Robert DeNiro Under Fire for Putting Anti-Vaccine Doc in Tribeca Film Festival

The New York Times reports Robert DeNiro is under fire for promoting a discredited documentary connecting vaccines to autism at his Tribeca Film Festival in Manhattan. DeNiro claimed he wasn’t “endorsing” the film – but he’s imposing it on the schedule.

In a statement issued by festival publicists, DeNiro claimed he just wanted a “discussion,” and not that he was taking sides:

“Grace and I have a child with autism,” he wrote, referring to his wife, Grace Hightower De Niro, “and we believe it is critical that all of the issues surrounding the causes of autism be openly discussed and examined. In the 15 years since the Tribeca Film Festival was founded, I have never asked for a film to be screened or gotten involved in the programming. However this is very personal to me and my family and I want there to be a discussion, which is why we will be screening VAXXED.”

This is not the way liberal actors play on issues like global warming, or even abortion. There aren’t two sides. As the Times elaborated, the filmmaker here was removed from the medical profession:

The film, Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe, is directed and co-written by Andrew Wakefield, an anti-vaccination activist and an author of a study — published in the British medical journal The Lancet, in 1998 — that was retracted in 2010. In addition to the retraction of the study, which involved 12 children, Britain’s General Medical Council, citing ethical violations and a failure to disclose financial conflicts of interest, revoked Mr. Wakefield’s medical license.

On the festival’s website, the biographical material about Mr. Wakefield does not mention that he was stripped of his license or that his Lancet study was retracted. Rather, it says that the Lancet study “would catapult Wakefield into becoming one of the most controversial figures in the history of medicine.”

Wakefield claims in the film that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control “knew” the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine caused autism. Doctors and documentary makers both protested the decision:

The documentary filmmaker Penny Lane (Our Nixon) published on Thursday an open letter to the festival’s organizers in Filmmaker Magazine, suggesting that including Vaxxed in the documentary section “threatens the credibility of not just the other filmmakers in your doc slate, but the field in general.”

She added that while the subject of ethics and truthfulness in a documentary can be uncomfortable, “this film is not some sort of disinterested investigation into the ‘vaccines cause autism’ hoax; this film is directed by the person who perpetuated the hoax.”

Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical School, called the decision to show the film “particularly sad” because the Tribeca festival receives attention far beyond New York.

“The people who put on the Tribeca Film Festival are very prestigious and they draw a very thoughtful audience, and it’s implicit that if they have suggested this film they think that there’s some merit in it, and more importantly, merit to Wakefield’s message,” Dr. Schaffner said.

[HT: Dan Gainor]

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Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis