Damnit De Niro, I Thought We Were Good | Vol. 3 / No. 23.4

I just watched something intensely painful, dear readers, so now you don’t have to. | Photo: Today Show (video below)

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Yesterday morning, actor, director, and Tribeca Film Festival founder Robert De Niro gave a long, rambling, and frankly a little bizarre interview on the Today Show with hosts Savannah Guthrie and Willie Geist, alongside Tribeca’s co-founder producer Jane Rosenthal, the later of whom, I think, honestly wishes we could all just stop talking about autism and vaccines already. But if she wished such yesterday, it was nevertheless not to be. For nearly ten minutes, De Niro acted as a veritable fountain of ‘anti-vaccine,’ ‘vaccines-cause-autism,’ ‘there’s a “big pharma” conspiracy wink-wink’ talking points, even as he kept repeating things that should really disqualify him from commenting: things like “I’m not a scientist” and “I don’t know if those statistics are accurate, I’m not the one to say.”

Here’s some of my “favourite” quotable quotes:

  • “There’s a lot of information about things that are happening with the CDC, the pharmaceutical companies, there’s a lot of things that are not said.”
  • “There is a link. And they’re saying there isn’t, but there’s certain things, there’s the obvious one is thimerosal [sic.] , which is a mercury-based preservative.”
  • “Some parents you know even these documentaries say “I knew I shouldn’t have done it, I knew I shouldn’t have done it, I talked to the doctor, he’s the doctor, I should listen, I should listen, I did it–” the next day. You know — Imagine how the parent feels.”
  • “As I say, everyone should have the choice to take vaccines, some places it’s becoming mandatory, but it does benefit the big drug companies. Funnily enough.”

The rest of what he had to say was essentially a repetition of things like “we need to find out the truth” and “let’s find out the truth” and “if you’re scientists, let’s see, let’s hear.”

Look, Mr. De Niro: this isn’t a “knee-jerk” reaction, which by the way you called it twice in that interview. The reaction against the “documentary” (though I hesitate to use the term for something that’s so close to outright fiction) “Vaxxed” was because it is entirely fabricated by a man with no scruples, despite the mountain of evidence against his point of view. The science is LONG SETTLED. As Willie Geist so wonderfully told you on national television, “Robert it is nearly consensus in the scientific community that there’s no link there.”

Except he was wrong, because the only person in the scientific community who thought there was a link between vaccines and autism LOST HIS MEDICAL LICENSE FOR BEING DISHONEST. Andrew Wakefield is the climate change denier of the vaccine world. That means, in this particular metaphor, you’re not Al Gore trying to save us from harm, you’re Donald freaking Trump with your head in the sand repeating “I just don’t know, I want more proof, what’s the harm?” while the glaciers melt and the sea levels rise. What if it’s the Chinese pharmaceutical industry, right? Maybe it’s a conspiracy.

Robert De Niro is a talented actor. But having an autistic son (or even being on the autism spectrum, as I well know) does not make one an expert in medicine or public health. But the people who are experts in those fields have said, time and again, with vast swathes of data, crunched and re-crunched as many times as necessary, that there is no link between vaccinations and autism. None. If it’s there, nobody’s seen it yet, and they’ve been looking awfully hard.

Why would they look? Why wouldn’t they just sit back on their mattresses stuffed with big-pharma payoffs? Maybe because scientists aren’t monsters from some B-movie conspiracy plot? Maybe because, if they thought the vaccines they created were causing autism, they’d want to know? Don’t you think there’d be a massive stampede to find out and stop it? Scientists deal with real life, man. They’re real people and they’ve done a hell of a lot more research on this than you.

At this point, claiming there’s a link between autism and vaccines, and you just did on national television, is an extraordinary claim. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. You say you’re not a scientist? Then go talk to some.

Put up, or shut up.

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Video and full transcript below, if you want to feel angry for the rest of the day:

Transcript my own (sorry for any mistakes), starting at 2:13

Savannah Guthrie: There was a bit of controversy, some headlines at the beginning of this year’s festival when it was announced that this film called “Vaxxed” would be screened at the festival. Later the festival pulled it. Was it because of the backlash? Were you surprised the people reacted the way that they did?

Robert De Niro: I was shooting a movie, I was in the middle of a lot of stuff. I think the movie is something that people should see. There was a backlash which I haven’t fully explored, and I will, but — and I didn’t want it to start affecting the festival in ways that I couldn’t see. But definitely there’s something to that movie and there’s another movie called Trace Amounts and these — there’s a lot of information about things that are happening with the CDC, the pharmaceutical companies, there’s a lot of things that are not said. I as a parent of a child who has autism, I’m concerned. And I want to know the truth, and I’m not anti-vaccine, I want safe vaccines. When you get — some people can’t get a certain type of shot, and they can die from it, you know, even penicillin, so why should that not be with vaccines, which it isn’t.

Willie Geist: So you said, you went public for the first time saying that your eighteen year old son does have autism, that’d have been a very private thing for you, and part of the reason you wanted this film shown was to start that conversation.

