In a television interview after the GOP presidential debate on September 12, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who was attacking Texas Governor Rick Perry over his decision to mandate that adolescent girls receive a vaccine for HPV, made the shocking suggestion that the vaccine caused "mental retardation." This is what Bachmann said:
"There's a woman who came up crying to me tonight after the debate. She said her daughter was given that vaccine.… She told me her daughter suffered mental retardation as a result. There are very dangerous consequences."
On Thursday night, Bachmann was asked directly about those remarks, which, as my colleague Tim Murphy reported, are not only completely false but could have serious health consequences by dissuading people from vaccinating their children. Asked about her validating paranoid junk science, Bachmann disavowed all responsibility, insisting that she was just the messenger.
Well, first I didn't make that claim nor did I make that statement. Immediately after the debate, a mother came up to me and she was visibly shaken and heart broken because of what her daughter had gone through. I so I only related what her story was.
Bachmann went on to explain a far more justifiable objection to Perry's decision, namely that the mandate was really about his desire to help a campaign contributor.
For what it's worth, Bachmann's excuse is also false. She said that there "are very dangerous consequences" that come from mandating the HPV vaccine, and in context, it's clear she's referring to the false assertion that the vaccine causes mental problems. She wasn't merely "relaying" false information, she was endorsing it. Instead of simply admitting that it was wrong to validate and amplify a conspiracy theory, Bachmann basically said she's not at all responsible for making sure anything that comes out of her mouth is actually true. This is a shockingly glib response for someone who wants to run the most powerful country in the world.