Vaccination as a Wedge: NY Times Front Page Smears Conservatives as Opposed to 'Modern Science'

February 4th, 2015 9:14 AM

Eagerly clawing around for a wedge issue with which to split the Republican Party, the New York Times on Tuesday used the controversy over mandatory vaccinations to smear the GOP as opposed to "modern science" and "established science" in "Measles Proves Delicate Issue to G.O.P. Field," a front-page story by Jeremy Peters and Richard Perez-Pena.

But to make that case, the Times must refrain from mentioning the liberal enclaves in Vermont and California that feature high percentages of un-vaccinated children, a point noted even by NBC Today host Matt Lauer. Then there's the unhealthy roster of Hollywood liberals (including Jenny McCarthy, Jim Carrey, Charlie Sheen, and Bill Maher) opposed to vaccination.

Lauer took issue with the Times' -- excuse me, the "liberal New York Times" take. Here's the play by play, via Mediaite:

NBC’s Matt Lauer went after the New York Times on Tuesday morning for seemingly mischaracterizing the Republican Party as anti-vaccine -- putting the “liberal” caveat in front of the newspaper as he prefaced what was written in a Times article about the vaccine issue among 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls.

“It becomes a hot potato,” Lauer told Meet the Press host Chuck Todd. “The New York Times -- the liberal New York Times -- puts it this way in an article this morning.”

Lauer then read the following passage from the article:

The vaccination controversy is a twist on an old problem for the Republican Party: how to approach matters that have largely been settled among scientists but are not widely accepted by conservatives.

“And even as I read that, Chuck, let’s make it clear: this does not break down neatly between the right and the left,” he continued. “There are pockets of liberal affluent American where parents don’t want their kids vaccinated.”

Right from the lead, Times reporters Peters and Perez-Pena framed the issue as a stark battle between average Republicans and long-established science:

The politics of medicine, morality and free will have collided in an emotional debate over vaccines and the government’s place in requiring them, posing a challenge for Republicans who find themselves in the familiar but uncomfortable position of reconciling modern science with the skepticism of their core conservative voters.

As the latest measles outbreak raises alarm, and parents who have decided not to vaccinate their children face growing pressure to do so, the national debate is forcing the Republican Party’s 2016 presidential hopefuls to confront questions about whether it is in the public’s interest to allow parents to decide for themselves.

Gov. Chris Christie’s trade mission to London was suddenly overshadowed on Monday after he was quoted as saying that parents “need to have some measure of choice” about vaccinating their children against measles. The New Jersey governor, who is trying to establish his credibility among conservatives as he weighs a run for the Republican nomination in 2016, later tried to temper his response. His office released a statement clarifying that “with a disease like measles there is no question kids should be vaccinated.”

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, a physician, was less equivocal, telling the conservative radio host Laura Ingraham on Monday that parents should absolutely have a say in whether to vaccinate their children for measles.

Then came criticism of the supposedly silly reaction by Republicans to the Ebola outbreak and "global warming," which Peters termed "such a liability for their party" because of its "questioning the established science that human activity is contributing to rising temperatures and sea levels."

"Established science" has yet to explain why the temperature has stayed steady for the past 15 years.

The vaccination controversy is a twist on an old problem for the Republican Party: how to approach matters that have largely been settled among scientists but are not widely accepted by conservatives.

It is a dance Republican candidates often do when they hedge their answers about whether evolution should be taught in schools. It is what makes the fight over global warming such a liability for their party, and what led last year to a widely criticized response to the Ebola scare.

As concern spread about an Ebola outbreak in the United States, physicians criticized Republican lawmakers -- including Mr. Christie -- who called for strict quarantines of people who may have been exposed to the virus. In some cases, Republicans proposed banning people who had been to the hardest-hit West African countries from entering the United States, even though public health officials warned that would only make it more difficult to stop Ebola’s spread.

On climate change, the party has struggled with how to position itself, with some Republicans inviting mockery for questioning the established science that human activity is contributing to rising temperatures and sea levels.

The reporters finally admitted that many leftists were also forgoing vaccinations, but didn't term them anti-science, merely worried about autisim:

The debate does not break entirely along right-left lines. The movement to forgo vaccinations has been popular in more liberal and affluent communities where some parents are worried that vaccines cause autism or other disorders among children.

Meanwhile, conservative opponents didn't even merit that thin reed of rationalization:

The issue has more political potency among conservative voters who are highly skeptical of anything required by the government.

After noting that two potential GOP candidates, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, were pro-vaccination, Peters concluded by portraying potential candidate Sen. Rand Paul as snappish and irritable on the mandatory vaccination controversy.

But for Republicans like Mr. Paul who appeal to the kind of libertarian conservatives who are influential in states like Iowa and New Hampshire, which hold the first two contests in the battle for the nomination, there is an appeal in framing the issue as one of individual liberty.

Asked about immunizations again later on Monday, Mr. Paul was even more insistent, saying it was a question of “freedom.” He grew irritated with a CNBC host who pressed him and snapped: “The state doesn’t own your children. Parents own the children.”