Are we giving Jon Stewart a pass for his contribution to the measles outbreak?

I’m glad to see clips like this from the daily show appropriately mocking the deluded, and supposedly “educated” types that don’t vaccinate.

But have we forgotten this episode from 2005 when he allowed RFK Jr to basically spout his nonsense about vaccines without challenge?

It’s good and fine for Stewart to mock these people now. But he seems to forget he helped contribute to this problem. Is anyone aware of an apology from Stewart for allowing this crackpot to use his megaphone? Isn’t it precisely members of the media like him that are to blame for failing to vet the claims made by guests such as these?
Sorry for the autoplay. How do you stop this nonsense with code? Everything I have found doesn’t work.
**Update** Carl Zimmer points out that Jon obliquely references the RFK Jr. bit around minute 8:05. I missed it. I’m sorry, I failed there. But I think I still would have posted this and I still ask, are we giving him a pass on this? Is that brief, “I had a guy on 10 years ago” reference enough of a correction to the record? I still think he can do better. It’s not like we’ve learned so much new from 10 years ago. This was bogus 10 years ago as it is today and that is part of our frustration that it had to take an outbreak to change peoples’ minds.
**Update2** The more I think about, the more I’m still mad. Stewart really needs to do more than hand-wave away his role in this.


25 responses to “Are we giving Jon Stewart a pass for his contribution to the measles outbreak?”

  1. Brian Deer

    I have to say, I’d never seen that Kennedy “interview”. I think it raises real questions about John Stewart’s judgment, and even his integrity.
    Kennedy simply lied. One can be for or against his arguments, but for him to say that the science was “overwhelming” in support of what he said was, in my judgment, a bare-faced lie. It’s not possible for him to have carried out more than a few hours of research to know that the science was against him, by a huge margin.
    Indeed, two years after that interview, when the issue came before a federal court, in test cases, the claim that thimerosal causes autism was virtually abandoned by the petitioners, in favor of the claim that it was MMR which lay behind the epidemic.
    Really shocking stuff, and a lesson for journalists and presenters that cranks should not be allowed to spout their crankery without at least proper challenge.
    John Stewart may be funny, but he plainly knows nothing about science, and next to nothing about an important issue of public affairs.

  2. Nuschler

    Ten years ago Stewart probably didn’t have the staff he does now to check the veracity of statements…This IS a comedy show!
    The doctor who mangled the study in “LANCET” had his medical license taken away.
    But NOW Stewart is telling the truth. I sure would like to see shit you said 10 years ago and bitch about it online! One takes a chance going on TV. You would never know…you just complain and blame!

  3. Midnight Rambler

    “Kennedy simply lied.”
    Well, after watching it, that makes me more inclined to give Stewart a bit more lenience than before. I’d still like to see him apologize for it now, but it seems like he went through the interview assuming Kennedy wasn’t completely lying to his face – which he was, on almost everything. We can’t realistically expect talk show hosts to be experts on science.

  4. Nuschler

    Brian..guess what…Stewart isn’t a scientist! Eyupp! Go screw your dog or something!

  5. Carl Zimmer

    At 8:15 in the new video, Stewart refers to the 2005 interview, says he did his own research, and acknowledges he was wrong. So I think you are in error.

  6. @ Nuschler
    10 years ago when I watched it I lost my mind because it was obviously a bunch of lies based on what we knew at the time. I had never been so disappointed with Stewart, before or after, and it was the first thing I thought of when I saw this new clip going viral all over the place.
    Anyone paying attention should have known this stuff was just as bogus in 2005 as it was in 2015. There is no free pass here, and we can’t give Stewart the “he’s just a comedian” pass, just like we can’t give that to Maher. They are political actors that present news, critique science and facts on their shows. They can’t promote bullshit then hide behind the comedian label.

  7. Kyle Gray

    It’s disappointing to see all these people blindly defending Stewart.
    “He didn’t have his current staff ten years ago!” he still had a staff, and a good one, that were able to fact-check numerous other issues.
    “He was going on the facts at the time!” No, he wasn’t. He was taking what one person said as probable truth, just as many anti-vaxxers do today. He’s no worse, but no better.
    Unfortunately, this is not uncommon for Stewart. He’s proven himself to be a hypocrite on many occasions. Over the years I’ve found it increasingly disappointing how he will ignore science and facts to suit his own agenda (which everyone does) but then turn around and be downright nasty to the people that shared them a year later – as if only a moron would think these things…. completely ignoring his discussion of them.
    ….No, Stewart shouldn’t get a pass. But yes, his viewers will give him one. Because the majority of people can’t separate the idea of a person’s behavior from a person. If a person displays a problematic voice or occupation (say, playboy bunny) in the beginning, then all of that person’s views are problematic. If a person is, however, respected, they can say the vilest crap and it will be ignored because they’re a “good person”.
    Sometimes good people do and say crappy things. It doesn’t automatically make those things good or excusable.