Robert De Niro: Absolutely.

Willie Geist: Do you believe now you’ll have a role in that conversation going forward?

De Niro: Possibly, yes. Because, the thing is that, to shut it down, there’s no reason to. If you’re scientists, let’s see, let’s hear, everybody doesn’t seem to want to hear much about it. It’s shut down. And you guys are the ones that should be the investigators, do the investigating.

Savannah Guthrie: I think the film was controversial because people felt that the filmmaker had been discredited–

Robert De Niro: –even he I’m not so sure about, at the end of the day even him.

Savannah Guthrie: Jane I wonder if —

Jane Rosenthal: –well the one thing, um, it wasn’t, there weren’t sponsors or donors that were threatening to pull out of the film festival, it was our filmmakers. And we’re known for having amazing documentary films, uh you can take a look at our lineup, whether it’s what we’re starting with tonight, or some other documentaries that are, you know, equally controversial, that we have at the festival. So it was our filmmakers that pull– that were pulling out. There’s another amazing film about–

Robert De Niro (talking over her):If find that amazing and we’re going to talk about that.

Jane Rosenthal: There’s another amazing film that was done by Roger Ross Williams that won the audience award at Sundance called Life, Animated about autism, and it’s a really beautiful film about the Suskind family–

Robert De Niro (talking over her again): –it’s a beautiful film but it’s another thing, it’s the result of, it’s not about– it’s not questioning how people, some people, got autism. How the vaccines are dangerous, if not, are dangerous to certain people who were more susceptible and they don’t — nobody seems to want to address that, or they say they’ve addressed it, and it’s a closed issue, but it doesn’t seem to be. Because there are many people who will come out and say no, I saw my kid change like overnight. I saw what happened, and I should have done something and I didn’t. So there’s more to this than meets the eye, believe me.

Willie Geist: Is that the experience you had, Robert? That something changed overnight?

Robert De Niro: Ah, it — my wife says that, I don’t remember but there — my child is autistic, and every kid is different, but there is something there, 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 the movie to be seen. People can make their own judgement but you must see it and other — there are other films, other things that also, just documents show, I, you know, it’s not such a simple thing.

Savannah Guthrie: Do you regret pulling it now, in some sense?

Robert De Niro: Part of me does, and part of me says let me let it go for now. You know, and I’ll deal with it later and in another way. Because I didn’t want the festival to be affected in a way, ’cause it was like a knee-jerk reaction, and especially from the filmmakers, frankly, that I, that I, you know.

Savannah Guthrie: The other filmmakers that were in the festival.

Robert De Niro: Whoever they were and I didn’t want to ask. I didn’t even want to ask. But now I will ask.

Willie Geist: Robert it is nearly consensus in the scientific community that there’s no link there. Do you believe that’s not true?

Robert De Niro: I don’t– I believe it’s much more complicated than that. It’s much more complicated than that. There is a link. And they’re saying there isn’t, but there’s certain things, there’s the obvious one is thimerosol, which is a mercury-based preservative. But there are other things there, that I don’t know, I’m not a scientist but I know because I’ve seen so much reaction, about just– just let’s find out the truth. Let’s just find out the truth. I’m not, you know, I’m not anti-vaccine as I say, but I’m pro-safe vaccine. And there are some people who cannot take the vaccine, and they have to be found out and warned, you just don’t give a kid a bunch of shots and then something happens. Some parents you know even these documentaries say “I knew I shouldn’t have done it, I knew I shouldn’t have done it, I talked to the doctor, he’s the doctor, I should listen, I should listen, I did it–” the next day. You know — Imagine how the parent feels.

Savannah Guthrie: The worry is that people who hear those words and wonder about it will then not have their child vaccinated, which has led to a higher incidence of things like mumps and measles.

Robert De Niro: I don’t know if those statistics are accurate, I’m not the one to say, but I would question even that. There’s a kind of a hysteria, a knee-jerk reaction, let’s see. As I say, everyone should have the choice to take vaccines, some places it’s becoming mandatory, but it does benefit the big drug companies. Funnily enough.

Jane Rosenthal: If you want to take that– if you want to start look at facts and statistics, one of the things that you do need to look at in this movie Vaxxed is the contradictions of facts and statistics right off the top, with what’s stated with what the rise is, what the graph is, and then people seeing something different, so you need to read the reviews of that movie, make your own decision, clearly the festival has about a hundred other movies that are in the festival. This was only going to be screened once, they’ve certainly had their voice and their time. And there’s amazing films about other issues of social impact, whether it’s the criminal justice system, an amazing film called The Return, another film about herbal life, a whistleblower story, another film about drone warfare, National Bird, which really asks a lot of questions about how we go to war. Certainly the festival is about having conversation, and there’s also some fun films too, Family Fang, with Jason Bateman and Nicole Kidman, we’ve got a lot for you at the festival, when it kicks off tonight.

Willie Geist: And by the way also highlighted by the forty year anniversary of Taxi Driver…

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Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as an editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.

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