In an interview on the Today show, Robert De Niro, actor and co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival, said he regrets pulling the documentary VAXXED from the festival.
Actor Robert De Niro has recently at the center of a storm regarding the decision to remove the documentary film VAXXED: From Controversy to Catastrophe from the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. Following the Tribeca cancellation, the film was also removed by officials with the Houston International Film Festival after being contacted by officials within the Mayor’s Office.
Robert De Niro had originally been very supportive of the film before ultimately deciding to pull it from the festival, stating, “after reviewing it over the past few days with the Tribeca Film Festival team and others from the scientific community, we do not believe it contributes to or furthers the discussion I had hoped for.” De Niro also stated that there were “concerns with certain things in this film” that prevented the film from being played at the festival.
The film follows the story of a Center for Disease Control and Prevention research scientist, Dr. William Thompson. In August 2014, Thompson claimed that researchers involved in a study on the MMR vaccine “fudged numbers” to lower the number of black children who were adversely affected. Thompson is a senior scientist at the CDC and has been with the agency since 1998. On August 27, 2014 Dr. Thompson released a statement acknowledging that he and co-authors from a 2004 article published in the journal Pediatrics did in fact omit important information from a study on the link between vaccines and autism.
During the Today interview De Niro seemed to reverse his previous statements and spoke openly about his questions regarding the safety of vaccinations.“I think the movie is something people should see,” De Niro said. “There is a lot of information about things that are happening with the CDC, the pharmaceutical companies. There are a lot of things that are not said. As a parent of a child who has autism I want to know the truth.”
De Niro also discussed the media blackout regarding the CDC whistleblower. “Everybody doesn’t seem to want to hear much about it. And you guys are the ones who should do the investigation,” De Niro challenged. Regarding another film about autism that is showing at Tribeca, De Niro said “it’s not questioning how some people got autism, how the vaccines are dangerous for certain people who are more susceptible. Nobody seems to want to address that, or they say it’s a closed issue but it doesn’t seem to be. There is more to this than meets the eye, believe me.”
When asked if he believes that science has shown there is no link between vaccines and autism, De Niro replied, “I believe it’s much more complicated than that. There is a link and they are saying there isn’t. The obvious one is thimerosal, a mercury based preservative. Let’s just find out the truth.” De Niro also questioned statistics that claim that parents who do not vaccinate their children will lead to a higher incidence of measles and other illnesses.
Despite the often repeated claim that VAXXED is anti-vaccination, Philippe Diaz, head of Cinema Libre, the distributor of VAXXED, says the film is not anti-vaccine but rather pro-safe vaccines. “It is not an anti-vaccination movie, people are judging the movie without seeing it first. Even Robert De Niro said the film was not anti-vaccination,” Diaz said. Indeed, De Niro has stressed that he is also not anti-vaccine and only interested in the truth. “There is something there, there is something there that people are not addressing. All I want is for people to see the film and people can make up their own judgement.”
Another interesting facet of the Today interview was a claim by Tribeca co-founder Jane Rosenthal that the sponsors of the film festival did not complain, but rather the filmmakers were upset. Despite Rosenthal’s comments, Diaz told AP that the sponsors were responsible for pressuring Tribeca to remove VAXXED.
“That’s exactly what happened. The Directors of Tribeca confirmed it to us,” Diaz said. “They had problems with sponsors. I think it created a horrible precedent, if you do not like what is in a movie, no matter the quality of the film you can pull it from a festival.”
Although VAXXED has brought Dr. William Thompson’s story to the mainstream, he originally did not want to go public with his information until it was revealed that conversations he had with Dr. Brian Hooker had been recorded. Dr. Thompson handed over thousands of pages of documents to Congressman Bill Posey’s office for review. Posey serves on the Committee on Science, Space and Technology. There was very little chatter about the CDC whistleblower for quite some time until July 29th, 2015, when Congressman Bill Posey took to the floor of the House to discuss Dr. William Thompson and his documents. The debut of VAXXED has only increased the attention on Thompson’s claims.
Another controversial aspect of the Vaccine debate is the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986, which eliminated any liability for pharmaceutical manufacturers, stating, “the number of recommended childhood vaccines has more than tripled and we have seen a decline in the health and vitality of our children with among the worst infant mortality rate in the developed world.”
Although pharmaceutical manufactures cannot be held liable for problems associated with vaccinations, the U.S. government does have a fund for victims of vaccines known as the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. Funds awarded through the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program are first processed through a special vaccine court. In December 2014, Ben Swann examined a report by the Associated Press which revealed that thousands of families with claims with the vaccine court are left to wait for years, sometimes decades before receiving help.
The AP studied hundreds of court decisions, performed more than 100 interviews, and studied a database containing more than 14,500 cases. The database was last updated in January 2013 with the government refusing to release any new updates. Officially known as the Office of Special Masters of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, the so-called vaccine court is a little-known system that is intended to address claims of Americans who believe their children have been harmed by vaccinations. The court is an established part of the federal judiciary system however the authorities over the cases are not called judges but rather “special masters.”
The AP investigation found several issues with the court. These include tens of millions of taxpayer dollars that has been paid to private attorneys who often practice “churning,” a practice described as filing a large number of claims regardless of the quality of the claims. In the private court attorneys are paid out whether or not they succeed in convincing the court. That fact has led to questionable billing practices and an increase in court claims.
The AP report also found that “expert” witnesses for the families and the government often have a lack of credibility or conflicts of interest. The report says that some of the experts are also involved in setting up nonprofits that question vaccine safety. Meanwhile, doctors hired by the government to testify in defense of vaccines have ties to the pharmaceutical industry.
For more details on this court please watch Ben Swann’s report on the Vaccine Court and Autism.