  8. who cares

    you’re an idiot. HE IS A COMIC, there to make fun of issues, not to be your REAL source of info. I don’t like Jews in general, so, does it mean I should stop watching him? No, you stupid fuck.

  9. Carl you’re right. He doesn’t totally ignore his past in this issue, but it is such a weak apology it didn’t even register on my first viewing. The RFK piece is a bit egregious and just saying, “we had a guy 10 years ago and we got swept up in all that…” is bit anemic. I think he should say, “hey, we really screwed up and helped spread this nonsense.” Or, “we sincerely regret promoting this exact same nonsense that has helped create this problem, maybe we are partly to blame.” Maybe I missed it because dammit, I’m still so mad at him from 10 years ago for having RFK Jr. on in the first place.
    I think it’s good he has changed. There is no doubt he is taking the correct position now. I love Jon Stewart and think he’s way better informed than most people on television period. But I think he can do better than just say, “I had a guy on once.” No, you totally let a crank spout nonsense – very damaging nonsense – on your show for a full 10 minutes and that was really harmful.

  10. Colbie Reed

    I really think that the context should be considered when discussing interviews and the like (recorded conversations of any respect). Kennedy was throwing around a lot of “factual statements”, and, considering Stewart’s lack of PhDs in immunology, etc., and, therein, whether or not these things are true or false, he does the only thing he can do: ask questions. It was an interview, after all. Jon doesn’t STATE that these things are facts, he just does what any other journalist would do. Promotes his guest’s book/product. His guest,, Mr. Kennedy, all apparent insecurities and poor conversational tact aside, is stating things very matter-of-factly, and with thorough support (even though these “supports” represent a mutated reality and often times complete falsehood). If I didn’t know much about this at all (reality: I do) and someone claiming to be a professional/expert started rattling off commentary suggesting a need for concern and action, I would think anyone without an ability to immediately fact-check would have to agree [at least with the need for concern, given the amount and quality of the information]. We can only act or speak to what we know at the time or, more often than not, that which we are fully-convinced of, and I think we can forgive Jon Stewart for his beginner’s ignorance back-in-the-day, when this debate was just really starting to get a foothold in the media, allthewhile access to legitimate information was still somewhat limited, despite internet access, etc.. I find it somewhat disconcerting that anyone with a respectable background of dabbling in the scientific community would respond so callously to a public figure’s progress, especially with regards to his impact on the public’s ideas/body-of-knowledge of scientifically-involved concepts like this one. Wasn’t there a study published just recently suggesting that this is exactly the kind of criticism which makes the opposing group of this argument (anti-vaxxers, etc.) even more opposed to what the overwhelming majority of the scientific community have concluded? This isn’t about hiding behind labels, it’s about promoting transparency and legitimate investigation to promote appropriate representation. In order to have transparency, one must also have the ability to be ‘forgiven’ for previous conclusions that were made prior to new, more-accurate information. Claiming these things about anyone, even celebrities like Jon Stewart, would be, by reason, the equivalent of assuming that they are all-seeing/all-knowing (and, thusly, ‘we will not accept their apologies or forgive them of their transgressions’). This is kind of absurd. That’s just a thought, though.

  11. This is all such nonsense. Jon Stewart had a member of the Kennedy clan on his show 10 years ago, and allowed him to express his beliefs at the time. The idea that this helped create a whole generation of anti-vaxxers is such BS. The people who believed “shots bad” continued to believe it, those who didn’t got their kids vaxxed (as did Stewart) and the Earth kept turning. And the people who believe Stewart impacts anything continue to be deluded. He’s an intelligent, funny, sensitive entertainer who’s opened my eyes to a great deal, but he ain’t a change agent and he knows it. Meanwhile, I found the Kennedy interview interesting–but it never meant anything in terms of how I conducts life.

  12. I meant “conduct my life.”
    And may I also add that there’s a huge difference between Stewart and Bill Maher, who’s written anti-vaxx editorials on Huffpo like he’s indeed some medical savant. Why isn’t anybody bitching about THAT? At least Jon’s not afraid to admit to his ignorance–he doesn’t pontificate and continue to spread it.

