Saturday, April 12, 2014

Jenny McCarthy

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Jenny McCarthy sprang to national attention as a Playboy Playmate of the Year in 1993.  She subsequently published two best-selling pregnancy and parenting books, in 2004 and 2005.  Following the September 2007 publication of her book Louder than Words: A Mother's Journey in Healing Autism, Ms. McCarthy began publicly promoting her views that vaccines can cause autism, that vaccines are unsafe and filled with "toxins". She also promoted the belief that autism can be "cured" or "reversed"  by elimination diets, supplements, and "biomedical" treatments such as chelation.

On June 6, 2008, Ms McCarthy led a small march in Washington, "Green Our Vaccines",  sponsored by Talk About Curing Autism (TACA) and Generation Rescue. The photographs from the march show that the participants were extremely ant-vaccine.

In late 2008 or early 2009, Ms. McCarthy became the President of the anti-vaccine group Generation Rescue, which beginning in 2005 began promoting, via full-page ads in The New York TImes and USA Today, the idea that mercury in vaccines, and other, unspecified aspects of vaccination, must be the  cause autism.

Jenny McCarthy recently claimed (in a Chicago Sun-Times column) that she is not anti-vaccine, but pro-safe vaccines. Let's look at the record.

In a September 2007 interview with Larry King, Ms. McCarthy voiced fears about vaccines, and while claiming to be "pro-vaccine", talked more about the dangers of vaccination and the toxins they contained than the diseases they prevent.
We're scared. I mean moms and pregnant women are coming up to me on the street going, I don't know what to do. I don't know what to do. And I don't know what to tell them, because I am surely not going to tell anyone to vaccinate. But if I had another child, there's no way in hell.
More durable was her April 1, 2009 interview with Jeffrey Kluger published in Time Magazine, which was given some months after she had replaced J.B. Handley as the President of Generation Rescue. The "we" may refer to Generation Rescue, or generally those who believe in the "autism is vaccine injury" myth.

Kluger: Most people who blame autism on vaccines point to the mercury in the shots, yet mercury has been removed from most vaccines and autism rates continue to climb.
McCarthy: We don't believe it's only the mercury. Aluminum and other toxins also play a role. The viruses in the vaccines themselves can be causing it, too.

Kluger: Your collaborator [Jerry Kartzinel MD] recommends that parents accept only the haemophilus influenzae type B (HIB) and tetanus vaccine for newborns and then think about the rest. Not polio? What about the polio clusters in unvaccinated communities like the Amish in the U.S.? What about the 2004 outbreak that swept across Africa and Southeast Asia after a single province in northern Nigeria banned vaccines?

McCarthy: 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. (Read "New Clues to Autism's Cause.")

Kluger: And yet in many cases, vaccines have effectively eliminated diseases. Measles is among the top five killers in the world of children under 5 years old, yet it kills virtually no one in the U.S. thanks to vaccines.
McCarthy: People have the misconception that we want to eliminate vaccines. Please understand that we are not an antivaccine group. We are demanding safe vaccines. We want to reduce the schedule and reduce the toxins. If you ask a parent of an autistic child if they want the measles or the autism, we will stand in line for the f___ing measles.

Beginning late in 2010, both Jenny McCarthy and Generation Rescue were less public about their (mistaken) beliefs that vaccines cause autism, and Something Should Be Done.  Yet, in January 2011, she did publish a Huffington Post piece defending Andrew Wakefield and spreading fear about vaccines, but her last article at the Huffington Post was published in April, 2012.

In early 2011, it was reported that "Jenny McCarthy no longer speaks out about vaccines."

McCarthy continued to give the keynote presentation at the "autism is too vaccine injury"trade fair and conference, AutismOne (where in 2012 she offended a large swathe of the autism parent community).

When it was announced in the fall of 2012 that Ms. McCarthy would be writing a parenting column for the Chicago-Sun Times, concerned autism parents protested.  A public relations person responded,
I would like to reach out as part of the communications team for the Chicago Sun-Times and Splash publications, to share with you the Sun-Times’ statement regarding concerns specifically about the focus of Jenny McCarthy’s column: 
“Jenny McCarthy has signed on to share her special brand of humor with fans through her Splash column and daily blog. As our readers know, Jenny’s contributions are lifestyle focused and light-hearted. The vision for the column is not medical advice, therefore medical topics, like vaccination, are not within the scope of the column and will not be addressed.”
On February 23, 2014, Ms. McCarthy wrote a column on vaccines.  I suppose such a promise sort of falls by the wayside after a couple of years.

Early in 2013, Ms. McCarthy was scheduled to headline at a fundraising event for the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation. A social media backlash ensued, and Ms. McCarthy was replaced.

