Backfire: how a pharma-funded “Listserv” and censorship are turning the movie Vaxxed into a worldwide phenomenon
BY JB HANDLEY April 7, 2016
“If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don’t like. Stalin and Hitler, for example, were dictators in favor of freedom of speech for views they liked only. If you’re in favor of freedom of speech, that means you’re in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise.”
— Noam Chomsky
PORTLAND, Oregon — Dr. David Gorski was proud, and why shouldn’t he be? From his perspective, he’d played a major role in getting a movie — Vaxxed: From Cover-up to Catastrophe — pulled from the Tribeca Film Festival. Dr. Gorski had even reached the mainstream media establishment through a highlighted quote in an LA Times article. As he crowed about on the blog, Science Based Medicine on March 28, 2016:
“The beauty of it is that I played a major role in bringing the story to public consciousness, followed the story as it evolved, and now can provide a fairly complete recounting.”
Dr. Gorski was far from alone in basking in the accomplishments of the moment. Over in the United Kingdom, an article was published in The Guardian one day later (March 29) that may surprise some readers, because it spelled out in graphic detail what many autism parents have suspected all along:
Within half an hour of Robert De Niro’s Tribeca film festival posting on Facebook that it had scheduled an April viewing of Vaxxed, the highly controversial anti-vaccine documentary, a well-oiled network of scientists, autism experts, vaccine advocacy groups, film-makers and sponsors cranked into gear to oppose it.
At the center of the network was a listserv group email list of more than 100 prominent individuals and science research bodies run out of the Immunization Action Coalition (IAC) based in St Paul, Minnesota. The listserv acts as an early warning system that sounds the alarm whenever the potent conspiracy theory that autism can be caused by vaccination surfaces.
Through the listserv, conference calls were quickly organized among top scientists across the country to discuss how to respond to the news that what was seen as a scurrilous and misleading film was to be given a high-profile airing. Leading figures in the documentary world were also enlisted to add their objections to the showing of Vaxxed
I’m not sure how a casual reader reads the above article because I’m not a casual reader. I’m the parent of a child with Autism, a child who declined precipitously after being vaccinated, and I’ve chosen to put myself out there publicly to warn other parents about the risks of over-vaccinating their children. Like many parents in the autism community, I’ve been the target of this “Listserv” and I find it refreshing to finally see the tactics of this organization brought to light in such a detailed manner.
From my perspective, The Guardian highlights a “Listserv” that is nothing more than a coalition of special interests united to suppress truth, and even a casual review of the Immunization Action Coalition’s website reveals where their funding for the “listserve” comes from:
I hope the reader understands something about the Immunization Action Coalition and many other organizations just like it:
When the Immunization Action Coalition reaches out to journalists to protest the showing of Vaxxed at the Tribeca Film Festival, they aren’t doing so because they share values with the CDC and vaccine makers, they are just the CDC and vaccine makers wearing a mask.
It’s an important difference.
“Advocacy Group?” — No, not really
Does anyone remember Amanda Peet? At the height of Jenny McCarthy’s very public pronouncements about the relationship between vaccines and autism back in 2008, the pharma-funded camp needed a spokesperson who they felt could match Jenny for looks and celebrity, and somehow talked Amanda Peet into taking that role. Of course, the choice of Peet wasn’t random, but rather the product of a close family connection, as Forbes reported:
Peet…started speaking out in favor of vaccines after the birth of daughter Frances in 2007. “All my friends weren’t vaccinating their children,” she says. But Peet’s brother-in-law worked with Paul Offit, one of the country’s top vaccine researchers. After a few phone conversations, she decided to appear in a series of public awareness spots for Every Child By Two, an advocacy group founded by former first lady Rosalynn Carter.
On the internet, some message board posters responded to Peet’s outspokenness with vitriol. After a CBS Early Show appearance, one poster called her “a minion of Offit” and said the only good thing that could be said about her is that she knew her lines. But her advocacy became frighteningly personal when her second daughter, Molly, came down with pertussis, or whooping cough, between her second and third vaccinations.
That Forbes quote brings up a lot of interesting comments and questions — not the least of which is the suspect efficacy of the pertussis vaccine — but I’m going to focus on a different topic, namely calling Every Child By Two an “advocacy group.”
Every Child By Two is an “advocacy group” the way the NRA is an “advocacy group”. In fact, the NRA is a far more ethical “advocacy group” than Every Child By Two because the NRA’s motives and goals are out there for everyone to see.
