Inevitable pushback as we enter day three of the “wingnuts hate vaccines” news cycle. Reporters like this story, as Mollie Hemingway says, because it can with great effort be squeezed into the broader “wingnuts hate science” narrative that the media’s reheating for Campaign 2016. Never mind that Chris Christie’s position on vaccine mandates is indistinguishable in practice from Barack Obama’s: Flattering low-information voters by assuring them that a vote for Democrats is a vote for enlightenment is a smart way to pick up support from people who may not have strong preferences on policy. Vaccine skepticism is not an exclusively right-wing bugaboo; even the left’s favorite satirist felt obliged last night in haranguing vaccine skeptics to note the role of “science-denying affluent California liberals.” But if you’re a casual news consumer watching one major Republican after another — versus practically zero Democrats — be quizzed on his stance on this issue by the media this week, naturally you’ll conclude that this is a “Republican problem” and just maybe something you should be thinking about in deciding which way to tilt next year.
All of which is to say, this is most definitely a rhetorical question:
Once the anti-vaccination focus dies down, we can expect similarly extensive look at politicians who reject the science on GMOs, right?
— Sean Geary Higgins (@SeanGHiggins) February 4, 2015
So, the pushback. Three clips for you here. The first, via Dave Weigel, is none other than Jon Stewart listening respectfully in 2005 as RFK Jr rambles for seven minutes about possible links between vaccines and autism. The second, via Ed Driscoll, is of CNN handing a forum to unofficial Anti-Vaxxer-In-Chief Jenny McCarthy in 2008. And the third, via the Daily Caller, is of Bill Maher asking former GOP Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist in 2009 why he should let the government force him to inject himself with some substance. (Maher remains skeptical of vaccines to this day.) You can grant Stewart a pass here if you like: Per TPM’s anti-vax timeline, the RFK article in Rolling Stone that earned him this interview was published before the infamous Wakefield study purporting to link vaccines with autism was debunked. Then again, Kennedy’s Rolling Stone piece drew instant flak after it was published. Maybe the lure of a celebrity talking “science” was too much. That’s 99 percent of the reason anyone listens to Jenny McCarthy about anything, right? She’s famous, sort of, and she has a very strong, very controversial opinion about something that matters intimately to millions of moms and dads. Why should CNN, which has been wagging its finger at Republicans over vaccines all week, have cared that they were spreading bad info that’ll get kids killed if it meant a celebrity exclusive?
Makes me wonder why the “HIV doesn’t cause AIDS” crankery hasn’t caught on as much. Is it because there just aren’t enough C-list celebrities pushing the idea who are worth booking?