HBO talk show host Bill Maher allowed a vaccination skeptic to air his views on the discredited link between vaccines and autism on Friday night and, at many points, appeared to agree with him.
The skeptic, Dr. Jay Gordon, was the first guest on the “Real Time with Bill Maher” episode and enjoyed no pushback about his repeated assertion that vaccines could cause autism. Maher contributed to the conversation by sharing his own medical history and by listing off errors of modern medicine.
“I’m just saying we don’t know shit,” Maher said. “We don’t know a lot about how the body works. So how do vaccines fit in with, I don’t know, all the new chemicals? There’s thousands of new chemicals, pollutants, irritants. We didn’t use to have all this corn syrup in our bodies, antibiotics. It could be any combination, so I’m a little cautious.”
Nearly the entire medical community agrees that vaccines do not cause autism, as shown by a number of large studies. In just this past year, some parents’ refusal to vaccinate their children in places like California and New York led to a rise in preventable illnesses that alarmed public health officials and even led to some drastic measures: In a county north of New York City, unvaccinated minors were barred from public spaces for several weeks.
Although Maher acknowledged that vaccines work, he told his audience, which appeared to largely support what he was saying, that the idea that they cause autism still merits debate.
“You know, to call you this crazy person,” he told Gordon, “really, what you’re just saying is [a] slower [vaccination timetable], maybe less numbers, and also take into account individuals. People are different. Family history, stuff like that. I don’t think this is crazy.”
Maher then lent credence to anti-vaccination sentiment: “There’s all these parents who say, ‘I had a normal child, got the vaccine.’ This story keeps coming up. It seems to be more realistic to me, if we’re just going to be realistic about it. Like, it probably happens so rarely, but you can’t say it happens one in a million times because then somebody could think, ‘Well, I could be this millionth one.’ So, you scare people, so you can’t say what might be the more realistic opinion.”
Gordon, for his part, advised parents to approach vaccines with caution while acknowledging a lack of scientific evidence to back up his stance.
“I can’t prove anything so I talk quietly,” Gordon said on the national talk show.
Maher rounded out the episode by speaking with alt-right figure Dennis Prager of PragerU, an online “university” that churns out YouTube videos full of Prager’s extremist opinions. He joined University of Southern California journalism professor Christina Bellantoni and former Obama administration official Richard Stengel for a panel discussion in which he falsely asserted that Russia did not attempt to “undermine our democracy” in the 2016 election.
If this seems off-brand for Maher, it shouldn’t.
As The Daily Beast and other media observers have pointed out, in recent years, Maher has played host to an increasingly bizarre roster of guests including right-wing demagogues Milo Yiannopoulos and Ben Shapiro and, now, a vaccination skeptic and a right-wing propagandist.