Is Jenny McCarthy the most dangerous woman on US television?

Yes, if you think it’s wrong to give a woman who campaigns against child vaccinations a spot on America’s top daytime talk show

Owned by Disney, the ABC Network might have wanted to burnish its family-friendly credentials as it scoured the land for a new co-host for its all-female daytime talk show, The View.

Surprisingly, perhaps, they plumped this week for Jenny McCarthy, onetime Playboy cover girl, sex author and comedienne.

But this hardly gives McCarthy, now 40, her due. She is also outspoken on family health and has made the case, with a book, TV appearances and on the lecture circuit, that vaccinating infants is not without risk.

It is her campaigning on this issue which has led some commentators and medical professionals to describe McCarthy as “dangerous”. Equally harsh words are now being directed towards the network that hired her. James Poniewozik, Time magazine’s TV critic, said ABC’s decision to put McCarthy on The View was “irresponsible and shameful” and would “legitimise [her] dangerous anti-science” views. Alex Pareene, a writer for Slate, went further, saying the decision would “kill children”.

McCarthy is mightily telegenic. She’s also articulate, she talks directly to young mothers and she’s controversial. The perennially popular talk show and its creator and current (but soon to retire) chief host, Barbara Walters, must have thought they had found themselves the golden ticket. But who in their right mind would deny their offspring proven protection against potentially fatal diseases like mumps and measles? As many people watch The View as live in Iowa. That’s a big audience and it tunes in every day. Could it be that McCarthy is set to become the most dangerous person on American television?

Her foray into medical scholarship followed the birth of her son, Evan, in 2002 and a subsequent diagnosis of autism. Any parent confronted with that sort of crisis is entitled to speculate on its source. But she described the tie between vaccinations and autism as fact and used her fame to peddle it, partly through her book, Mother Warrior. Her then partner, the actor Jim Carrey, lent his voice to her anti-inoculation quest. She has said latterly that Evan has since overcome his autism, in part by good diet choices.

The idea that autism might be caused by vaccines – specifically the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine – was not new, having been mooted notably by a British gastroenterologist, Andrew Wakefield, in 1998. But the paediatric community widely debunked the theory and has blamed McCarthy for scaring parents in the US into depriving children of life-saving protection. Some implicate her in a whooping cough outbreak in California in 2010, the worst in 40 years, that killed 10. A website, www.jennymccarthybodycount.com, tracks with a digital counter the number of preventable deaths among non-immunised youngsters.

“Her information, at least when it comes to vaccines, is absolutely baseless,” Dr Edgar Marcuse, a professor of paediatrics and epidemiology at the University of Washington in Seattle, noted last week. “It has no scientific support whatsoever.”

The impact of the autism-vaccination claims were notably dissected in The Panic Virus, an award-winning book by Seth Mnookin published in 2011. The author focuses first on Dr Wakefield but dedicates a chapter to McCarthy, whom he accuses of having “worked methodically and relentlessly to undermine public health”. Last week he observed: “In this country, certainly she is the single most important figure in popularising this notion that vaccines are dangerous and could potentially cause autism.”

Could it be that this casting choice will come back to haunt Walters, who means herself to retire from television entirely next summer?

The growing pressure on her to change her mind would suggest so. Letters of protest have swamped ABC headquarters in New York City, including one from Every Child by Two, which runs its own campaign to ensure parents are not tempted to skimp on infant vaccinations.

“McCarthy’s unfounded claims that vaccines cause autism have been one of the greatest impediments to public health in recent decades,” it said. “These false assertions… have spread fear among young parents, which has led to an increased number of children who have not received lifesaving vaccines.”

Critics are particularly concerned because young women make up such a large share of The View’s daily audience. “While Jenny cannot deliver direct medical advice, she is definitely influencing many young mothers as to what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in terms of childcare and immunisations,” Dr Shilpi Agarwal, a family doctor, told Fox News.

“I suspect she will get a lot of pushback, which may be exactly what a show like The View wants.” Maybe so, but it may not be the kind of legacy the retiring Walters wants.

Jenny McCarthy: In her own words

“Let me see if I can put this in scientific terms: think of autism like a fart, and vaccines are the finger you pull to make it happen.”

“The reason why [the medical community] is reluctant to talk about it is because there’s such a huge business in pharmaceuticals.”

– Speaking to CNN in November  last year.

“If you ask a parent of an autistic child if they want the measles or the autism, we will stand in line for the measles.”

 – To Time in February 2010

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss