Washington Post Magazine Revives Anti-Vaccine Hysteria with Sympathetic RFK Jr. Profile

The media just won’t let anti-vaccine nonsense die, as evident by the July 20 issue of Washington Post Magazine and its cover story about Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s “Lonely Crusade.”

In an eight-page story (including photographs), Keith Kloor profiled “The Messenger” Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a prominent anti-vaccine activist. He explored the political consequences of Kennedy’s anti-vaccination crusade.

Although he pointed out that science from the CDC, American Academy of Pediatrics and Institute of Medicine all refute a link between vaccines and autism, Kloor sympathetically repeated Kennedy’s talking points on the subject in anticipation of his upcoming anti-vaccine book. He even quoted Kennedy claiming he is “pro-vaccine,” even as the activist stoked fear of thimerosal in vaccines.

Kloor dutifully repeated RFK Jr.’s conviction that vaccines can cause “neurodevelopmental disorders” and his insistence that “the truth will prevail” over a widespread government cover-up.

For years, RFK Jr. has promoted the anti-vaccine movement. Alongside celebrities like former Playboy model and actress Jenny McCarthy, he has argued that the preservative thimerosal causes neurological problems in children, including autism. This movement has led to a reduction in vaccination rates, which many claim resulted in a revival of dangerous illnesses like measles.

Outbreaks of previously eradicated childhood diseases have killed children, according to USA Today. That story pointed out that the anti-vaccination movement has grown because “Many continue to believe the debunked idea that vaccines cause autism, while others don't trust the federal government or the pharmaceutical companies responsible for these vaccines.”

But Kloor’s Washington Post Magazine profile, touted RFK Jr.’s talking points and portrayed him as an underdog and a man of conviction. Kloor said Kennedy told him, “The only way I can stop this is if someone shows me I’m wrong on the science” and complained “I’m completely f**cking alone on this.”

According to Kloor, Kennedy’s new book will not include the chapter connecting autism to thimerosal, “soft-pedaling for a better reception,” but “Kennedy made it clear to me his convictions hadn’t changed.”

Kennedy’s confidence and determination were on full display at the conclusion of the piece, as he said, “I know I’m gonna win this one. I have the ability to push this over the finish line. I know I do. The truth will prevail.”

Kloor’s sympathy for Kennedy was eve noticed by Slate.com’s Laura Helmuth. She wrote that “Kloor is remarkably generous to his subject, presenting him as dogged and genuine” and “as a heroic underdog.”

The media has previously enabled Kennedy to present his conspiracy theories to the public. In 2005, both the Rolling Stone and Salon published a controversial article by Kennedy which alleged a vast government conspiracy to silence the link between childhood vaccines and autism.

Unfortunately, the media sustained the supposed controversy for years even after the science was debunked by interviewing anti-vaxxers and setting up irresponsible debates between scientists and anti-vaccine celebrities, just as Kloor and The Washington Post Magazine did.

Sean Long
Sean Long is a former writer for MRC Business.