Over the last three days I’ve been complaining about how the Tribeca Film Festival selected for screening Andrew Wakefield’s antivaccine propaganda- and conspiracy-laden quackfest of a documentary entitled Vaxxed: From Cover-up to Catastrophe. I also took TFF to task for its extremely disingenuous response about its being about “discussion and dialogue.” You might also recall that I speculated, based on Andrew Wakefield’s having bragged to the faithful that Leonardo DiCaprio was promoting his film (and then, just as fast, denying that he had ever said any such thing) that perhaps Leonardo Di Caprio or another big name star who was antivaccine-sympathetic had greased the wheels to get this film into Tribeca. Another possibility I suggested was one of the Tribeca Film Festival’s founders, Robert De Niro, based on his having an autistic child.
Well, I just got an e-mail from Tammie Rosen at Tribeca Enterprises that reads:
I wanted to provide you with following statement from Robert De Niro, co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival, regarding Vaxxed at the Festival:
“Grace and I have a child with autism and we believe it is critical that all of the issues surrounding the causes of autism be openly discussed and examined. In the 15 years since the Tribeca Film Festival was founded, I have never asked for a film to be screened or gotten involved in the programming. However this is very personal to me and my family and I want there to be a discussion, which is why we will be screening VAXXED. I am not personally endorsing the film, nor am I anti-vaccination; I am only providing the opportunity for a conversation around the issue.”
The statement appears legit, as it is now on the Tribeca Facebook page. Classic. Send out the press release admitting something bad (but not apologizing for it) on a Friday afternoon before a holiday and hope it doesn’t attract much notice. I’m only surprised Ms. Rosen didn’t wait until 5 PM. Of course, perhaps one of the intrepid reporters I mentioned the other day had discovered it was De Niro and the Tribeca Film Festival had no choice but to release a statement.
So it was De Niro who got Vaxxed into Tribeca. I had rather suspected as much, because someone who had worked on a movie in which De Niro was one of the leads a few years back (and who, of course, wishes to remain anonymous) e-mailed me and told me that De Niro’s wife had been seen talking to Andrew Wakefield on the set and that the two seemed friendly. I know more, such as who else was there (and thus was probably the person who introduced Wakefield to her) and what movie set it was, but that’s all I feel comfortable saying about it publicly. I don’t want to risk any identities.
In any case, if Robert De Niro and his wife Grace want to help their autistic child, may I suggest that “dialogue” generated by a propaganda film by a known scientific fraud whose UK medical license was revoked featuring a viewpoint trumpeting a long-discredited idea that MMR causes autism grafted onto a conspiracy theory about the CDC “covering up” the evidence that vaccines cause autism that has no basis in fact is not a good way to go about this. If De Niro really wants “dialogue,” maybe he should invite Brian Deer to attend the screening. If plane fare from the UK is too steep, then there are a number of experts he could consult on the East Coast. Heck, Paul Offit is in Philadelphia, a short Acela ride away!
I almost feel sorry for Mr. De Niro. Almost. He’s about to be besieged by antivaccine cranks, who will now look at him as a hero and try to get him to support all sorts of wacky quack and pseudoscience causes. I hope he likes his new admirers.
Actually, I do feel a bit sorry for Mr. De Niro. He’s now finding out the hard way why those of us who’ve studied him say that Andrew Wakefield discredits anything he touches. That now includes the Tribeca Film Festival.