Anya Wassenberg
July 18, 2013

Jenny McCarthy, the Anti-Vax Movement and Celebrity Soapboxes

Most of us indulge in a little celebrity gossip now and then (ahem), but has our taste for the goings on of the rich and famous gone too far?

The View recently named Jenny McCarthy as the new co-host of the long running talk show, replacing outgoing host Elisabeth Hasselbeck. Show host, co-creator and co-executive producer Barbara Walters said, “Jenny brings us intelligence as well as warmth and humor. She can be serious and outrageous. She has connected with our audience and offers a fresh point of view. Jenny will be a great addition to the show as we usher in an exciting new chapter for The View.”

Not everyone thinks it’s such a great move, however. The announcement has ignited a storm of protest, focusing on McCarthy’s longstanding advocacy against childhood vaccinations, which she claims caused her son’s autism.

The fact that not a single one of many studies conducted in response to the rising tide of anti-vaccination advocates has proven any causal link between autism and vaccinations doesn’t deter McCarthy and her followers, not even the fact that the single study she’s basing her whole premise on – along with Andrew Wakefield, the disgraced former physician who conducted it – has been soundly debunked. “A mother knows” is all the proof you need, apparently – that and a photogenic face.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Photo credit: Shutterstock

How dangerous is her view? Last year, the worst whooping cough outbreak in 70 years was attributed to a lack of vaccinations. A site called Jenny McCarthy Body Count counts over 118,000 preventable illnesses and over 1,100 preventable deaths between June 3, 2007 and June 22, 2013 that can be attributed to a lack of vaccinations.

But one former Playboy Playmate and her crackpot theories aren’t the real culprit here.

The problem is the way those theories have been given a prominent media soapbox – and uncritical media attention. Jenny was on Oprah and Larry King, among others, with no one around to dispute or even seriously question what she was saying.

Just one example: She’s made the claim that children are now subjected to 36 different vaccinations. That’s simply not true — only 14 are given to today’s children. But that figure, among her many other assertions, was never questioned by the professional journalists who were interviewing her.

Where is the media in all of this? Fawning all over celebs and tripping over each other to give them yet another public forum for their personal and even ill-advised theories with absolutely none of the objective and critical examination that’s supposed to be their role.

It’s the role of the media – supposedly – to offer a critical and objective third party view of events and issues and it’s the role of government and public officials to determine public policy. If an issue needs to be put into the spotlight, it’s the role of the media to do so and more than anything else, the whole scenario is a failure of the media to do their job. They’ve created the hype and now the monster is out of the box.

Let’s put the celebs back in their entertainment niche where they belong and demand more of the institutions that are supposed to be driving public policy. As a society we’ve given these people way too much power and it’s time to take it back.