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Environment

Why Jenny McCarthy's New TV Gig is So Unsettling

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Best as I can tell, most of the internet has denounced ABC's decision to hire Jenny McCarthy as a cohost of The View, a popular daytime talk show on American television. The uproar, in case you just returned from a week-long, off-the-grid monastic retreat, owes to McCarthy's role as a prominent spokesperson for the anti-vaccine movement. As Salonlaments,

She devotes a great deal of energy to promoting the untrue belief that vaccines lead to autism, and it seems possible that she now views her career as a television personality and prominent celebrity as a means of carrying out her mission to spread what she believes is the truth about autism.

Of course, what she believes about autism and vaccines is not supported by medical evidence. Combine McCarthy's unstinting anti-vaccine advocacy with her telegenic personality and you get, as numerous commentators have noted, a danger to public health. Michael Specter at The New Yorkersays ABC executives "should be ashamed of themselves for offering McCarthy a regular platform on which she can peddle denialism and fear to the parents of young children who may have legitimate questions about vaccine safety." This is the prevailing reaction that I have read, which I agree with. But an interesting counter view is offered by a Guardian writer:

There’s an argument to be made that a good way to expose the plain wrongness of McCarthy’s dangerous beliefs to the audience that most needs to hear it is to televise her on weekday mornings arguing about it with Whoopi Goldberg and, yes, Barbara Walters. The View could in fact shine a much-needed corrective light on the ignorance that McCarthy has otherwise been able to peddle unrebutted in a book and in appearances on less combative TV shows.

This has merit, but I think Phil Plait makes a more compelling argument in Slate when he writes:

even if she doesn’t talk about any of her nonsensical health ideas on the show, the very fact that she now has this co-host position gives her a tacit credibility to the viewer.

That alone is a dangerous message to send.

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[Photo via Wikipedia]

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