Should this have been reported: Here at THE HOWLER, we won’t be voting for Rand Paul.
That said, we also wouldn’t vote for some of the recent journalism concerning Senator Paul. With that in mind, we’ll show you some of the things he recently said about vaccines.
First, let’s look at what Nicholas Kristof wrote at the start of Sunday’s column. He gave a rather standard account of what Paul had said.
KRISTOF (2/8/15): The Dangers of Vaccine DenialNicholas Kristof—a journalist!—gave a fairly standard account of what Paul had said on CNBC. Beyond that, his quotation of Paul was technically accurate. Many other journalists had quoted that same remark.
In a few backward parts of the world, extremists resist universal childhood vaccinations. The Taliban in tribal areas of Pakistan. Boko Haram militants in Northern Nigeria.
Oh, yes, one more: Some politicians in the United States.
Senator Rand Paul—a doctor!—told CNBC that he had delayed his own children’s immunizations and cited “many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.”
After an uproar, Paul walked back his remarks and tweeted a photo of himself getting a Hepatitis A vaccination. After that irresponsible scaremongering, I’d say he deserves to get shots daily for a decade. With really long needles.
By the time Kristof’s column appeared, Paul had explained what he meant by those quoted words. His explanation didn’t seem to make much sense to us. But just for the record, he also said everything which follows before he made that one quoted remark.
He spoke with CNBC’s Kelly Evans. This is a fuller record of the things he said:
EVANS (2/2/15): Senator, thank you so much for being here on the program. It is good to see you. And listen, we have a lot to get to here that is important for our investors. But I just have to begin by asking: Did you really just say to Laura Ingraham that you think most vaccines in this country should be, quote, “voluntary?”Personally, we wouldn’t vote for Paul. That said, Paul made all those statements about vaccines before he said the one thing Kristof quoted.
PAUL: Well, I guess being for freedom would be really unusual. I guess I don’t understand the point of why that would be controversial.
EVANS: Senator, maybe you are not aware, but there is a huge problem right now with Disney theme parks having to close down because of mumps. Not enough children being vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella because their parents, for whatever reason, have decided that it is voluntary. And I can tell you, plenty of people I work with are really concerned about their kids getting sick at school.
PAUL: Here’s the thing is, I think vaccines are one of the greatest medical breakthroughs that we have. I’m a big fan and a great fan of the history of the development of the smallpox vaccine, for example. But you know, for most of our history, they have been voluntary. So I don’t think I’m arguing for anything out of the ordinary. We are arguing for what most of our history has had.
EVANS: I understand that you are all for the choice. But again, if we are left in a situation where diseases that were once almost wiped out are now coming back because people are deciding not to vaccinate their kids, isn’t that a problem?
PAUL: I think public awareness of how good vaccines are for kids, and how they are good for public health, is a great idea. You know, we have just appointed a surgeon general. These are some of the things that are things that we should promote as good for our health. But I don’t think there is anything extraordinary about resorting to freedom.
I’ll give you a good example. You know, the Hepatitis B vaccine is now given to newborns. We sometimes give five and six vaccines all at one time. I chose to have mine delayed. I don’t want the government telling me that I have to give my newborn Hepatitis B vaccine, which is transmitted—
PAUL: —which is transmitted by sexually transmitted disease and/or blood transfusions.
Do I think it’s ultimately a good idea? Yeah, and so I had mine staggered over several months...
He said vaccines are one of our greatest medical breakthroughs. He said he’s “a big fan,” apparently of vaccines in general. He said he’s a great fan of the history of the development of the smallpox vaccine.
He said public awareness of how good vaccines are for kids and for public health is a great idea. He said the new surgeon general should promote that public awareness.
He said he had delayed his newborn’s Hepatitis B vaccine. But he seemed to say that he had only had the child’s vaccines staggered over several months.
“I’m not arguing vaccines are a bad idea,” Paul soon said. “I think they are a good thing, but I think the parent should have some input.”
How much input should parents have? Evans never asked. We’re omitting the one statement Kristof quoted.
We don’t mean to single out Kristof. By the time his column appeared, a wide array of journalists had quoted Paul in the same way he did. Kristof only stood out from the crowd in the way he now routinely does—by imagining a painful punishment for Paul, AKA The Other.
This brings us to our basic question: Do you think Kristof’s readers got a full sense of what Paul actually said?
More specifically, do you think Paul really “walked back his remarks” when he got that Hepatitis A booster the next day? When Kristof wrote that Paul “delayed his own children’s immunizations,” do you think his readers understood that Paul had only staggered the shots over several months?
Final questions: Do you think that Paul is involved in something that can be called “vaccine denial?” Do you think he's “resisting universal childhood vaccinations” in the manner of Boko Haram?
We wouldn’t make those statements. How do they grab you and yours?
Personally, we wouldn’t vote for Paul. We also wouldn’t report his remarks in the way Kristof and others did.
That said, this is the highly tribal way our reporting often works at this point. This approach will often make one of our various tribes feel good. But we don’t think this practice is good for the nation, or for progressive interests.
Did Kristof’s readers get a full sense of what Paul actually said? On balance, we don’t think so. Beyond that, we think this way of quoting politicians stands in the way of fuller, smarter discussions.
We wouldn’t vote for Senator Paul. Did you understand the full range of what he actually said?
For the full transcript and tape: For a full transcript of this exchange, you can just click here.
To watch videotape of the interview, just click this.
Instant pop quiz on today’s remarks: Our quiz today includes only one question. Based on your reading, do you think that we at THE HOWLER would vote for Senator Paul?