Out with one mouthy blonde, in with another.
Since it was announced that Joy Behar would be leaving The View, actress turned activist Jenny McCarthy’s name has been floating around as a possible co-host. The rumors heated up again yesterday when it was announced that Elisabeth Hasselbeck, the right-wing mouthpiece, would be departing for Fox News in the fall.
At first glance, McCarthy seems perfect. She’s brassy, she’s funny, she seems smart. She comes with a built-in audience from her years on television, including Singled Out, The Jenny McCarthy Show, and Jenny. And, it doesn’t hurt that she’s a hot blonde who got her start as a Playboy model.
But McCarthy, despite her telegenic personality, is actually more problematic than the show’s soon-to-be departed lightning rod. Hasselbeck, though she touted many Fox News talking points (predictably, she was for the Iraq War and against the morning-after pill), her viewpoints might have been wrongheaded and sometimes really dumb, but they weren’t, for the most part, putting the public at risk.
But McCarthy’s views on vaccinations and autism aren’t just stupid, they are actually dangerous.
Since 2007, McCarthy has been a vocal opponent of the chemicals in vaccinations, credulously citing research (she’s neither a doctor nor a medical professional) and experiences with her autistic son as evidence. (It has also been reported that he may not even have autism, but Landau-Kleffner syndrome.)
She has promoted the idea that people are getting an outrageous number of vaccinations today compared with the 1970s or ’80s. According to the book, Autism's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure, the amount has only doubled, from seven to 14, to include vaccinations for the flu, hepatitis, and chickenpox among others, in addition to the measles, mumps, polio, tetanus, and others that are standard.
McCarthy doesn’t let science and facts get in her way. She has written three books about the subject—Louder Than Words: A Mother’s Journey in Healing Autism, Mother Warriors: A Nation of Parents Healing Autism Against All Odds, and Healing and Preventing Autism, which have all been New York Times bestsellers. She is the president of an autism organization, which is also averse to vaccination, called Generation Rescue.
When promoting one of her books, she told Oprah how she learned about autism: “The University of Google is where I got my degree from.”
Because she is able to cite figures and is a repeated guest on talk shows, she gives the appearance of being an authority on the subject. As Paul A. Offit, MD, writes in Autism's False Prophets: “McCarthy trumped science with personal anecdote. (‘My science is Evan, and he’s at home. That’s my science.’)”
McCarthy has been so prevalent on this issue that 24 percent of parents polled placed some trust in celebrities like McCarthy when it came to autism and vaccination.
Perhaps more than anyone—even the man credited with spearheading the anti-vaccination movement, Andrew Wakefield—McCarthy has been instrumental in pushing the notion that chemicals in the vaccines cause autism.
It’s working. The anti-vaccination movement has helped drive down the number of people who are getting their kids vaccinated, and in turn, spreading disease. A recent measles epidemic in Wales in the U.K. last April, which infected over 2,000 people, was pinned to the anti-vaccination movement.
And the vaccination fears have crept into immigrant communities that are afraid of getting vaccines for their children because of the so-called autism link. In 2011, the Somalian community in Minnesota suffered a measles outbreak. The parents told doctors they were afraid their kid could get autism if they got the shots.
This, despite numerous studies by the Centers for Disease Control disproving the link between vaccination and autism.
McCarthy has also claimed that her son has recovered from autism, by—as she told CNN— “changing the diet, giving him vitamins and supplements, and detoxing the body from metals or candida.”
Yet, before her son was diagnosed with autism, McCarthy believed she was an Indigo mom and her son was a Crystal child: a New Age–y term for children who seemed to have special qualities, but, many of whom, actually have developmental or learning disabilities.
To promote her book, she essentially suggested to Time magazine that it might be good for polio to reemerge so that people could ask for better, safer vaccines, passing the buck to the medical community, not the anti-vaccine community for the rise in previously suppressed diseases.
She told Time: “I do believe sadly it's going to take some diseases coming back to realize that we need to change and develop vaccines that are safe. If the vaccine companies are not listening to us, it's their f___ing fault that the diseases are coming back. They're making a product that's s___. If you give us a safe vaccine, we'll use it. It shouldn't be polio versus autism.”
Her scandalous views have prompted a Slate writer, Phil Plait to start a letter-writing campaign to stop McCarthy from being hired.
No doubt, McCarthy won’t be discussing autism every week on The View. But when the topic comes up, her views will undoubtedly influence the show’s millions of viewers. That’s a big throne from which to dispel some wildly off-base notions.
While it’s not clear if McCarthy leans right or left (she did write about growing up Catholic,) her persona is likable and engaging. She’s gotten so far in her career by blowing people’s low expectations out of the water—easy enough to do in a sexist society that doesn’t expect that a Playboy model could be smart enough to string a sentence together. But her work with the autism community shouldn’t be shared on The View. And, you could argue—as Plait does—that she shouldn’t even be on The View.
Though Hassellbeck might have been infuriating, shrill, wrong, and annoying, to her credit, in this comparison she is the lesser of two evils.