CBS Forgets Its Own Anti-Vaccine Reporting, Wonders Why View Gained ‘Any Traction At All?’

‘Evening News’ says autism link ‘discredited,’ but fails to criticize CBS role in publicizing such claims.

CBS “Evening News” attempted to show that there is no link between vaccines and autism on Feb. 10, but seemed confused that anti-vaccination views got “traction at all.”

CBS News National Correspondent Jim Axelrod did a good job of showing how a “discredited” study by Dr. Andrew Wakefield scared parents away from the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, but he failed to acknowledge that his own network played a part in that fearmongering.

He failed to criticize CBS’s role in publicizing the false claims of a link between autism and MMR vaccinations, even as he aired earlier “60 Minutes” footage of parents who blamed their son’s autism on the shot. Axelrod also ignored the fact that the three broadcast news networks combined helped sustain anti-vaccination views by airing 171 stories that mentioned vaccines and autism over 15 years.

Axelrod showed part of a Nov. 12, 2000, “60 Minutes” report that had helped spread fear of vaccinations. He failed to point that out. That earlier report had included an interview with Wakefield. Axelrod never mentioned that the “60 Minutes” report included comments from Wakefield, even though the San Francisco Chronicle and The Los Angeles Times attributed that report with helping bring Wakefield’s views to prominence.

Rather than criticizing the network’s earlier coverage of Wakefield’s study, Axelrod said the “problem” with the claim put forward by the couple CBS had interviewed back then was that “science has discredited the link first floated” by Wakefield.

Axelrod even failed to bring up the networks’ role in publicizing Wakefield’s anti-vaccination claims when he interviewed Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Axelrod asked Offit, “Why did Dr. Wakefield's hypothesis get any traction at all?”

Offit responded that the study received widespread public attention because “we don't know what the cause or causes of autism was, and now he’s [Wakefield] got a reason, right? He's got a bogeyman.”

Axelrod did point out that Wakefield’s study was later called “an elaborate fraud,” retracted by The Lancet and that Wakefield lost his medical license.

Although the networks aired eight stories from May 15, 2014, through Feb. 3, 2015, that said the link between vaccines and autism had been debunked, they failed to admit the networks’ role in sustaining the debate about vaccines and autism.

Instead, the networks have look for alternative explanations. On Feb. 3, 2015, NBC News Political Director Chuck Todd said nothing on “Today” about the way his network and others contributed to those fears for many years. Instead, Todd blamed “the rise of social media” for spreading fears and misinformation about vaccines. He also said politicians avoided taking a firm stand on vaccines because they “always want to make an exception for religious freedom.”