There’s been a lot of pressure on Jenny McCarthy lately. With every new report that surfaces making it clear that the anti-vaccine movement is causing real damage, helping to resurrect diseases long thought conquered and making full-on outbreaks of measles and mumps a reality in the new millennium, McCarthy takes a public hit. As well she should; in her role as an intellectually violent militant who seems to believe that the ability to have a child brings with it a medical degree, she’s been the face of this anti-vaccine nonsense from the beginning. The more obvious it becomes that her ignorance and arrogance are taking a toll in the lives of innocent people, the more her reputation winds up being on the receiving end of a beating in the media. The articles taking her apart have come at a steady drip over the past few months and a simple question thrown out by her on Twitter last month resulted in an onslaught of angry responses calling her out for her potentially deadly crusade.
So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that she’s now trying to backtrack slightly as a means of answering her many detractors and saving a little face.
In an op-ed in yesterday’s Chicago Sun-Times, McCarthy comes right out and says, “I am not ‘anti-vaccine.’” She then attempts to clarify her position, one she claims has been falsely represented in various stories attacking her. She writes that her only sin is believing that every child is different and that maybe a phalanx of shots all at once isn’t the best way to approach a vaccination schedule for each and every child. She decries being labeled a “wack-job ‘anti-vaxxer'” simply because she doesn’t see the debate over the administering of vaccines in black-and-white terms. She laments the “inflexible thinking” on an issue that’s of profound importance to parents and their children. Sounds reasonable, right? Sure, except that it’s not. It’s absolute bullshit. McCarthy is splitting hairs over semantics but it can’t undo the well-documented pattern of rhetoric and behavior we’ve witnessed from her over the last several years. She can say she isn’t anti-vaccine all she wants — it doesn’t suddenly make it true. The only reason she’s saying it at all is that the dangerous campaign she’s championed for years is finally beginning to come back on her.
It’s easy to say, “I am not anti-vaccine.” But to then turn around and allude to the prevalence of toxins in vaccines and the potential damage they can do to children in high quantities — she still claims vaccines gave her son autism — makes that seemingly unambiguous statement feel entirely disingenuous. McCarthy pulls her punches here, couching her concerns about vaccines as nothing more than a mother asking questions rather than issuing straight-up demands. But those concerns and questions are based on zero actual science: Over and over again the so-called dangers of vaccines have been disproved and at this point any attempt to argue otherwise or to claim that there’s still a debate going on clouds the issue and influences parents to do things they shouldn’t. There’s no controversy here, regardless of what Dr. Jenny McCarthy may outright say or just cleverly imply, and in the age of internet disinformation any oxygen willfully given to ignorance should be pointed out and beaten with a stick.
What’s most insidious about McCarthy’s piece, though, is that she deliberately makes adjustments in her past statements to make herself appear more measured and less bellicose. In the op-ed, she mentions a 2009 interview she did with Time magazine science writer Jeffrey Kluger, who completely disagrees with her stance on childhood vaccinations. Here’s how she describes it:
“People have the misconception that we want to eliminate vaccines,” I told Time Magazine science editor Jeffrey Kluger in 2009. “Please understand that we are not an anti-vaccine group. We are demanding safe vaccines. We want to reduce the schedule and reduce the toxins.”
Again, while there’s no scientific evidence for anything she said five years ago, she at least sounds reasonable, right? But she left something important off in her retelling of that exchange. Responding to yesterday’s op-ed, Kluger reprints McCarthy’s comment in its entirety.
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*cking measles.
McCarthy conveniently omitted that last line because she knew it would make her sound like, well, a “wack-job ‘anti-vaxxer.'” And it shouldn’t even need to be said at this point that the danger of getting the measles extends far beyond one parent’s kid, certainly when enough parents refuse to vaccinate. Large outbreaks in California and New York may very well be the result of chinks in the armor of herd immunity and if the CDC’s recommendation on vaccines isn’t adhered to by more parents, we could easily wind up seeing more cases of measles and other diseases that shouldn’t even be a topic of conversation in the year 2014.
To that end, here’s how Kluger wraps up his refutation of McCarthy’s op-ed, which is presented in the form of an open letter:
Jenny, as outbreaks of measles, mumps and whooping cough continue to appear in the U.S.—most the result of parents refusing to vaccinate their children because of the scare stories passed around by anti-vaxxers like you—it’s just too late to play cute with the things you’ve said. You are either floridly, loudly, uninformedly antivaccine or you are the most grievously misunderstood celebrity of the modern era. Science almost always prefers the simple answer, because that’s the one that’s usually correct. Your quote trail is far too long—and you have been far too wrong—for the truth not to be obvious.
That about sums it up. McCarthy can’t whitewash her very well-documented history of irresponsible anti-vaccine rhetoric simply because people are finally coming around to the damage she’s done. She’s lived by this nonsense — she has to die by it. And no amount of verbal gymnastics should change that.