On April 20, 2017, Tucker Carlson from Fox News interviewed Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on his show, and they talked about vaccines. Mr. Kennedy pointed out that this is only his second interview on the topic in ten years, and blamed it on advertising dollars (which, apparently, did not prevent Mr. Carlson from hosting him). So why are RFK Jr vaccine beliefs ignored by the mainstream press?
The reality, however, is that journalists familiar with Mr. Kennedy’s past utterances on vaccines avoid him is because of his history of saying things that are blatantly wrong, and journalists who give him credence may well end up with egg on their face. This interview is a good example.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is an environmental lawyer. Best as I can tell he started speaking on vaccines in 2005, with an embarrassingly wrong article posted on both Salon and Rolling Stone that claimed that the CDC was engaged in a conspiracy to hide the fact that the vaccine preservative thimerosal was linked to autism.
After five corrections of the blatant errors in Kennedy’s article, Salon also retracted it, explaining that critics’ exposure of further problems “further eroded any faith we had in the story’s value. We’ve grown to believe the best reader service is to delete the piece entirely.”
Kennedy has repeated the same grossly inaccurate statements – claiming a conspiracy to hide the fact that thimerosal in vaccines causes autism – since, and has not recanted, most recently publishing a book making the claim ironically named “Thimerosal: Let the Science Speak,” and also pushing a challenge to science supporters on the topic, following in the footsteps of holocaust deniers, climate change deniers, anti-vaccine activists, evolution deniers, and others.
In the intervening years studies from all around the world looked at thimerosal in vaccines and did not find a link between it and autism. More recently see publications here and here. The global nature of these studies means that even if the CDC wanted to conspire to hide a link, it wouldn’t be able to, not without controlling the rest of the world. No serious scientific source today really thinks that the tiny amounts of thimerosal in vaccines (and as a reminder, all childhood vaccines, with the exception of multi-dose influenza, contain no, or almost no, thimerosal) causes autism or other neuropsychological problems – or any other serious, long-term harms. But Kennedy does. Because conspiracy.
RFK Jr vaccine statements are hostile, and also very, very extreme. In a famous quote, he said:
They can put anything they want in that vaccine and they have no accountability for it,[…] They get the shot, that night they have a fever of a hundred and three, they go to sleep, and three months later their brain is gone…This is a holocaust, what this is doing to our country.
Not only is this untrue, but it’s highly offensive to children with autism to say their brain is gone, as is the comparison to the holocaust. Unsurprisingly, science supporters were dismayed by Kennedy’s claims – denied by the Trump transition team – that President Trump offered him the position of leading a vaccine commission.