Rob Schneider: Makin’ Enemies

By | September 23, 2014

In a decision that had to be as awkward as it was necessary, State Farm has cut ties with pitchman Rob Schneider, following a social media campaign to make the home and auto insurance giant aware of the comedian’s unfortunate recent history of promoting bogus claims about the alleged dangers of vaccination.

State Farm spokesman Phil Supple told PRWeek of the decision:

“[Schneider’s] ad has unintentionally been used as a platform for discussion unrelated to the products and services we provide,” he said. “With that, we are working to remove the ad from our rotation at this time.”

Schneider’s tenure as a spokescharacter was mercifully brief. In late August, the company began airing a spot in which Schneider revived his “Richmeister” character – perhaps better known as “the copy guy” — that was made popular on Saturday Night Live in the early 1990s:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-syyCW2PFY

The spot is part of a broader campaign to use properties owned by SNL creator Lorne Michaels’ Broadway Video Entertainment, which has also already featured spots in which Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon revive their “Hans and Franz” characters:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WxjCJxfECD8

Schneider was an active and vocal opponent of A.B. 2109, a California law signed in September 2012 by Gov. Jerry Brown that requires parents seeking a “personal belief exemption” from mandatory vaccinations first consult with a physician. While there’s room for reasonable disagreement on the degree to which public health concerns trump First Amendment rights or other civil liberties, Schneider’s comments on the subject (like those of former Playmate of the Year Jenny McCarthy, the most prominent anti-vaccine activist) clearly cross over the line into spreading dangerous falsehoods:

On the topic of vaccine safety, Schneider said, “The doctors are not gonna tell you both sides of the issue… they’re told by the pharmaceutical industry, which makes billions of dollars, that it’s completely safe.”

“The efficacy of these shots have not been proven,” he later continued. “And the toxicity of these things — we’re having more and more side effects. We’re having more and more autism.”

California law requires children be vaccinated against measles, pertussis (whooping cough), polio, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B, chicken pox, diphtheria and tetanus in order to attend kindergarten. But the shocking spread of the belief that vaccines cause autism – a theory first presented in a 1998 paper in The Lancet, which was later retracted, and that has been thoroughly debunked, including by the National Academies Institute of Medicine — has led to a situation in which many schools, particularly those serving wealthy parents, are seeing vaccination rates fall below the 92 percent threshold that public health experts believe is crucial to ensure “herd immunity.”

The Centers for Disease Control & Protection found that measles outbreaks in 2013 were the worst in 17 years, with roughly 80 percent of the unvaccinated citing “philosophical differences” as motivating their decision.

Recent reporting by the Los Angeles Times found that, statewide in California, the rate of children whose parents cited personal belief exemptions for not vaccinating their children jumped from 1.5 percent in 2007 to 3.1 percent in 2013. Over that same period, the number of public school kindergartens where more than 8 percent of children were unvaccinated more than doubled from 5 percent to 11 percent, while at private schools it jumped from 1 in 10 to 1 in 4.

Bucking immunization trends throughout history, the rates of vaccination actually correlate negatively with income. The Times found 150 schools in Los Angeles County with exemption rates of greater than 8 percent, and the average incomes in those districts was $94,500, 60 percent more than the county median. Separate analysis by The Hollywood Reporter looked at personal belief exemptions filed on behalf children in wealthy West Los Angeles schools, “particularly those attending exclusive, entertainment-industry-favored child care centers, preschools and kindergartens,” finding that:

The number of PBEs being filed is scary. The region stretching from Malibu south to Marina del Rey and inland as far as La Cienega Boulevard (and including Santa Monica, Pacific Palisades, Brentwood, West Hollywood and Beverly Hills) averaged a 9.1 percent PBE level among preschoolers for the 2013-14 school year — a 26 percent jump from two years earlier. By comparison, L.A. County at large measured 2.2 percent in that period. Many preschools in this area spiked far higher, including Kabbalah Children’s Academy in Beverly Hills (57 percent) and the Waldorf Early Childhood Center in Santa Monica (68 percent). According to World Health Organization data, such numbers are in line with immunization rates in developing countries like Chad and South Sudan. These two schools aren’t outliers; dozens more — including Seven Arrows, Turning Point and Calvary Christian — report PBE levels that are five times the county average.

All of which is to say that, while Mr. Schneider’s beliefs on the subject of childhood vaccination might be typical among parents in his neighborhood, that doesn’t make him a “good neighbor.” Insurance companies are in the business of managing and mitigating risk. That should render associating with a high-profile disseminator of false information that could do catastrophic harm to public health off the table.

We commend and congratulate State Farm on their decision to let him go.

About Ray Lehmann

Lehmann is co-founder of the R Street Institute in Washington, D.C. where he serves as director, Finance, Insurance & Trade, and is a senior fellow. He can be reached at rlehmann@rstreet.org. More from Ray Lehmann

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