If James Gunn deserved his Disney firing, Terry Rossio deserves to never work again



[OPINION] Being a public health danger is worse than being a jerk, once.

Eddie Murphy famously played Donkey, the title hero’s sidekick in Shrek, but he wasn’t the only ass associated with that film.

Terry Rossio, one of the screenwriters behind Shrek, the Pirates of the Caribbean series, and other Disney properties, made news Thanksgiving night with a tweet that escalated from raising a public health risk to deep racial insensitivity involving the use of the n-word, all in the span of only 280 characters.

Screencapped, as it’s since been deleted.

Rossio was replying to both a now-deleted tweet from Erik Burnham, a comic book writer for IDW, and one from Julie Benson, a writer for Batgirl & the Birds of Prey and Green Arrow at DC Comics, as well as for the television series The 100. Burnham remarked that anti-vaxxers “made me grind my teeth” while Benson had shared someone else’s tweet urging support for Unicef’s vaccination efforts.

 

Screenwriter Craig Mazin perhaps best summarized the progression of awfulness in Rossio’s reply.

Rossio deleted the offending tweet late Saturday evening.

But Rossio is not just your run of the mill nervous parent flirting with understandable concerns about vaccines he stumbled upon passively on the internet; he once optioned the movie rights to Andrew Wakefield’s 2010 book “Callous Disregard.”

Wakefield is the disgraced former UK doctor who had his medical license stripped after the retraction of his now infamous 1998 study published in The Lancet, which purported to show a link between administration of the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine and the onset of autism in children.

Sunday Times reporter Brian Deer exposed Wakefield‘s problematic, undisclosed financial conflicts of interest as well as other ethical concerns with the study’s methodology. Ultimately, even most of Wakefield’s co-authors withdrew their support of their own work.

Benson challenged Terry Rossio to provide scientific evidence for his position on Twitter, but the Pirates writer never responded. Vaccine critics frequently bring up alleged cases of vaccine injuries, but rarely provide statistical data. Noted vaccine critic Bob Sears argued in 2015:

Every year in the United States between 3,000 and 4,500 severe vaccine reactions are reported to the Centers for Disease Control. Not mild reactions. Severe reactions that land somebody in the hospital, the intensive care unit or cause a permanent disability or death.

Politifact rated that claim “Mostly False.” The confusion — if I’m to be charitable to Sears even though, as a pediatrician, he absolutely should’ve known better — concerns the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS).

The system is set up to allow almost anyone, doctor or patient, to report any medical issues observed after receiving a vaccine, regardless of any plausible link. It’s so health professionals can look for possible trends or side effects related to particular vaccines.

Sears simply ignored the fact that VAERS does not demonstrate evidence any vaccine actually caused any of the adverse events reported. And, according to Politifact, the CDC finds that only 10-15% of reported reactions are deemed serious. A 2015 study went so far as to say drawing conclusions about vaccines causing serious health events from VAERS data “is not a scientifically valid practice.

Politifact went one step further and looked at the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVIC), which only pays out an average of 155 claims per year. The Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) took a look at the NVIC cases and checked them against the CDC’s numbers for how many vaccines were distributed in the U.S. The HRSA concluded that, out of 3.1 billion doses between 2006 and 2016, “for every 1 million doses of vaccine that were distributed, 1 individual was compensated.”

He may not like the term, but Disney screenwriter Terry Rossio is anti-vax, and the science is squarely against him. He’s an ass for falsely equating the term “anti-vax” with the n-word, but being a public health danger is worse than being an ass.

Several months ago, Disney fired filmmaker James Gunn over offensive tweets he apologized for before they’d ever hired him. Coincidentally — and unrelated to the recent scandal — Gunn had made frequent statements about vaccines on social media, too. Only Gunn took a very different position than Rossio on vaccines and the use of the term “anti-vax”:

Perhaps Disney should reconsider their future relationship with anti-vaxxer Terry Rossio. This late night Thanksgiving tweet could prove to be a bigger misfire in Rossio’s career than the “Lone Ranger.”

[EDITOR’S UPDATE:  Rossio has since apologized for his use of the n-word, but apparently hasn’t budged on his misunderstanding of public health.]