In July of 2013, the television program The View announced that Ms. McCarthy would be joining the program. There was an immediate backlash. A petition was launched, Just Say No to adding Jenny McCarthy to The View, which closed with 12,302 signatures. (The anti-vaccine organization Fourteen Studies, closely linked to Age of Autism and Generation Rescue, started a counter-petition. It garnered 1,332 signatures.) James Poniewozik, Time's TV critic, summarized the opposition in Viruses Don’t Care About Your View: Why ABC Shouldn’t Have Hired Jenny McCarthy.

Ms. McCarthy has never publicly rescinded her support of the disgraced former doctor, Andrew Wakefield. Ms. McCarthy has never publicly rescinded her many statements that the MMR vaccine "caused the light to go out" of her child's eyes -- a euphemism for autism. Ms. McCarthy still believes vaccines are "toxic", and uses common anti-vaccine tropes, such as the "too many too soon" and "overwhelms the immune system".

So, McCarthy's anti-vaccine status:
  1. Claiming that all vaccines are unsafe and ineffective Yes
  2. Claiming better sanitation and nutrition account for the 20th century decline in vaccine-preventable diseases Maybe or Undetermined
  3. Claiming that vaccines cause diseases and conditions such as autism, asthma, SIDS, or shaken baby syndrome Yes
  4. Claiming that anecdotal evidence is superior to scientific evidence; rejecting science and epidemiology Yes
  5. Cherry picking and misrepresenting the evidence Yes
  6. Using  logical fallacies without shame in arguing Yes
  7. Conspiracy mongering Yes
  8. Silencing criticism (especially by deleting online material), rather than responding to it Maybe or Undetermined
  9. (If in business) Profiting from the sale of products and services that spread fear, uncertainty and doubt about vaccines, or products and services that are said to be superior to vaccines and conventional medicine in preventing disease Yes

Jenny McCarthy's immense popularity has done more to push the dangerous myth that vaccines are risky, and cause autism, than any other one person. McCarthy has also done more to demonize autism and to spread fear of autistics, than any other one person.

  • October 1993: Ms. McCarthy first springs to national prominence as October's Playmate of the Month.
  • May 2002 Ms. McCarthy's son Evan born (father: John Mallory Asher) 
  • Spring 2003: Evan would have received the MMR vaccine.
  • April 2004  Ms. McCarthy's book, Belly Laughs: The Naked Truth about Pregnancy and Childbirth, is published
  • 2004 Ms. McCarthy severs relations with John Asher's mother, Joyce Bulifant, over Bulifant's concerns about Asher's development.
  • April 2005 Ms. McCarthy's book, Baby Laughs: The Naked Truth About the First Year of Mommyhood, is published
  • May 2005 Evan  diagnosed with autism
  • June 2007 Becomes spokesperson for Talk About Curing Autism (TACA)
  • September 2007 Ms. McCarthy's book,  Louder than Words: A Mother's Journey in Healing Autism, published. Introduction by Jerry Kartzinel MD.
  • September 18, 2007 Ms. McCarthy appears on the Oprah Show (in which she first describes Evan receiving the MMR vaccine, describing the doctor as 'swearing at her' and "going 'Oh, God, no!'. And soon thereafter I noticed a change. The soul was gone from his eyes."  
  • September 26, 2007 Ms. McCarthy appears on CNN's Larry King Live
  • May 2008 Ms. McCarthy is the keynote speaker at the "autism is vaccine injury" conference, Autism One
  • June 4, 2008 Ms. McCarthy and her then-boyfriend Jim Carrey lead the "Green Our Vaccines" rally in Washington DC.
  • September 2008 Ms. McCarthy's book, Mother Warriors: A Nation of Parents Healing Autism Against All Odds, published. Foreword by Jan N. Gordon MD FAAP.
  • October 2008 Ms. McCarthy resigns as spokesperson for TACA
  • Late 2008 or early 2009, Ms. McCarthy becomes president of the "autism is vaccine injury" organization Generation Rescue.
  • March 2009 Ms. McCarthy's book with Jerry Kartzinel MD, Healing and Preventing Autism, published.
  • April 1, 2009 Ms. McCarthy is interviewed by Jeffrey Kluger for Time Magazine. "If you ask a parent of an autistic child 
  • April 3, 2009 Ms. McCarthy and Jim Carrey appear on Larry King Live, promoting Generation Rescue. During that appearance, Ms. McCarthy said of Evan,  "He had a vaccine injury which led to seizures. So we still can’t necessarily say that those are healed, but the autism is gone."
  • May 6, 2009, Ms. McCarthy appears on The Doctors (with J.B. Handley).
  • October 1 2009 Ms. McCarthy is interviewed by K. Chetry on CNN's American Morning program.
  • February 2010: Ms. McCarthy and Jim Carrey publish a statement in support of the disgraced doctor, Andrew Wakefield
  • April 2010: Ms. McCarthy and Jim Carrey announce that they have separated.
  • January 10, 2011 in an article at the Huffington Post, Ms. McCarthy continues to defend disgraced doctor Andrew Wakefield
  • February 20, 2011 The Doonsbury comic scolds Jenny McCarthy for being anti-vaccine
  • October, 2012 Jenny McCarthy lands a gig writing a parenting column for the Chicago Sun Times
  • [more to come]


