Their smears to discredit Jill Stein
confronts a slander against the Green Party's presidential candidate.
AS THE Democratic convention came to an end with the coronation of Hillary Clinton, the pressure was on for anyone still dissatisfied with the Democrats' presidential nominee to be quiet and get in line.
A torrent of abuse rained down on Bernie Sanders supporters--especially the delegates who chanted and disrupted the stage-managed proceedings in Philadelphia, and ultimately walked out of the convention--for not doing the "realistic" thing and getting behind Clinton.
Some of the scolders for Clinton have shifted their attention to the independent candidate a significant minority of Sanders supporters are now turning to: Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party.
Among the typical complaints that she is a "spoiler" who is helping the Republicans is a specific charge that spread around the Internet--that Stein opposes vaccinations and is drawn to the "anti-vaxxers" who cite discredited sources to justify refusing to vaccinate their children, despite the threat to public health.
The allegation is false and a cynical fabrication to smear one of the most successful Green Party candidates in recent years.
One of the leaders of the charge is Jordan Weissmann, a Slate.com economics correspondent whose other election coverage includes a ceaseless series of not-exactly-earthshaking articles ridiculing Donald Trump and not a single one analyzing Hillary Clinton.
Weissmann attacked Stein generally for the "crime" of calling for defense spending to be cut in half before focusing on her comments several months before during a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) chat. His aim was to portray Stein as anti-science, so she could be consigned to the crackpot fringe of politics.
But to do that, Weissmann had to ignore Stein's explicit statements supporting vaccination and twist her critique of the medical-pharmaceutical industry to mean something she didn't.
DURING THE Reddit discussion, Stein was asked about the Green Party's official stance on vaccines. Here's what she wrote, spelling errors and all:
I don't know if we have an "official" stance, but I can tell you my personal stance at this point. According to the most recent review of vaccination policies across the globe, mandatory vaccination that doesn't allow for medical exemptions is practically unheard of. In most countries, people trust their regulatory agencies and have very high rates of vaccination through voluntary programs. In the U.S., however, regulatory agencies are routinely packed with corporate lobbyists and CEOs. So the foxes are guarding the chicken coop as usual in the US. So who wouldn't be skeptical? I think dropping vaccinations rates that can and must be fixed in order to get at the vaccination issue: the widespread distrust of the medical-indsutrial complex.
Vaccines in general have made a huge contribution to public health. Reducing or eliminating devastating diseases like small pox and polio. In Canada, where I happen to have some numbers, hundreds of annual death from measles and whooping cough were eliminated after vaccines were introduced. Still, vaccines should be treated like any medical procedure--each one needs to be tested and regulated by parties that do not have a financial interest in them. In an age when industry lobbyists and CEOs are routinely appointed to key regulatory positions through the notorious revolving door, its no wonder many Americans don't trust the FDA to be an unbiased source of sound advice. A Monsanto lobbyists and CEO like Michael Taylor, former high-ranking DEA official, should not decide what food is safe for you to eat. Same goes for vaccines and pharmaceuticals. We need to take the corporate influence out of government so people will trust our health authorities, and the rest of the government for that matter. End the revolving door. Appoint qualified professionals without a financial interest in the product being regulated. Create public funding of elections to stop the buying of elections by corporations and the super-rich.
Nothing in this response is opposed to vaccination. On the contrary, Stein makes it clear that she believes vaccinations are essential in spite of the conflicts of interest that come with an industry that produces vaccines for profit and a regulatory oversight system that routinely caters to industry.
Stein's comments, obviously written in the spirit of an online chat, don't specifically address the issue of the "anti-vaxxers," but her focus on the consequences of corporate control of health care does provide a context for understanding how anti-vaccination sentiment can arise.
Rather than acknowledge that even the vast majority of people who support vaccination should be concerned about how the pharmaceutical industry operates, bloggers like Weissmann--along with mainstream media outlets such as the Washington Post and Forbes--purposely misinterpret Stein's words to imply she is pandering to anti-vaxxers.
The following quote in Stein's interview with the Washington Post has been used to double down on the claim that she is anti-vaccination:
As a medical doctor, there was a time where I looked very closely at those issues, and not all those issues were completely resolved. There were concerns among physicians about what the vaccination schedule meant, the toxic substances like mercury which used to be rampant in vaccines. There were real questions that needed to be addressed. I think some of them at least have been addressed. I don't know if all of them have been addressed.
Having questions about the safety of medical products is not the same as being anti-science. The smears that make use of this quote are especially underhanded considering that Stein makes it clear in the same interview that she doesn't discourage vaccine use:
I think there's no question that vaccines have been absolutely critical in ridding us of the scourge of many diseases--smallpox, polio, etc. So vaccines are an invaluable medication.
If there were any lingering doubts about what Stein thinks after the Reddit AMA and the subsequent "controversy," they should be resolved by the Stein campaign's tweets in the last few days:
As a medical doctor of course I support vaccinations. I have a problem with the FDA being controlled by drug companies.
I support preventative health care as a human right (including vaccines), now let's discuss why the DNC rejected universal health care.
Those who say I'm "anti-vaxx" are anti-facts. They're lying to distract you from our revolt against 2-party failure.
At this point, it is not only incorrect, but dishonest and irresponsible to accuse Jill Stein of being anti-vaccination.
STEIN IS absolutely right to have a critique of the conflicts of interest in medicine that undermine public trust in regulatory agencies, especially given the direct financial relationship between pharmaceutical companies and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). For example, Dr. Sidney Wolfe pointed out in a Frontline interview, that under the Prescription Drug User Fee Act, pharmaceutical companies "[pay] cash right up front for FDA reviews."
This is one of many problematic relationships among hospital systems, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and governmental agencies in the profit health care system. It isn't unreasonable at all to mistrust a profit-driven health care system that has on occasion failed to protect the public from unsafe medications.
As Stein told the Washington Post:
It's really important that the American public have confidence in our regulatory boards so that all of our medical treatments and medications actually are approved by people who do not have a vested interest in their promotion. In my experience, this is not a radical idea. This is basic common sense.
Building that confidence won't happen by pretending that the pharmaceutical-industrial complex works just fine, as Stein's critics do. As Sean Petty wrote for SocialistWorker.org in an article about the anti-vaccination hysteria and its consequences:
We need an approach that validates and further articulates the real contradictions of health and capitalism as a starting point for then understanding where real scientific knowledge can be extracted in the current morass of the profit-driven priorities of health information.
Moreover, we need a movement, led by health care workers and patients, that removes profit out of health care. This means single-payer health care, publicly rather than privately funded health care research, significantly greater regulation and the expansion of the public health care infrastructure.
Maybe then we can begin to rebuild trust back into a vibrant public health system and a true sense of collective empowerment, which then would undermine the current perception that individual solutions are the only ones on offer.
It is important to challenge problematic statements and positions by political figures we support, but the problem in this case isn't Jill Stein's position, but how it has been twisted to serve a hostile agenda.
Let's be crystal clear: Jill Stein is not anti-vaccination. Her attitude has been distorted by those who seek to disparage her and third-party alternatives in general. Her positions are far superior to the corporate parties on foreign policy, health care, labor, education and many other crucial issues. And her message is resonating with the radicalizing, unapologetic former Bernie Sanders supporters who reject Hillary Clinton and the status quo.
Supporting candidates like Jill Stein--including confronting slander when it arises--is part of challenging the two party stranglehold on U.S. politics, which is an essential step in the process of strengthening the left and winning social change.