It was a very Beasty episode of the HBO series Real Time with Bill Maher.
On Friday night, The Daily Beast contributors Ana Marie Cox and Liz Mair joined Maher and some bald guy from The Weekly Standard to discuss the latest current events topics.
But prior to all that, Maher conducted a sit-down interview with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. who came on the program to promote his book Let the Science Speak, as well as the full-page ad Kennedy recently ran in USA Today claiming that thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative used in vaccine medications, causes autism.
It’s a stance Kennedy’s taken for quite some time.
Back in 2005, Kennedy made an infamous appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart for an “autism” special. There, Kennedy preached his anti-vaxx stance, claiming not only that vaccines cause autism, but also that there’s a wide-ranging conspiracy to cover this fact up involving the government, academia, and Big Pharma. Stewart, who’d later rip anti-vaxxers a new one in a February 2015 Daily Show rant, just nodded his head and said, “I appreciate you getting the word out.”
And just last week Kennedy apologized for a statement he made calling the number of children injured by vaccines “a holocaust.”
Maher opened the interview asking him about the USA Today ad, and his anti-vaxx stance.
“I got dragged into the vaccine issue kicking and screaming because I was going around the country suing coal-burning power plants and talking about the dangers of mercury coming from those plants, and almost everywhere I stopped or I spoke there were women there—very eloquent, articulate, grounded people—who said, ‘You have to look at the biggest factor of mercury in American children now, and it’s vaccines, and we need you to look at the science,’” Kennedy said.
“And I resisted for a long time but I started reading the science after a while, and I’m very comfortable reading science,” continued Kennedy. “I’ve brought hundreds and hundreds of successful lawsuits, and most of them have involved scientific controversies. I’m comfortable reading science and dissecting it, and discerning the difference between junk science and real science. When I started looking at it, what I saw was very alarming, which is we were giving huge amounts of mercury to our children. A lot of it has been taken out of vaccines, but there’s still an extraordinary amount in vaccines—in particular the flu vaccine.”
Kennedy went on to answer Maher’s softball questions by explaining what he believes are the “unanimous dangers of thimerosal” and “the links between thimerosal and an epidemic of neurological disorders that are now afflicting American children: ADD, ADHD, speech delay, language delay, hyperactivity disorder, ASD, and autism, all of which began in 1989, the year they changed the vaccine schedule.”
Then, Kennedy made an interesting admission. “I am very pro-vaccine,” he said. “I had all my kids vaccinated and want to see government policies promoting full-coverage vaccines. The only way to do that is to have safe vaccines, and to have a credible regulatory process with regulators with integrity, and we don’t have that today.”
Yes, Kennedy said he mainly takes issue with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which he says “controls the field” and is a “cesspool of corruption that’s been completely taken over by the vaccine industry.”
But following his anti-CDC rant, something strange happened: Maher agreed with Kennedy on his anti-vaxx stance.
“Why can’t we have a kind of grand bargain on this? It just seems like we’re calling each other kooks and liars,” said Maher. “It seems like common sense that vaccines, even thimerosal, probably don’t hurt most people—if they did, we’d all be dead, because they’re in a lot of vaccines that we all took—but some do. Obviously some minority gets hurt by this stuff. I don’t understand why this is controversial? Why we have this emotional debate about something that—there is science there. It astounds me that liberals, who are always suspicious of corporations… and defending minorities, somehow when it comes to this minority that’s hurt, it’s like, ‘You know what? Shut the fuck up and let me take every vaccine that Merck wants to shove down my throat.’”
Maher looked Kennedy in the eyes, and added, “I applaud you for championing this, because we need to talk about this more.”
Earlier this week, a new study of over 95,000 children revealed that the MMR vaccine doesn’t bring an increased risk of autism.
Anti-vaxxers had taken issue with the vaccine in the past, action that many credited for a recent measles outbreak.