  1. No Date, Generation Rescue, Background
  2. September 22, 2007, Orac at Respectful Insolence Jenny McCarthy and Oprah Winfrey: Two crappy tastes that taste crappy together on autism
  3. September 26, 2007 CNN's Larry King Live, Interview with Jenny McCarthy
  4. October 22, 2007 Orac at Respectful Insolence  The “Jenny McCarthy effect”: More credulity towards autism quackery
  5. November 27, 2007, Orac at Respectful Insolence Post-holiday “The stupid, it burns,” part 1: Jenny McCarthy
  6. February 18, 2008, David Gorski MD at Science-Based Medicine Toxic Myths About Vaccines
  7. May 2008, Jenny McCarthy's keynote speech at Autism One
  8. Juen 6, 2008, Steven Novella MD at Neurologica  Drinking the Anti-Vaccine Kool-Aid
  9. June 9, 2008, David Gorski MD at Science-Based Medicine Jenny McCarthy, Jim Carrey, and "Green Our Vaccines" Anti-Vaccine, not "Pro Safe Vaccine"
  10. October 8, 2009 Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy:....But How Do We Recover From Jenny McCarthy?
  11. April 1, 2009, Jeffrey Kluger at Time Magazines Interview with Jenny McCarthy,8599,1888718,00.html
  12. April 1, 2009 David Gorski MD at Science-Based Medicine In Jenny McCarthy’s own words
  13. April 6, 2009, David Gorski MD at Science-Based Medicine  Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends: The Jenny and Jim antivaccine propaganda tour has begun
  14. May 18, 2009 Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy: An Open Letter to Oprah
  15. June 3, 2009, Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy Newsweek slams Oprah
  16. July 6, 2009 Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy Jenny McCarthy: spreading more dangerous misinformation
  17. February 5, 2012 Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carey, Age of Autism, Andrew Wakefield, Scientific Censorship, and Fourteen Monkeys
  18.  February 25, 2010 Karl Taro Greenfeld at Time Magazine, The Autism Debate: Who Is Afraid of Jenny McCarthy?,9171,1968100,00.html 
  19. February 27, 2010 Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy Jenny McCarthy still thinks vaccines cause autism
  20. January 10, 2011 Jenny McCarthy at Huffington Post  In the Vaccine-Autism Debate, What Can Parents Believe?
  21. February 3, 2011 Matt Carey at LeftBrain/RightBrain Jenny McCarthy Backs Away from Vaccines?
  22. February 20, 2011 Ken Reibel at Autism News Beat Doonsbury Piles On
  23. March 10, 2012 Jenny McCarthy at Age of Autism  MMR Doctor Exonerated—Who’s Guilty Now?
  24. June 14, 2012 Matt Carey at LeftBrain/RightBrain Jenny McCarthy: Autism Moms “Fall in the the victim role…and they are loving it”
  25. October 2012 Emily Willingham at Forbes Jenny McCarthy is a newspaper columnist.
  26. November 13, 2012 Ken Reibel at Autism News Beat Dear Chicago Sun Times
  27. February 14, 2013, Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy Vaccinating Against McCarthyism
  28. July 9 2013, Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy The View of Jenny McCarthy
  29. July 15, 2013  James Poniewozik at Time Viruses Don’t Care About Your View: Why ABC Shouldn’t Have Hired Jenny McCarthy
  30. January 6, 2014, Matt Carey at LeftBrain/RightBrain Jenny McCarthy setting the record straight…when it suits her
  31. January 12, 2014, Ken Reibel at Autism News Beat Of seizures and celebrity: Evan’s grandmother speaks up
  32. April 12, 2014, Jenny McCarthy at Chicago Sun Times: The Grey Area on Vaccines
  33. April 12, 2014, Jeffrey Kluger at Time Magazine That Moment When You Must Have a Word With Jenny McCarthy
  34. April 12, 2014, Melody Anne Butler at Nurses Who Vaccinate, Dear Jenny McCarthy
  35. April 13, 2014, Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy Jenny McCarthy: “I’m Not ‘Anti-Vaccine’”
  36. April 14, 2014, Orac at Respectful Insolence Jenny McCarthy Thinks in Shades of Gray, Or So She Claims

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