Jenny McCarthy: I Am Not Anti-Vaccine
It is perhaps the Eighth Wonder of the World that anything, anything at all, is left to divulge about Jenny McCarthy that she hasn’t already divulged herself.
The Playboy Playmate-turned-MTV host-turned-The View panelist and controversial autism activist—and lately the star of Dirty, Sexy, Funny with Jenny McCarthy, a live two-hour SiriusXM radio show that debuts Monday at 10 a.m.—has shared blush-worthy details about her personal life with millions of strangers.
These include how many times a day she masturbates, her penchant for farting in front of the men in her life, her severe heart palpitations that require taking beta blockers before sex, and her assertion this week that her second husband of not quite two months, singer-actor Donnie Wahlberg, “has the most beautiful penis I have ever seen…the size is perfect…It fits my vagina perfectly and hits the spots right.”
After all that and then some, do any private parts remain to be revealed?
“I am incredibly spiritual, and I think people don’t know that,” the actress-comedian confides at SiriusXM headquarters in Midtown Manhattan.
It’s hardly the sort of intimate revelation that drives Internet traffic, but for McCarthy, it might actually be something close to a soft psychic underbelly. Spirituality, after all, is not as marketable as sex appeal, so maybe the media-savvy McCarthy is exposing a true vulnerability.
The head-turning archetype of a blonde bombshell, she’s dressed in decidedly demure, crisp and very serious business attire—skirt, jacket, conservative stockings—that she’s chosen for running the media gauntlet to hype the new program, which will feature female comics and the occasional celebrity guest (Demi Lovato has been booked for Monday’s premiere).
“That’s why when people say, ‘How do you handle the criticism?’, I just feel like ‘love yourself, love what you see, hate yourself, hate what you see,’ ” McCarthy explains. “When people project things, they’re just not feeling very good about themselves. So I’m very spiritual about my life and everything.”
Never mind mere criticism. McCarthy has been vilified—by members of the science establishment and science journalists, among others—concerning her claim that childhood autism is somehow caused by an over-use of vaccines, and/or that the vaccines made and marketed by the pharmaceutical industry are somehow “unsafe.”
As soon as I raise the subject, McCarthy’s personal publicist—who is listening in on the interview from a few feet away—pounces. “Can we actually not go into this?” the publicist instructs, offering instead to provide a newspaper op-ed in which her client explains herself.
“I’ll hear the question, and then I’ll let you know,” McCarthy says gamely, adding with a confidential smile, “She’s worried about me being ‘vilified.’ ”
The vilification reached critical mass last year when Barbara Walters announced that McCarthy would cohost The View (for only a single season, it turned out; McCarthy and Sherri Shepherd were replaced, along with executive producer Bill Geddie, in a shakeup ordered by ABC execs).
In a typical reproach, New Yorker science writer Michael Specter warned that McCarthy would be “the show’s first co-host whose dangerous views on childhood vaccination may—if only indirectly—have contributed to the sickness and death of people throughout the Western world.”
McCarthy herself famously told Time magazine: “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 fucking fault that the diseases are coming back…If you give us a safe vaccine, we’ll use it. It shouldn’t be polio versus autism.”
She came to this conclusion—and published three books on the subject—after her son Evan was diagnosed at age three with the neurological syndrome, and, by dint of sheer energy and celebrity, she became the nation’s most prominent purveyor of anti-vaxxer ideology.
Indeed, she is president of Generation Rescue, a group dedicated to the proposition that children on the autism spectrum can be cured, often by methods that depart from traditional, scientifically supported medicine.
“I am not anti-vaccine,” McCarthy insists. “I’m in this gray zone of, I think everyone should be aware and educate yourself and ask questions. And if your kid is having a problem, ask your doctor for an alternative way of doing the shots”—for example, fewer vaccination doses at the same time.
“The ironic thing is my position has always remained the same. People just never listened to it,” she says. “Literally, throughout the years, I have said the same thing over and over again. But people will only read headlines instead of looking back and seeing what I’ve been saying.”
McCarthy says the attacks “felt the same way as being attacked when I posed for Playboy. To me, it’s a collective fear I think people have. If they’re not reading my books or doing the work on what I’ve been saying, I can understand why they would have hateful feelings. But read what I’ve said!…I’m done talking about it.”
Evan, the son she shares with her first husband, actor-director John Asher, is now 12 and doing okay. Unlike the standard image of an autistic child, he’s extremely verbal and alert to the world around him. Indeed, some critics have suggested that Evan was misdiagnosed to begin with.
“Evan’s amazing,” McCarthy says. “He doesn’t meet the diagnostic characteristics for autism. He definitely has quirks and issues from the seizures. He has a little bit of brain damage due to his seizures. He doesn’t qualify for any more services, but he does have issues in his school. But for the most part, if he was in this room, you’d say, ‘I don’t see any problem. He looks fine, and he’s a typical 12-year-old.’ ”
The boy lives in New York with his mother and Wahlberg, who were married in the Chicago suburb of St. Charles, Illinois, on Aug. 31. McCarthy wore a virginal white wedding dress for the occasion.
“Has it only been two months? It feels like five years,” she says of her so-far happy marriage. Indeed, they apparently can’t get enough of each other. While his wife subjects herself to the tender mercies of The Daily Beast, USA Today, and the Inside-Access-Entertainment axis, Wahlberg—he of the “beautiful penis”—hovers around the periphery, offering moral support.
“I’m gonna go to the restroom,” he tells her as my session with McCarthy is getting underway.
“Okay, my love. I love you,” she says, throwing her arms around him for a smooch. “You hanging in there?”
“Yeah,” he answers.
“Okay, good. I love you,” she repeats.
I point out to both of them that Wahlberg seems the very model of a supportive spouse.
“We’re there for each other during the hard days,” McCarthy agrees. “The long days.”
Wahlberg chimes in with the hint of a smirk: “The hard days of digging ditches!”
I tell him: “This is the media equivalent of digging ditches.”
“Fair enough,” he concedes, and then resumes his progress out the door.
“All right, babe,” McCarthy says.
The landscape is littered with Playboy Playmates who posed for their pictorials, performed their promotional duties, perhaps did a stint as one of Hef’s girlfriends (or wives) at the Mansion, and were never heard from again.
But McCarthy parlayed her naked ambition into a pretty fabulous career. There have been not one but two NBC sitcoms in which she was the star, best-selling books, movies, countless television appearances and even video games.
Since her abrupt departure from The View—which McCarthy likes to portray not as a firing but as a mutually agreed-upon “change of direction”—“I’ve watched two episodes,” she says of the new panel in which Whoopi Goldberg is the only survivor, and the replacements include Rosie O’Donnell, Rosie Perez and Nicolle Wallace. “And when they were changing the direction drastically, I understood and said, ‘I wish you the best,’ “ McCarthy recounts. “I see that they’re still trying to find that, and I still hope they can do it. I’m all about female empowerment.”
Her experience on the show has had at least one lasting impact. McCarthy, who used to self-identify as a Democrat, now calls herself an Independent. “After The View, I’ve realized both sides are crazy.”
In a week—Nov. 1—she turns 42.
“I feel good, because I’m in a good place,” she says. “I think as you get older, your birthdays suck if you turn around and say, ‘Dammit, I’m not where I wanted to be at this point.’ I think if I was still single, I’d be a little worried, just because I would still be under the belief system that there’s no one out there.” Laughing, she clarifies, “There’s no one out there that could handle me. Or have someone with a son. It’s a lot. So once I kind of surrendered to that, and met Donnie, and married him, life’s been really good. I’ve been blessed…I know I’ve finally done a good job.”
She says a recent conversation with Evan—whose biological father lives in Los Angeles and is not around much—has persuaded her of that.
“One night I said to Evan, ‘How’s everything going? You have a stepdad now. How are you feeling?’ And he said, ‘For the first time, I feel safe.’ His father lives in Los Angeles, so it’s always been just me and him, and as a single mom, I can say, oh my god, I did it, and he feels safe.”
And how does Evan cope with his mom’s raunchy public persona?
“He just says to me, ‘I can’t believe everyone knows who you are,’ ” McCarthy says, adding that at some point, when he’s older, they will have a more detailed discussion. For now, however, she tells me without a hint of irony: “He’s not allowed to go on the Internet.”