The “Today” show was excoriated Thursday morning for a single tweet from its health news section that posed a short question: “Are vaccines safe? Jessica Biel reignites debate.”
The post contained a link to a story with a subheadline telling readers, “When it comes to vaccines, it’s easy to be confused.”
While it is not actually easy to be confused ― vaccines are safe and highly recommended by medical professionals ― it was easy for the “Today” show’s Twitter followers to point out the editors’ dreadfully irresponsible messaging in light of the current nationwide measles outbreak.
About a half-hour later, the show’s editors appeared to get the hint, and deleted the Twitter post. A new tweet admitted that the previous post “included an irresponsibly presented headline.”
The article’s sensationalist headline was changed at least twice as the backlash swiftly grew. First, it became, “Doctors discuss 7 common vaccine myths,” while editors left the subheadline, “When it comes to vaccines, it is easy to be confused.”
Editors now appear to have settled on a more straightfoward approach: “Jessica Biel declares ‘I am not against vaccinations’ amid controversy,” with a subheadline detailing the actress’ stance on the topic.
Because, yes, Biel never meant to question the safety of vaccines. The content of writer Scott Stump’s article even specified as much before going on to debunk several vaccine-related myths ― it was just topped with a harmful and misleading headline.
That misstep by the “Today” show ― the country’s second-most-popular morning show ― sparked instant alarm given the ease with which misinformation can spread on social media.
Biel had inspired puzzled expressions when she appeared on Wednesday with vaccine skeptic Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to discuss a California bill that would make it harder for parents to seek exceptions to vaccinating their children, but she cleared up her position on Thursday.
“I am not against vaccinations,” Biel wrote over Instagram. “I support children getting vaccinations and I also support families having the right to make educated medical decisions for their children alongside their physicians.”
The actress said that she opposes the bill because her “dearest friends” have a child with a medical condition that warrants an exception from vaccinations, and the bill would make their lives harder.
In 2019 so far, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has tracked a dramatic surge in measles cases as anti-vaccination activists continue to spread scientifically inaccurate claims. Areas of unvaccinated people in New York City and New York state’s Rockland County have prompted officials to declare public health emergencies. Rockland even tried to bar unvaccinated youth from public spaces.