The truth about Every Child By Two — the group that paid Amanda Peet to speak on behalf of vaccines — is that they are, just like the Immunization Action Coalition, merely a front group for vaccine manufacturers. I wrote about Every Child By Two and this topic way back in 2008, and my article’s title didn’t require much interpretation:
It’s all there in the 990 forms every nonprofit organization has to file with the IRS, and Every Child By Two’s funding sources are as clear as day: companies that make vaccines.
So let’s keep it real:
Amanda Peet didn’t work for an advocacy group when she spoke out on behalf of vaccines, she worked for a vaccine maker.
Tobacco makers have endured a far greater onslaught of negative PR than vaccine makers, and their methods therefore of disguising their messaging are far more sophisticated (it’s unlikely they would have their covert network of paid experts crow about their achievements in a newspaper!). Americans for Nonsmokers Rights published a great report called Follow the Money: Exposing Big Tobacco Front Groups, and it describes the lengths tobacco companies will go to disguise their paid spokespeople:
While down-playing its public visibility in local politics, the tobacco industry sponsors “astroturf” organizations — grassroots organizations that are funded, organized, and sometimes run by Big Tobacco. This paper will help smokefree advocates and supporters expose these organizations for what they are — tobacco industry front groups. By tracking down the real source of funding for these organizations, advocates can effectively expose Big Tobacco’s underhanded tactics to policymakers, the media, and the public. When tracking down information on tobacco industry front groups, know who and/or what to research. The tobacco industry may appear in your community in a number of guises, including nonprofit organizations, lobbying groups, or out-of-town consultants. Nonprofits come in all shapes and sizes: charities, literary societies, social welfare organizations, trade associations, and religious groups, to name a few.
Let’s pull out a quote from the report that’s particularly germane to the vaccine-autism fight:
By tracking down the real source of funding for these organizations, advocates can effectively expose Big Tobacco’s underhanded tactics to policymakers, the media, and the public.
To which I say, “Exactly!”
The Backfire has begun, and gaining steam
Dr. Gorski and the “listserve” crowd, so proud of their accomplishments 8 short days ago, may be singing a different tune today. I’m an extremely proud American, and one of the things I know about Americans is that we all care deeply about freedom, and we all hate being told we can’t see or do something. If the “listserve” hadn’t jumped into action and turned Vaxxed into an international controversy in the media, it likely would have had it’s single showing at Tribeca and moved on into obscurity. But that’s not how it happened.
The tipping point may be in Houston
I can’t say I’m surprised that the vaccine maker-funded “listserve” crowd would be detached enough from reality to think that a very public attempt to have a film censored from being seen by the public would have no repercussions, but the city of Houston just took the issue of censorship and the movie Vaxxed to an entirely new height.
A small film festival in Houston — WorldFest-Houston — agreed to screen Vaxxed, but then yesterday (April 6th) had to pull their support, and the organizer of the festival sent the following email to the head of Cinema Libre, the distributor of Vaxxed:
Dear Philippe~ Good Morning…
I wanted you to know that just like DeNiro and Tribeca, we must withdraw our invitation to screen VAXXED! It has been cancelled, and there was no press release about the film… that was scheduled for today, but after very threatening calls late yesterday (Monday) from high Houston Government officials (the first and only time they have ever called in 49 years) — we had no choice but to drop the film. Heavy handed censorship, to say the least… they both threatened severe action against the festival if we showed it, so it is out. Their actions would have cost us more than $100,000 in grants.
I do hope that they did not call or threaten you. It is done, it is out and we have been censored… There are some very powerful forces against this project. It does seem a bit of overkill, as I am confident that it will be released Online soon and millions of people can see it.
My Thanks and Best regards,
Chairman & Founding Director
The 49th Annual WorldFest-Houston”
Honestly, it’s hard to react to this note without losing one’s mind and invoking the first amendment! In an effort to better understand the story, representatives from HealthChoice.org sent the following note to the mayor’s office in Houston:
Question for the Mayor’s office.
It has been alleged that Mayor Tuner has threatened a Houston film festival to remove a controversial film critical of the Centers for Disease Control, or face financial consequences. It has also been reported that the Mayor was strongly pressured by federal authorities to make sure the film Vaxxed did not air at the festival.
Are these reports accurate, and has Mayor Turner’s office issued a statement on this matter?
