I wrote an essay for "The Atlantic" today on Jenny McCarthy and the anti-vaccine movement. You can read it here.

Some excerpts:

This week, news leaked that The View, a popular daytime talk show featuring a panel of four women, is considering making Jenny McCarthy one of their hosts. This is a mistake, as it would provide a platform for a dangerous voice. Over the last decade, McCarthy has become one of the most prominent voices against vaccinations. She declared, as a fact, that vaccinations had caused her son's autism, and promoted this idea in venues aimed at mothers, such as on Oprah.

McCarthy later insisted that she had cured their son through a combination of diet and vitamins. She accuses the government of being afraid to confront "the truth" about vaccines. In the last year or so, although she now admits her son never had autism, she is still selling fear by talking about the schedule of vaccines as dangerous. She has put the full force of her celebrity to the task of convincing parents to leave their children vulnerable.

After I run through some ways of thinking about McCarthy through the lens of parents with children with disabilities, the sordid history of the anti-vax movement, and the very real health risks when faced with a breakdown of herd immunity, I conclude:
Beyond these generalized health issues, and here I am writing from the perspective of a parent deeply involved in the disability community, the notion that the notion that it is worth the risk of serious or even fatal illness to avoid autism hurts people who are living with the condition. McCarthy portrays autism as a terrifying disease you can nevertheless fix with fad diets. Claims of cures like McCarthy's have led parents to feed their children bleach, buy expensive (though harmless) specialized diets, and spend tens of thousands of dollars on experimental treatments.

People with autism need support in their quest for self-advocacy and integration, not fads. Parents need communities and schools and scientifically-guided medical care that they can rely on, not to be bilked by fraudsters and fearmongers. People with autism are not victims, and they do not need McCarthy's organization to "rescue" them. What they need is the same thing all persons with disability need: a pathway to inclusion.

I don't watch The View, but I do watch the world of disability, and I know the price that we pay when dangerous conspiracy theories spread. People in general, and parents in particular, are bad at assessing risks. We fear anthrax more than flu, sharks more than pigs, flying more than driving, terrorism more than handguns, and autism more than measles. We also believe in celebrity, something that McCarthy acknowledges when she says, "It is amazing what celebrity can do if you do it with 100 percent good intention and heart." I believe her intentions are good. As parents, we want the best for our children, and for all children with special needs. But in her case, the results have been terrible.

Here are some actions:

A petition to sign: http://www.change.org/...

And go to ABC's comment page and write a polite note, asking to keep Jenny McCarthy off "The View."

Thank you. I have many, many, close friends with compromised immune systems, in particular, who thank you as well.

I am a long-time DailyKOS member who also writes essays for various popular media sites. You could, if you were interested, read my blog How Did We Get Into This Mess?,  'like' my public Facebook page, and follow me on Twitter:  


Edit: All links fixed.

Edit: Thanks for the recommends. PLEASE - Go The Atlantic article, or to the petition, or wherever, and get this out into the world. Share it across social media and let's stop McCarthy. Media companies are gun-shy about this kind of thing. We can stop her. Don't just be smug about being smarter. :) Thanks!!

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