Since When Does the Associated Press (AP) Produce Hit Pieces? (Part of 1 of 3)
By Nikos Biggs-Chiropolos, The Kennedy Beacon
Note: This is the first in a series of articles The Kennedy Beacon is publishing on three consecutive days. Together, they examine how, nine days after Robert F. Kennedy Jr. announced his intention to run for president as an independent, the once-reputable Associated Press (AP) constructed a hit piece against the candidate that has all the hallmarks of Big Pharma dictating the method and line of attack. Our first article, below, examines the claims of the hit piece; the second investigates Big Pharma’s fingerprints on the original story; and the third reveals the financial/political conflicts of the authors, the AP’s leadership, and the organization as a whole.
By Nikos Biggs-Chiropolos, The Kennedy Beacon
As a presidential candidate,is the subject of all kinds of coverage – some positive, and much negative. One of the latest articles about him, from the Associated Press, reads like an opinion piece while being presented and distributed as if it were a news story. What can only be described as surprisingly sloppy, biased journalism reveals much about the media strategies that are being employed and coordinated to discredit Kennedy’s candidacy.
The article, titled “RFK Jr. spent years stoking fear and mistrust of vaccines. These people were hurt by his work,” makes an incoherent and speculative argument that Kennedy’s work addressing vaccine safety has directly harmed people. Examples range from the use of pictures in a book for which Kennedy wrote the foreword, to a measles outbreak in Samoa that occurred months after he had visited the Polynesian island country. The latter accusation will be most closely examined in this article.
According to the AP’s allegations, these anecdotes prove that Kennedy somehow profits from spreading “misinformation” and harming people in the process, yet the article never establishes physical harm or causation. Notably, the article does not mention the numerous correct claims that Kennedy has made questioning medical paradigms, especially regarding the COVID-19 pandemic response, from which the pharmaceutical industry has made record profits. The article also ignores the great personal cost Kennedy has paid for challenging the safety record of vaccine manufacturers.
The article was released on October 18, soon after Kennedy received buzz in the mainstream media for becoming an independent presidential candidate. Analyzing the piece leads us to conclude that its goal was to smear his candidacy. It does not present the type of unbiased, investigative reporting that the AP is generally known for conducting. It also ignores the financial incentive for pharmaceutical companies to smear Kennedy’s claims about them, and Big Pharma’s potential reach in controlling what the media says about him.
The Article’s Impact
The AP piece was re-published by numerous small newspapers around the country, as well as by major news outlets, including ABC News and The Independent, on the same day that it was published on the AP’s website. Such re-publication is quite common for AP content, since it is one of the biggest and most well-funded news agencies in the world and therefore can send reporters to places that smaller outlets cannot; in turn, subscribing outlets share AP stories to increase their reach.
While the AP sharing its on-the-ground reporting of breaking news with smaller outlets is standard journalistic practice, its commissioning of biased takedown pieces like this one, to be republished in places ranging from ABC News to Idaho’s Magic Valley Times-News, is not. The AP article’s distribution was likely much wider than that of other recent hit pieces on Kennedy, in publications such as The New York Times and Vanity Fair, since their content is not distributed. The article was shared in countless other publications as if it were a news story, though clearly it is not.
What Is the AP and Why this Article?
The AP was established in 1846 when New York newspapers joined forces to cover the Mexican-American War. Today, it produces news reports for news agencies around the world, being republished by more than 1,300 newspapers and broadcasters and having offices in 99 countries. The AP has produced an influential style guide and runs polls for sports and elections. It has received over 50 Pulitzer Prizes for reporting. Broadcasters pay a fee for access to AP content. Thus, while no news can be completely unbiased, the AP’s model has been to stick to facts, and usually it does not publish editorial narratives. So why does this piece on Kennedy take such a blatant stand against him?
In “Mass Media: A History,” James Corbett points out that historically, because news wire services could transmit information around the world almost instantly, the owners of these services had enormous influence on what information was available for the world to consume. Today, as one of the oldest and most established media outlets in the world, the AP controls many wire services and thus, as noted by Agility PR, has one of the most influential positions for spreading news around the country and the world.
Exploring Claims Made in the Article
The authors of the AP hit piece are Ali Swenson, who writes on “election-related misinformation, disinformation and extremism” and Michelle R. Smith, who is an “investigative correspondent,” according to their AP profiles (for more on Swenson and Smith, see part 3 of this series). The authors clearly chose to interview, or at least to quote, only people who were willing to criticize Kennedy – none of the people quoted in the article spoke in support of Kennedy or gave his perspective.
