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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 4/22/16

Vexed by Vaxxed

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Of course, Penny Lane does not know what critique the film contains, and does not know that it is not--by any stretch of the imagination--"anti-vaccination," because she (like Michael Specter) did not see it before denouncing it, and calling for removing it. Her denunciations did not, and could not, explain by whom, and how, the film she didn't see had been "revealed to be a fraud." Her entire argument, and--as we see repeated in Specter's remarks--the pre-emptive response of almost every defender of vaccine orthodoxy, is: because Andrew Wakefield. [3]

Here, I must say that I have no interest in, or brief for or against, Andrew Wakefield. I've always considered him a distraction from the main issues. Whatever one thinks of Wakefield and his twelve co-authors' entirely non-earth-shattering Lancet article of 18 years ago, it does not affect the fundamental issues about vaccines in general, or the MMR-autism link in particular, or the case made in the film. The media always want to turn a story about vaccines into a story about Andrew Wakefield, as if he were the source of all wariness about vaccines and autism. (He is not; the parents of children suffering from autism are.)

Unfortunately, his presence here as the film's director gives the media and critics that hook. Indeed, it made me decidedly unenthusiastic about seeing the film, since I was really not interested in a retelling of the Andrew Wakefield controversy. But, because of the nasty, unprecedented, campaign of censorship against it, I did see it, and was surprised and pleased to see that it is not about him; it's about Dr. William Thompson and his evidence regarding the CDC study. It's a careful recounting of that prima facie evidence of deliberate deception, told with sharp, gut-wrenching attention to the plight of autism-affected families. It echoes many of the concerns of another documentary, which DeNiro mentions in his interviews, and which Wakefield has nothing to do with, called Trace Amounts . But you have to see the movie to know that. Speaking on the basis of my own reluctance, I say: Don't let Wakefield scare you off.

Some of the more powerful moments in Vaxxed involve two pediatricians who describe how they rely on, trust, and strictly follow the CDC immunization schedule in their practices. Then they are given the evidence and data from the CDC's study, gathered via Dr. Thompson. After reading it, one doctor, Dr. Jim Sears , says: "Everything I've been telling my patients [about vaccines] for 10 years has been based on a lie and a cover-up." Another, a young African-American doctor, says that from now on, when parents ask about MMR shots for their children, she will tell them she wouldn't give it to her own child. What led those doctors to that conclusion is the documents of the CDC itself. That's the evidence that changed those doctors' minds, and it is to keep you from seeing that, not to protect you from evil Andrew Wakefield, that "very powerful forces" have mobilized to keep this film from screens. But you have to see the movie to understand that.

In considering all the forces that might have pressured DeNiro to pull the film, we should also be aware that, while Robert DeNiro may be the public wizard of the Tribeca Film Festival, behind the curtain there is a less visible money machine fronted by his partner, Jane Rosenthal. You didn't think the filmmaking munchkins ran the show, did you? It's capitalist culture, after all. That machine is family affair, which includes Jane's husband, billionaire real-estate investor Craig M. Hatkoff, and Jane's nephew-in-law, Jonathan Patricof, who is the President and CEO of Tribeca Enterprises, the "diversified entertainment and media company that owns Tribeca Productions, the Tribeca Film Festival, and Tribeca Cinema." Jonathan's dad, billionaire venture capitalist Alan Patricof, runs Apax Partners Funds, one of the world's largest private equity funds, and "one of the leading global investors in the Healthcare sector." Apax's Investments include companies involved in "vaccines and clinical trial material, cold-chain management, protocol support and regulatory advice."

Not that that necessarily means anything, of course. This is just how culture, and medicine, and science are done in these capitalist United States. Keeping the world round, and all. But one might be excused for considering whether what is in fact the capital infrastructure of the Tribeca Film Festival exerted some influence in the decision by Robert DeNiro--or whoever's in charge--to pull a film critical of the $300-billion-a-year pharmaceutical industry.

I urge you to watch DeNiro and Rosenthal's interviews on Good Day New York and the Today Show . You can't miss the visible discomfort between them. Rosenthal's practically squirming in her seat; her body and lips are tensed, and she's ready to spring into squashing any positive mention of the film. When the anchor of GDNY asks DeNiro if he would still like to release the film, and he looks like he's about to say something positive. Rosenthal interrupts him, snapping: "We're not releasing it." It's hard to avoid the impression that she's there as his minder.

A week later, on Today, DeNiro takes a much stronger stance in favor of the film. When asked, he comes close to explicitly saying he regrets pulling the film, and urges people to see it and another documentary called Trace Amounts (which is about mercury in vaccines and the environment). When Rosenthal changes the subject, he comes back to it, with passion, saying "There's something there that people aren't addressing. And for me to get so upset here, today, on the Today Show, with you guys, means there's something there.. All I wanted was for the movie to be seen. People can make their own judgement. But you must see it."

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Former college professor, native and denizen of New York City. Blogging at, from a left-socialist perspective. Also publishing on Counterpunch, The Greanville Post, Medium, Dandelion Salad, and other sites around the net. (more...)

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