If the incident has taken place, who were the individuals at the federal level that issued the demand to Mayor Turner, what agencies did they represent, what coercion of the Mayor took place, and was the US Center for Disease Control directly or indirectly involved in this directive.
Many are alleging that First Amendment violations and possibly RICO violations may be in play here, how does the Mayor’s office respond to those charges?
Will be going to press on a story tomorrow.
Thank you,Ginger Taylor, MS
The mayor’s office responded with the following:
The mayor asked that it be removed from the lineup. I believe Judge Emmett did the same. The film festival is being funded in part through a grant from the City of Houston. The mayor felt it inappropriate for the city to endorse an event that would be screening a film that is counter to the city’s efforts to ensure children receive vaccinations.
The film was also removed from the Tribeca Film Festival lineup so Houston is not alone. In fact, it was that move that raised the concerns locally.
Janice Evans-Chief Policy Officer
& Director of Communications
I had to read this quote from the Houston’s mayor’s office several times to believe it. The only image that came to mind was one we are all familiar with:
Colonel Jessup was a fictional character, but this level of censorship just happened, and it happened in Houston, to which I want to ask a fairly obvious question:
Do you not realize that by engaging in active censorship and using public influence to ban a movie you are not only violating the first amendment but are also all but assuring the movie’s popularity will explode?
In a weird way, as the parent of a child with Autism, I’m thankful for the actions of the mayor’s office in Houston, I can only imagine what the consequences of their blatantly unconstitutional behavior will be. Philippe Diaz, Chairman of Cinema Libre Studio, responded to the Houston fiasco:
“As I explained to the directors of Tribeca, their decision has created a huge precedent in the filmmaking world. Film festivals are no longer a space for free speech, but a place run by sponsors and corporate interests. It sends the message to filmmakers that they better make movies “approved” by corporate sponsors so they’ll have more of a chance to be selected and therefore find a way to sell their films. We should never forget that the life of an independent film depends very often on festivals. If festivals can act as censors for corporate interests, it’s a slap in the face to the First Amendment.”
Don’t worry parents, we’re only in the first inning
Vaxxed has been accepted to the Silver Springs International Film Festival down in Florida. Responding to an agitated Facebook post, the head of the festival struck a very different tone:
I trust you have seen the film. And I appreciate your concern for our festival. And I trust in the relationships that we have built over the last 4 years — with our community, its businesses and leaders, students and teachers and friends from around the world. But the most important relationship we have in our city and our festival is our relationship with the 1st Amendment which protects our freedom of speech and expression.
Based on your statement, I have to wonder if you and some of the folks writing about this film have indeed seen it — and not through the filter of personal agendas. Our only agenda is, “Good films deserve to be seen. And people have a right and need for access to every side of the story and the freedom to make their own decision, with their own physicians, regarding their children. If the film turns out to be misinformation then I trust that we will have supported the bigger conversation that will bring that to light. If it is proven to be fact, we will have been part of a conversation that could positively impact many lives.
You may choose to paint our festival in any light you wish, but now you have the truth from the horse’s mouth — we do not censor and we do not represent any one’s agenda. We present good films and trust our audiences to use that information in a powerful way that will serve their best interests and inform their conversations!
If you, or anyone you know, has not seen the film yet, I invite you to join us and bring your knowledge and expertise to the table and enrich our community. Thank you for caring!
Greg Thompson, Festival Director
Silver Springs International Film Festival
It’s hard to put it much better than Greg Thompson. Vaxxed will be seen. Attempts to silence the film do nothing but reveal the corrupt underbelly of paid propagandists who use pressure to silence the truths the movie reveals. Our children have been deeply harmed, including my own son, and something needs to change. Americans don’t like corruption. Americans don’t like fraud. And Americans certainly don’t like being told they can’t see a movie.
We can handle the truth. Listserve, Dr. Gorski, and all the others fighting so hard to surpress Vaxxed, thank you for turning the movie into a worldwide media phenomenon.
About the author: J.B. Handley is the father of a child with Autism. He and his wife co-founded Generation Rescue, Jenny McCarthy’s autism charity. He spent his career in the private equity industry and received his undergraduate degree with honors from Stanford University. He is also the author of “The Only Vaccine Guide a New Parent Will Ever Need” and “An Angry Father’s Guide to Vaccine-Autism Science”
Mr. Handley has started a podcast series called “How to End the Autism Epidemic”:
April 8th Update:
The censorship that took place in Houston is starting to receive local press, watch this excellent piece of balanced reporting from Houston’s Fox affiliate.