On Saturday, Tribeca Film Festival co-founder and hapless creator of a media shitstorm Robert De Niro announced that an anti-vaccination film would no longer be shown at the festival. The film’s creators have since issued a statement saying they’re being censored by De Niro and “corporate interests.”
The statement was issued over the weekend by Andrew Wakefield, the ex-doctor and anti-vaccination activist who wrote and directed the film Vaxxed, as well as producer Del Bigtree, who according to IMDB has also worked on the CBS program The Doctors. (Dr. Jim Sears, a pediatrician who appears in Vaxxed, has also been on the show.)
The statement reads, in full:
To our dismay, we learned today about the Tribeca Film Festival’s decision to reverse the official selection of Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe.
Robert De Niro’s original defense of the film happened Friday after a one-hour conversation between De Niro and Bill Posey, the congressman who has interacted directly and at length with the CDC Whistleblower (William Thompson) and whose team has scrutinized the documents that prove fraud at the CDC.
It is our understanding that persons from an organization affiliated with the festival have made unspecified allegations against the film - claims that we were given no opportunity to challenge or redress. We were denied due process.
We have just witnessed yet another example of the power of corporate interests censoring free speech, art, and truth.
Tribeca’s action will not succeed in denying the world access to the truth behind the film Vaxxed.
We are grateful to the many thousands of people who have already mobilized including doctors, scientists, educators and the autistic community.
We will be pressing forward and sharing our plans in the very near future.
“Due process” is, as Deadline Hollywood points out, a legal term. But no legal action has been filed against the film, and no one is trying to keep it from being shown in general; Tribeca has just decided their festival isn’t the place to do it. Wakefield screened the film on a conspiracy cruise I recently attended for Jezebel, but reporters were not allowed to view it.
It’s fascinating, too, that according to the statement, Florida Congressman Bill Posey evidently has De Niro’s ear. Posey has become a strong advocate for the baseless allegation that the Centers for Disease Control is covering up a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Last June, during a speech from the House floor, he called for the Centers for Disease Control to be investigated. (Posey calls himself “resolutely pro-vaccine,” but also says he believes there may be a link between vaccines and autism. There is not.)
Since losing his medical license in 2010, Wakefield has built a career from claiming that he is the only person telling the truth about vaccines, and that his truth is being silenced by powerful corporate interests. He told me aboard the Conspira Sea that he is “never going to go away,” and that the corporate-owned media, meaning me and people like me, will never give him fair coverage.
“It’s never balanced,” he said. “I’ve been in this a long time, and he who pays the piper calls the tune.”
Tribeca has done Wakefield a huge favor here; by scheduling and then abruptly cancelling the film, the festival is giving the look of credence to the claim that the film is dangerous to Big Pharma and its Numerous Corporate Shills.
Just take a stroll through the #Vaxxed hashtag on Twitter, which is full of claims that the CDC/Tribeca/the government are trying to silence Wakefield’s truth. Several dodgy natural health blogs are even claiming that De Niro was openly threatened to keep the film from being shown.
Larry Cook, another anti-vaccine activist, has been circulating a meme that suggests Tribeca pulled the film because one of its major donors is the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The Sloan Foundation, along with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has donated money to the development of an AIDS vaccine. (In the anti-vaccination world, an AIDS vaccine is a bad thing.)
In short, Tribeca and De Niro have given Wakefield new publicity, a kind he could scarcely have dreamed of before this week. In turn, his claims have new credence among people already inclined to believe him.
“Wake up!” reads one of the dozens of emails I’ve gotten recently from anti-vaccination true believers. “Stop promoting genocide stop being a slave for profit!! Or quit your job because you arent [sic] even good at it!!” A petition calling for Tribeca to bring back the film—one Wakefield has signed and is promoting—claims that vaccines routinely cause both autism and death. It has been signed by nearly 21,000 people.
Showing Vaxxed at a major film festival would have given Wakefield’s claims a new patina of respectability. (The petition mentions Blackfish, the anti-Sea World documentary that first aired at Tribeca, and which shifted public opinion against the amusement park.) But its cancellation has wrought a different kind of damage, one that can’t easily be undone.
Wakefield and his wife Carmel in 2010, leaving a hearing before Britain’s General Medical Council. The GMC revoked Wakefield’s medical license soon after. Photo via Getty Images