BOB: Yes they did, which is why this outbreak was literally inevitable. The Measles Mumps Rubella vaccine had essentially eradicated those childhood diseases in the United States, but when parents began to stop vaccinating their kids, they were creating not just potential patients, but vectors, spreading the disease to the vulnerable. Such as the babies, pre-vaccination age, infected this week in a Chicago day care center.
And whose fault is all of this? Well, mainly, it’s the media’s fault.
The nightmare began in 1998 when a British con-man named Dr. Andrew Wakefield faked results and published an article in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet fraudulently claiming a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. It was a lie, which the journal should have figured out long before finally retracting the article 12 years later.
By then, the bogus linkage had already spawned a movement of heartbroken parents struggling to understand what -- or who -- was to blame for their childrens’ afflictions. Trading as it was on the counterfeit currency of pseudoscience, that movement first languished as a relatively obscure internet subculture -- until it was given vast exposure and lethal credibility by…. the media. The likes of Larry King and Oprah simply could not resist the apparent controversy, combined with the celebrity of the anti-vaccinators’ sexpot spokesperson, Jenny McCarthy. Here she was on CNN in 2012:
MCCARTHY: So you ask any mother in the autism community if we’ll take the flu, the measles, over autism? Any frickin day of the week. So I think they need to wake up and stop hurting our kids.
BOB: McCarthy isn’t trained in medicine, virology or pharmacology; she’s a Playboy Playmate turned TV personality. But her son Evan had been diagnosed with autism and she’s a blonde bombshell. For newsrooms (especially TV newsrooms) this was, in every sense, a no-brainer, and McCarthy was invited to peddle the dangerous-vaccines canard far and wide. Here she was on Oprah, explaining why medical experts are wrong and she is right:
MCCARTHY: My science is named Evan, and he’s at home. He’s my science. [applause]
BOB: In the past five years, Wakefield himself lost his license to practice medicine, and not a single scientific study has located any correlation whatsoever between vaccines and autism. But the myth persists. And why? Because though the science is unequivocal, the media are not.
CLIP: The US measles outbreak and the vaccine controversy; parents, doctors, even politicians weighing in...on both sides.
CLIP: First on the rundown, the escalating numbers of measles cases and the growing debate over vaccinations. It’s turning into a full-fledged political firestorm.
CLIP: As the measles outbreak spreads to fourteen states across the country, the debate over vaccinations intensifies.
BOB: Those clips aren’t from 1998. They are from this week. For crying out loud, there is no controversy. There is no debate. Cynical politicians like Rand Paul and Chris Christie may pander all they want to frightened moms and the tinfoil-hat crowd--just as 49 US Senators can deny man’s role in climate change. But there is no rational basis for their beliefs. They are simply wrong -- and when the media frame such idiocy as one side of a debate, they are not only legitimizing ignorance and demagoguery, they are threatening the lives of children.
Here’s the thing about reality: it doesn’t care what your opinion is. It doesn’t care what your ideology is. It doesn’t care what you believe in your heart. It doesn’t care what a website says. And it doesn’t even care what a majority of Americans think is true. Reality just is. It can’t be “balanced” by lies, superstition, or even true conviction. And any attempt to do so courts catastrophe by aiding and abetting very dangerous fools.
WNYC 93.9 FM and AM 820 are New York's flagship public radio
stations, broadcasting the finest programs from NPR, PRI and American Public Media, as well as a wide range of award-winning local
programming. WNYC is a division of
New York Public Radio.