ABC's appointment of Jenny McCarthy sparks media furor

Jenny McCarthy has arguably done more than anyone to mobilize the antivaccination campaign. McCarthy has spent the past 6 years promoting wholly discredited links between vaccines and autism, building a big following in the process. And now she has a daily TV show as a platform.

Jenny McCarthy

The naming of McCarthy as a co-host on the long-running U.S. daytime talk show "The View" has triggered a deluge of criticism from the media and scientific communities. McCarthy established herself as a figurehead of the antivaccine movement with an appearance on "Oprah" to promote her book in 2007. Now, with a daily presence on a show boasting recent peak viewing figures of 3.5 million, the potential for McCarthy to spread her antivaccine message has increased again.

Many are concerned about the public health consequences of McCarthy's appointment. "This is an extremely unfortunate move on ABC's part: It's giving the network's imprimatur to someone who has worked, methodically and relentlessly, to undermine public health," MIT professor Seth Mnookin wrote on his PLoS blog. Mnookin charted the transition of McCarthy from Playboy model to autism campaigner in his book and shared the chapter on the blog following the appointment.

The mainstream media has weighed in too, with opinion pieces criticizing the hiring appearing in many major U.S. publications. A post in The New Yorker summed up the sentiment: "Executives at ABC should be ashamed of themselves for offering McCarthy a regular platform on which she can peddle denialism and fear." Figures for pre- and postvaccine incidence of diseases--such as measles, polio and whooping cough--show that immunizations have done more for public health than any other intervention. And each time someone decides against vaccinating their kids, it not only puts them at risk but chips away at herd immunity too.

With "The View" spokesperson Lauri Hogan telling The New York Times that McCarthy is free to talk about vaccines on the show, it seems inevitable her views will come up at some point. How her opinions will be treated by the other hosts of the show remains to be seen. The Guardian speculates that the co-hosts--described as "sharp-tongued" by Mitt Romney--may grill McCarthy, and the hiring could prove "a good way to expose the plain wrongness of [her] dangerous beliefs."

- here's the Mnookin book extract
- read the New Yorker post
- view the NYT article
- check out the Guardian piece