What’s the media’s role in pushing vaccine misinformation?
“The media created the MMR hoax, and they maintained it diligently for 10 years.”
Dr. Ben Goldacre Bad Science
It’s very hard to argue with Dr. Goldacre’s analysis.
Consider that Andrew Wakefield published his study in the Lancet in 1998.
While the study itself didn’t say anything about the MMR vaccine causing autism, he set off a media frenzy at the press conference for the study (how many research study’s have their own press conferences?) by stating that “Again, this was very contentious and you would not get consensus from all members of the group on this, but that is my feeling, that the, the risk of this particular syndrome developing is related to the combined vaccine, the MMR, rather than the single vaccines.”
Of course, the particular syndrome he was talking about was autism.
Dr. Goldacre did get one thing wrong.
The media has kept the hoax going for longer than 10 years.
From Wakefield‘s first press conference in 1988 to Matt Lauer’s hour-long episode “A Dose of Controversy” on Dateline in 2009, during which he interviewed Andrew Wakefield, the hoax continued.
The Media’s Role in Pushing Vaccine Misinformation
With rare exception, the media has long played a big influence in feeding the anti-vaccination movement.
It didn’t start with Wakefield though.
Satirical prints that were printed in the very early 1800s showed people getting vaccinated and sprouting horns or turning into cows.
And before Wakefield in 1973, Dr. John Wilson took to the media to scare parents because he had “seen too many children in whom there has been a very close association between a severe illness, with fits, unconsciousness, often focal neurological signs, and inoculation.” What followed was a drop in DPT vaccinations in many countries and vaccine lawsuits, even though his study was later found to be seriously flawed, with most having no link to the DPT vaccine.
Also in Great Britain, when articles from daily and Sunday papers from 1982 were analyzed, they were found to be “irresponsible in their attitude” towards vaccines and often depicted “rare, negative events.”
In the US, Dr. Robert Mendelsohn, one of the first celebrity, anti-vaccine pediatricians, was a frequent guest on Donahue and other talk shows during the 1970s and 80s.
But it was Lea Thompson‘s anti-vaccine documentary DPT: Vaccine Roulette, which aired in 1982, that is often credited as helping start the modern American anti-vaccine movement.
“Many activists, like Robert Kennedy Jr., have blamed some vaccines for IQ loss, mental retardation and autism. I think that activists and lawyers may be killing people by frightening the public about vaccines. My own daughter got whooping cough after our pediatrician saw a 20/20 report that scared viewers about the whooping cough vaccine and didn’t give her the final vaccination. Fortunately, my daughter recovered, and she will appear on the program. I confront one of the lawyers about “scaring people for money.”
John Stossel 20/20 “Scared Stiff: Worry in America” (2007)
Seems ironic that John Stossel is blaming the lawyers about a “20/20 report that scared viewers…”
But Stossel did try and warn about what the media was doing in his first special for 20/20, “Are We Scaring Ourselves to Death?”
Too bad folks didn’t get the message.
And too bad no one has done a segment in which we get to confront journalists who scare people away from vaccinating and protecting their kids for increased ratings. If they do, maybe someone can ask John Stossel about why he gave a platform to Robert Kennedy, Jr.“
From Bad to Worst in the Anti-Vaccine Media
Maybe we can also get folks in the media to come clean about their roles in fueling the modern anti-vaccine movement with their vaccine scare stories.
Which folks in the media?
When reviewing the history of the anti-vaccine movement, there are some big media names that come up over and over:
- Katie Couric
- CNN’s Larry King Live
- Bill Maher
- TODAY Show
- ABC’s Good Morning America
- ABC’s 20/20
- NBC’s Dateline
Even ABC’s Nightline and CBS’s 60 Minutes got in on the anti-vaccine action.
Who was the worst?
It’s hard to tell, especially when you add the contributions of the Internet. Remember when the Huffington Post used to publish anti-vaccine articles?
The Media’s Role in Pushing COVID Vaccine Misinformation
What’s the media’s role in pushing COVID vaccine misinformation?
While most folks in the media have gotten better, a few others have gotten worse.
This new breed in the media doesn’t even hide behind false balance.
They are very obviously anti-vaccine!
And they are giving a handful of fringe doctors, like Peter McCullough, a platform to push misinformation about COVID and COVID vaccines – in the middle of a pandemic!
Don’t listen to them.
We have been through this before. It doesn’t end well…
More About The Media and Vaccine Misinformation
- Did a Highly Cited Doctor Say That the Government is Scrubbing COVID Vaccine Deaths?
- The Sharyl Attkisson Journalism Award
- False Balance About Vaccines at the Chicago Tribune
- Recommendations for Reporting About Vaccines
- Vaccines and Social Media
- It’s Not Just the Disinformation Dozen
- Decoding Anti-Vaccine Protests
- Understanding Immunization Signs That Protestors Carry
- RFK Jr vaccine beliefs – why experienced journalists don’t take him seriously
- Dr. Oz and Dr. Phil’s COVID-19 denial: Oprah has a lot to answer for
- The media’s MMR hoax
- CMPI Responds to Katie Couric and CBS Evening News’ Coverage of Vaccines and Autism Myth
- Public Health Takes on Anti-Vaccine Propaganda: Damage done, Challenges Ahead
- Sticking with the truth.How ‘balanced’ coverage helped sustain the bogus claim that childhood vaccines can cause autism
- The Autism-Vaccines Myth: The Impact of the Media
- Vaccine Confidential A Conversation with Donald G. McNeil Jr.
- Study – Immunization safety in US print media, 1995-2005
- Study – Immunization as depicted by the British national press
- Media, having fueled anti-vaccination movement, switches narratives
- Tucker Carlson Is Leading the Anti-Vax Right
- Chris Hayes: Tucker Carlson’s not stupid, he just thinks his audience is
- Whiplash: Fox News Can’t Get Its COVID Vaccine Story Straight
- Anti-vaccination groups target local media after social media crackdowns