The piece extensively quotes Lydia Greene, a mother who lives in the Canadian province of Alberta and who confusingly claims that the medical freedom movement somehow caused her to neglect reckoning with her own son’s autism. While the article’s title claims that it will identify people whom Kennedy has “hurt,” Greene does not establish any link to Kennedy himself, nor does she indicate that he might have profited from her son’s circumstances, as the article also implies.
The article also cites Daniel Jolley, a University of Nottingham social psychology professor who has published several papers on “conspiracy thinking,” claiming that Kennedy’s activism “can impact the smooth running of societies.” Kennedy’s view, unmentioned in the article, is that open debate is necessary in a healthy democratic society.
Additionally, the article quotes California Democratic state senator Richard Pan, who sponsored a bill to make it more difficult to receive exemptions from mandatory vaccines in the state. According to the article, “Pan said that Kennedy’s rhetoric, which often demonizes scientists and health care professionals, is part of a strategy to intimidate and silence them.” In reality, Kennedy has been one of the most silenced people on the internet since the pandemic, alleging in the lawsuit Missouri v. Biden that the government collaborated with tech companies to censor him.
Kennedy has also said many times on the campaign trail that freedom of thought and democratic society require entertaining different points of view in good faith, rather than branding influential people as dangerous because they question the agendas of large corporations.
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Investigating the Measles Outbreak in Samoa
The article also tries to establish a link between a trip Kennedy made to Samoa in June 2019 with his wife, Cheryl Hines, and a subsequent measles outbreak. The authors conclude that his visit played a role in low vaccine rates on the island that purportedly led to the outbreak a few months later. Yet the authors acknowledge that the Samoan government had suspended the administering of measles vaccines earlier, after two children died there in 2018 from a vaccine that was incorrectly prepared. It was this deadly incident that had led to a crisis of public confidence in the measles vaccine.
Additionally, measles vaccination rates had been declining in Samoa for years. World Health Organization (WHO) data charts show that measles vaccine coverage in Samoa had peaked in 2013 and then steadily declined until 2018 – the year the children died – after which it plummeted significantly. Infrastructure deficiencies on the island, such as lack of refrigeration, may have compromised vaccine safety, while also contributing to the difficulty of getting vaccines to Samoans in remote areas. SBS News Australia has documented vaccines in Samoa needing to be destroyed due to lack of proper cooling chains.
Figure 1. Screenshot from a WHO document showing WHO and UNICEF estimates of immunization coverage in Samoa. MCV1 is the percentage of surviving infants who received the first dose of measles-containing vaccine (MCV). In countries where the national schedule recommends the first dose of MCV at 12 months or later based on the epidemiology of disease in the country, coverage estimates reflect the percentage of children who received the first dose of MCV as recommended, which peaked in 2013 before declining to a low of 40% in 2018, the same year two Samoan children died from the administration of a measles vaccine.
Figure 2. Screenshot from a WHO document showing WHO and UNICEF estimates of immunization coverage in Samoa. MCV2 is the percentage of children who received the second dose of measles-containing vaccine (MCV) according to the nationally recommended schedule, which peaked in 2013 before declining to a low of 28% in 2018, the same year two Samoan children died from the administration of a measles vaccine.
Although the AP article mentions that Kennedy was invited to Samoa as a distinguished guest and met with health authorities there, it fails to establish why he was there. The Kennedy Beacon interviewed researcher Dr., who was in contact with Kennedy at the time and who noted that the article neglects to cite Kennedy’s background in public health advocacy as the reason he was invited. In August of this year, Lyons-Weiler corrected the record on Kennedy’s visit to Samoa in an article in his Substack newsletter Popular Rationalism, “The Record Shows that Two Vaccine Deaths, Unsafe Vaccine Storage and Vaccine Failure Led to Samoan Vaccine Skepticism, Not Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.” According to Lyons-Weiler, Kennedy had been invited by local officials to see if the nonprofit he headed, Children’s Health Defense, could help conduct scientific investigations into the causes of the outbreak.
Some of those causes could be environmental and nutritional factors as well as vaccine failure. Nearby Tonga and Fiji, with 99% vaccination rates for measles, also declared states of emergency for similar outbreaks at the same time in 2019, according to the BBC, indicating that vaccine failure was an issue in those areas. The AP article reports 83 Samoan deaths during the 2019 outbreak, claiming that “the majority” were infants and children without establishing whether these deaths were among unvaccinated children and, if so, how many were infants as opposed to children. Infants are not eligible for measles vaccination in Samoa until the age of 12 months.
