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De Niro Pulls Anti-Vaccine Movie from Festival

Robert De Niro attends 2015 National Board of Review Gala at Cipriani 42nd Street on January 5, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by: Dennis Van Tine/Geisler-Fotopres/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)In the classic movie Goodfellas, Robert De Niro's character, Jimmy the Gent, brings in close an impressionable Henry Hill to teach him a thing or two. This wannabe mobster receives from Jimmy the Gent a valuable lesson: "You learned the two greatest thing in life: never rat on your friends, and always keep your mouth shut." Today, some speculate that De Niro is taking his advice too far with his latest move at the Tribeca Film Festival.

On Saturday, De Niro announced he was pulling the movie Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe from the Tribeca Film Festival. After watching it with colleagues and experts, De Niro reversed his earlier decision to show the film, which accuses the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of covering up the link between vaccines and rising autism rates.  

"My intent in screening this film was to provide an opportunity for conversation around an issue that is deeply personal to me and my family," the statement said. "But after reviewing it over the past few days with the Tribeca Film Festival team and others from the scientific community, we do not believe it contributes to or furthers the discussion I had hoped for."

While Henry Hill welcomed Jimmy the Gent's news, film director Andrew Wakefield did not. "We have just witnessed yet another example of the power of corporate interests censoring free speech, art and truth." Continuing on, the disgraced former doctor who published the now discredited study on which the film was based said, "Tribeca's action will not succeed in denying the world access to the truth behind the film Vaxxed."

This quick reversal by De Niro took many by surprise. De Niro openly acknowledged on Friday that he and his wife have a child with autism. "We believe it is critical that all of the issues surrounding autism be openly discussed and examined," he said. But just as his decision changed, so has the debate over vaccinations.

Hesitancy to vaccinate children stretches back to 19th century England. At this time, medical professionals sought to squelch the small pox epidemic. Today, these isolated incidents of hesitancy have turned into a movement of resistance. Utilizing medical studies and populist outrage, this movement has grown more prevalent in recent days.

The anti-vaccination movement's primary medical source is the work of Andrew Wakefield. In his research, he studied twelve children who were given three vaccines taken together. After his experiment, he concluded that these vaccines altered their immune systems, causing intestinal woes that damage the brain. However, once his conclusions reached the medical community, they were quickly rejected and found to lack merit based on his tiny sample, among other things. The journal that published his findings retracted his work and medical authorities stripped him of his license.

Not limited to this fraudulent medical study, the resistance movement is also supported and motivated by populist outrage. Jenny McCarthy, former Playboy Playmate and television host, is a notorious voice among critics of vaccines. She believes that her son's autism stems from the vaccinations he received as a small child. Her son's condition is tragic, but her response is unhelpful. Claiming she got her degree from the "University of Google," she now champions this resistance movement, compelled by emotion:

"I do believe sadly it's going to take some diseases coming back to realize that we need to change and develop vaccines that are safe. If the vaccine companies are not listening to us, it's their (expletive deleted) fault that the diseases are coming back. They're making a product that's (expletive deleted). If you give us a safe vaccine, we'll use it. It shouldn't be polio versus autism."

This logic is not rational, but it is detrimental. McCarthy is propelled by a legitimate emotion of hurt brought about by her son's condition; however, her justifiable emotion drives her to a destructive place. This place seeks to compel others to act without regard for public good, which is where we find ourselves today.

Today, the United States is an emotionally charged environment, some even coining it as a culture of outrage. Emotions are a positive good for the community, but truth must not be positively left out of the conversation. We are all entitled to our own opinion, but not to our own truth.

We are responsible for our own actions and the claims that compel them, but we must be aware of their public implications.

Robert De Niro was within his purview to pull the film. By not allowing discredited scientific research to utilize his platform, De Niro knew the truth and did not allow the propagation of false claims. One might argue that the media heyday this has generated has more than made up for the loss.

While we all might not have the pull of De Niro, we do all have a responsibility to truth, especially those of the Christian persuasion.  In order to spot the lie you must know the truth. In order to defend the truth, we must hear the various claims being made that are guised as truths. This, however, requires listening.

As Christians, we come from a tradition that reasons together (Isaiah 1:18). We should not be afraid of various claims that are contradictory to the truth. Because as John Milton said, "Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?"

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