  13. keith kloor

    Mark, Carl,
    Stewart said: “Many years ago, we had a guy on the show… and it’s easy to get swept up in passions…and I’ve done my research..”
    I agree with Mark that this quick and vague allusion is pretty weak tea.
    Also, RFKjr is not just some “guy.”
    But in fairness to Stewart, he was not the only TV personality one one swept away by Kennedy at the time. In my WaPo profile of Kennedy last year, I reference the Stewart/Kennedy clip and a similarly obsequious interview done by Joe Scarborough:

  14. Michael Kramer

    I like when people who have no knowledge spout their opinions. Opinions mean nothing. Jon Stewart is not a scientist. Nor is anyone on this thread. There are arguments and facts which support both sides. When someone says another is deluded because of their beliefs – that is your BELIEF.

  15. Michael Kramer. No one is a scientist on this thread? Are you including me? Have I been demoted?

  16. Midnight Rambler

    I think Colbie said it exactly right. Kyle (and Mark), neither a host nor their staff ever does fact-checking in real time. At best, they might go back the next day or week and revisit the comments of a guest who was particularly egregious in their falsehoods, which Stewart has done at least a few times that I know of. But given that this was viewed as a real controversy in the popular press at the time, it doesn’t surprise me that they didn’t do so and I don’t single them out for being part of the crowd – especially when, as has been pointed out, Kennedy presented it as being settled by the evidence, when in fact he was not just putting a spin on it but completely lying. Though I agree that in going so strongly against that now, it was a pretty weak acknowledgement of that complicity.
    Also, FWIW Michael, I am a scientist as well (biologist).

  17. Victor Martinez

    I think it should be put in historical context. Stewart didnt know it was a hoax and the momentum of the story was still forward. He just didnt have any evidence against a well prepared guest.
    Wikipedia:”A small study by Andrew Wakefield, published in The Lancet in 1998, became infamous around 2000-2002 when the UK media caught hold of it. It hypothesized an alleged link between the measles vaccine and autism despite a small sample size of only 12 children. This eventually lead to what Guardian columnist and science writer Ben Goldacre described as “the media’s MMR hoax,” due to the evidence for any link being so lacking that it may as well have been entirely manufactured. The paper was partially retracted several years later but continued to be the most often cited case study for the link, despite mounting evidence (including one large study into the rates of autism in adults who wouldn’t have received MMR) to the contrary. It was finally considered “thrown out” on February 2, 2010 after it was discovered that Wakefield behaved unethically.”

  18. This is just the umpteenth example of why no one should take Stewart seriously. He loves to bask in the adulation that comes from people describing him as some sort of heroic voice of sanity, cutting through spin to get to real truth. Until, that is, someone calls him out for not abiding by basic journalistic standards, at which point he falls back on defense of, “I’m only a comedian.”

  19. The daily show did a segment on the anti-vaccine movement nearly a year ago. Watch it and tell me if you think they have these people a free pass.

  20. Mary Arneson

    To stop Autoplay, I put any YouTube video that I want to share into its own playlist and link to the playlist. Then, if it doesn’t work, I curse YouTube for not giving a $#!^ about what people want.

  21. Larry Katz

    You’re all idiots. You actually waste your time debating whether Jon Stewart is right or wrong, when he’s nothing more than a successful goofball comedian on par with Colbert nd Groucho Marx. The reason for his success is getting idiots like you all riled up.

  22. Larry Barton

    Is there a statute of limitations on stupidity? How about on dredging up past mistakes?

  23. Adam Hill

    Or we could actually focus on the problem instead of doling out blame to a comedian for not being read up on vaccination ten years ago. I mean, for god’s sake, this is petty as hell. I’ve got my problems with Jon Stewart, but come on.

  24. R Hugh Sirius

    Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz the Conscience of America. Help, help…

  25. Luis F Queme

    Well yeah, Stewart messed up. We all mess up sometimes, you can’t expect anyone to be right all the time. Did his show did any damage? Probably. Did his show made amends? Some. Do we give him a free pass? We should.
    I give a pass to all those guys who were co-authors in the Lancet paper and retracted their name. They realized they were backing up a bogus publication and removed their support. Did Stewart retracted from what he said and backed on his words? No. Is he supporting the right idea now? Yes. I would give him a pass not because he apologizes or not, but because he is using the same media he used to make the mistake to be proactive in correcting it.
    He say’s all the media is more infotainment… well, he is entretainews… don’t put the spotlight on him and steal it from the real issue. People need to vaccinate their kids.

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