Lyons-Weiler notes that it has long been known that infants whose mothers are vaccinated for measles are at a higher risk of contracting measles because they do not receive the same level of passive immunity from breastfeeding as infants do from mothers who have natural measles immunity. For children, measles is typically a mild disease. It is unvaccinated adults, who do not have natural immunity from infection, and vaccinated adults, who have not recently received a measles booster vaccine, who are at the highest risk of severe disease with a measles infection, according to well-established reviews of the medical literature. The AP article does not attempt to explain why most of the deaths were among infants and children.
Additionally, the AP fails to note whether the measles deaths may have been caused, in part, by other factors, such as lack of proper treatment and/or underlying health conditions. While vitamin A is a well-documented treatment for measles, it became controversial during this Samoan outbreak. The WHO states on its website that “vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of preventable childhood blindness and increases the risk of death from common childhood infections, such as measles and those causing diarrhea,” and that there is “a well-established scientific basis for the treatment of measles cases with vitamin A supplementation that is recommended by WHO as part of the integrated management of childhood illness.” Yet the Samoa Observer reported during the 2019 outbreak that “online misinformation suggesting that children with measles can be treated at home with vitamin A and C and liquid zinc has no scientific evidence behind it.” Curiously, the article cites a WHO official claiming that these home treatments are “conning” people from getting “appropriate treatment,” but fails to acknowledge that WHO’s guidelines recommend vitamin A as a measles treatment.
In communications with the Beacon, Samoan health activist Edwin Tamasese (who is referenced in the AP article) said vitamin A was not administered in Samoa during the 2019 measles outbreak until after 16 children had died. He also said that he interviewed and filmed statements from parents of nine children who died during the outbreak, and none of them were treated with vitamin A. As reported by ABC News, Tamasese was arrested for “incitement against a government order” in December 2019; the article cited a post he made on social media advocating better home treatment for measles. While it is impossible to know if his recommended treatments could have saved these children, Tamasese’s vitamin A recommendations do actually echo WHO guidelines. The charges were ultimately dismissed, as reported by Samoa Global News, who also noted that Tamasese “was sought by desperate parents during the measles epidemic, and successfully treated many babies back to recovery.”
Additionally, Tamasese sent government documents to the Beacon indicating that only seven of the 36 initial samples of suspected cases in this outbreak that were sent to Australia for testing came back positive. While it is not clear that all the samples were tested, the positivity rate from the Australian lab is less than 50%, possibly much lower. Many measles-like rashes could have even been side effects of the measles vaccine itself, according to Lyons-Weiler.
Figure 3. A press release from the Samoan Ministry of Health states that only seven of the 36 early measles specimens sent to an Australian lab for testing in September 2019 were confirmed as positive.
Nevertheless, Kennedy inflicted “harm” on Samoans, according to the AP, by meeting with Tamasese and Samoan health officials. As Kennedy has made clear, in his appearance in the documentary A Shot in the Arm, which is referenced in the AP article, he did not tell people there to not get vaccinated. Lyons-Weiler, who was privy to the discussions Kennedy had with Tamasese and others prior to the visit, confirms that Kennedy’s only stated objective was to help conduct science in Samoa, investigating the various causes of the unusually severe outbreak among children.
The AP article ends its Samoa section sensationally by quoting a nurse who says, “Kennedy was very – well, he came in and he left. And other people picked up the pieces.” The article provides no evidence of how Kennedy could possibly be responsible for causing harm there. As we have shown, the island’s low vaccination rates and its measles outbreak began prior to, and were unrelated to, Kennedy’s visit.
Finally, the article’s defaming claims hinge on the accusation that Kennedy’s work on vaccine safety issues is motivated by profit. While Kennedy has most notably written a best-selling book, The Real Anthony Fauci, that is related to his health advocacy, the content of the book has not faced any legal challenges, indicating that he is, in fact, a truth teller rather than “earn[ing] money, fame and political clout while leaving people … suffering” as the AP claims.
Of course, running for president will expose Kennedy to all kinds of good and bad press, but facts are important when covering “misinformation.” It is clear that this piece by the AP is not an attempt to correct the record regarding Kennedy, but a manufactured hit piece.