In an internet assembly with anti-vaccine activists on June 27, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a Democrat working for president, falsely mentioned there was good proof that vaccine analysis had brought on tens of millions of deaths in the course of the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic. He additionally claimed that such analysis may have created Covid-19, H.I.V. and different lethal viruses.
But in an look earlier than Congress on July 20, Mr. Kennedy made none of these assertions. When lawmakers requested him about vaccines, he mentioned: “I have never been anti-vax. I have never told the public to avoid vaccination.”
Even as Mr. Kennedy is an extended shot for the Democratic nomination, he stays a case examine of how a political determine can unfold falsehoods and conspiracy theories at a big scale. And since he declared his presidential run in April, a gulf has appeared between what he says at political and marketing campaign occasions and what he says on podcasts, at occasions and on reveals that cater to anti-vaccine activists and conspiracy theorists, in accordance with a assessment of his feedback by The New York Times.
In massive public boards like Congress, Mr. Kennedy, 69, has moderated his excessive views, whereas persevering with to advocate them in different settings. At marketing campaign stops in Iowa, Vermont and Virginia this summer time, he spoke in regards to the setting, overseas coverage and the struggle in Ukraine, in accordance with The Times’s assessment. He didn’t point out vaccines and restricted his feedback on Covid to criticism of pandemic lockdowns.
Yet throughout that very same interval, Mr. Kennedy appeared on greater than two dozen podcasts hosted by personalities widespread with the suitable wing, comparable to Jordan Peterson and Joe Rogan, in addition to in on-line conferences and video streams the place he introduced up a wide range of fringe concepts. At instances, he made unfounded claims about vaccines and questioned whether or not chemical compounds within the water provide had been inflicting “sexual dysphoria” amongst youngsters within the United States.
The shift in Mr. Kennedy’s conduct is stark after his almost 20 years of selling unsubstantiated theories about vaccines and different issues. Misinformation researchers mentioned the candidate had most likely tempered his most excessive positions to attraction to a wider viewers and win over voters.
“If you only hear what he says in those big, open forums, you might think this is a reasonable, moderate person I want to support — and that is the point,” mentioned Kolina Koltai, a misinformation researcher who has studied anti-vaccine conspiracy theories. “He is making himself mainstream.”
When Mr. Kennedy raises matters that he has excessive views on, he now does so extra subtly, Ms. Koltai mentioned. In marketing campaign boards, he typically poses his concepts about vaccines as questions, comparable to asking if coronavirus vaccines had been produced too rapidly or questioning the protection protocols round different vaccines, she mentioned.
Mr. Kennedy’s marketing campaign didn’t reply to requests for remark, however beforehand mentioned in a assertion to AE Daily News that the candidate was being “mischaracterized.”
Recent opinion polls recommend that Mr. Kennedy, a scion of the Kennedy household and an environmental lawyer and activist, has the help of round 12 % of Democratic voters. He has attracted some high-profile backers, together with Elon Musk, the Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, the National Football League star Aaron Rodgers and the actress Alicia Silverstone.
Mr. Kennedy’s public work in opposition to vaccines started in 2005, when he revealed articles in Rolling Stone and Salon claiming a hyperlink between vaccines and autism. The news retailers later withdrew the articles. In 2018, he based Children’s Health Defense, a nonprofit in Washington that has promoted anti-vaccine ideology.
During the coronavirus pandemic, Mr. Kennedy spoke at dozens of occasions the place he claimed that the medication ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine may assist deal with Covid. Numerous research revealed throughout and after the pandemic have discovered in any other case. Mr. Kennedy has not addressed these research.
Mr. Kennedy additionally produced a 2021 film that urged Black Americans shouldn’t get vaccinated, whilst well being officers mentioned such claims had been harmful. And he wrote a e book claiming that Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s prime medical adviser for the pandemic, and Bill Gates, a founding father of Microsoft, conspired with drug corporations to revenue from vaccines. Dr. Fauci and Mr. Gates have rebutted the claims.
In 2021, the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a nonprofit that conducts analysis on social media, named Mr. Kennedy as one of many “Disinformation Dozen,” which it referred to as the highest 12 superspreaders of misinformation about Covid on the web.
Mr. Kennedy has additionally used his platform to advertise different deceptive concepts, together with that 5G networks are getting used for mass surveillance.
“You have a bleeding-over from vaccines to broad conspiratorial ideas on a number of topics,” mentioned Jonathan Jarry, a scientist and science communicator with McGill University’s Office for Science and Society. “He promotes a whole worldview that is not just about opposing vaccines — it is about distrust of government, media and other bodies, while promoting trust in him.”
When Mr. Kennedy mentioned he was working for president, his conduct shifted instantly. In a virtually two-hour speech saying his candidacy, he didn’t point out vaccines or promote conspiracy theories.
“My mission over the next 18 months of this campaign and throughout my presidency will be to end the corrupt merger of state and corporate power,” he mentioned, happening to criticize authorities spending, company energy and pandemic lockdowns.
In marketing campaign appearances over the summer time, Mr. Kennedy was circumspect. During a June 5 audio occasion with Mr. Musk on X, the service previously referred to as Twitter, Mr. Kennedy made a passing reference to vaccines and restricted his remarks to the difficulties that individuals confronted in the course of the lockdowns.
He equally skirted talked about of vaccines when he campaigned in June in Vermont and finally month’s Iowa State Fair, a preferred stomping floor for presidential candidates. In an interview with Mr. Kennedy that was posted on Aug. 14, Tucker Carlson opened by noting that it will make no point out of vaccines.
At the identical time, Mr. Kennedy espoused excessive views on podcasts. In June, he advised Mr. Peterson, a psychologist and an creator, that chemical compounds within the water provide may flip youngsters transgender. That similar month, Mr. Kennedy appeared on Mr. Rogan’s podcast and introduced false or unfounded claims, together with that aluminum in vaccines causes autism and that Wi-Fi causes power sickness.
Late final month, Children’s Health Defense introduced a “people’s bus tour” throughout the United States to gather tales from individuals who had been harmed by vaccinations and different well being protocols launched in the course of the pandemic. The facet of the bus was emblazoned with “Vax-Unvax,” the title of Mr. Kennedy’s new e book.
Source web site: www.nytimes.com