New Trump Spokesperson, Who Used to Work for Autism Charity: We 'Don't Know' If Vaccines Cause Autism

Illustration for article titled New Trump Spokesperson, Who Used to Work for Autism Charity: We 'Don't Know' If Vaccines Cause Autism

Say you used to have a job at a large and well-respected nonprofit, one that advocates for people with a poorly-understood disorder. Then, some time later, you find yourself working for Donald Trump, a glistening, shouting gristle mass with a history of saying terrible and stupid things. Does that create some awkward situations? Let’s find out right now!


Elizabeth Emken is Donald Trump’s newest spokeswoman, a shiny and well-spoken professional Republican tasked with putting a non-insane face on the Trump campaign. Emken ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in California in 2012; she is also the former Vice President for Government Relations at Autism Speaks, the largest nonprofit focused on combatting autism.

Unfortunately for everyone, Donald Trump thinks maybe autism is caused by vaccines. It’s not, but he’s repeated and retweeted the idea dozens of times over the years:

You get the idea.

So that created a delicate situation for Emken on CNN Monday, when she appeared on Newsroom and was asked about her new boss’s bad opinions. Watch how carefully she threaded this terrible needle:


“The position of autism speaks has been, for quite a while, that we need to find out what’s going on,” she said. That said: “We don’t know” what causes it, she added. But we do know it’s not vaccines, Elizabeth. Or least we used to, before we went to work for Donald Trump.

Image via AP

Anna Merlan was a Senior Reporter at G/O Media until September 2019. She's the author of Republic of Lies: American Conspiracy Theorists and Their Surprising Rise to Power.


The Noble Renard

I read an AskReddit thread last month asking autistic individuals what they wished people knew about their lives. One of the highest-rated comments was from an autistic person saying that Autism Speaks was a “horrible” organization, and a lot of people on the Spectrum chimed in saying similar things, that the organization has no high-ranking autistic people, that its funding barely goes to autism research, and that it treats autistic people like mistakes that need to be corrected and eliminated. Which is really an awful thing for the autistic people themselves to hear.

Now, of course, that person could be representing only a minority viewpoint. But it’s not the first complaint I’ve heard about the organization (which itself apparently used to argue for the ‘vaccines cause autism’ thing and only changed its position a few years back).