This post was updated at 4 p.m.
Jenny McCarthy has landed a position as a parenting advice blogger and columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. The comedian/model/actress turned autism activist will be doling out her wisdom about all things parenting on a regular basis online, and writing a weekly “Dear Jenny” advice column for the paper’s “Splash” magazine.
McCarthy is one of the leading voices of the movement arguing that autism can be linked to childhood immunizations. That theory is controversial and has been widely discredited in the scientific community.
“I know children regress after vaccination because it happened to my own son,” McCarthy wrote in a 2011 blog post for the Huffington Post. “Why aren’t there any tests out there on the safety of how vaccines are administered in the real world, six at a time? Why have only two of the 36 shots our kids receive been looked at for their relationship to autism?”
McCarthy, whose son Evan received an autism diagnosis in 2005, was writing in response to an article reporting that a 1998 report by medical researcher Andrew Wakefield that had linked autism to vaccines had been found to be fraudulent.
Some in the autism community are concerned that McCarthy will have such a public platform for her ideas. Emily Willingham, one of the editors of the “Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism,” wrote in a piece on Forbes.com that “McCarthy has no expertise in autism, Google U notwithstanding, and no credentials in science. She remains on the board of directors of Generation Rescue, an organization devoted to the debunked notion that vaccines cause autism and that autistic people can be ‘recovered’ from their autism by way of various unproven and sometimes dangerous interventions, including chelation.
“I’m baffled that the Sun-Times would give someone with this public record of ignoring evidence in favor of indigo children a voice as a columnist.”
Willingham’s co-editor, Jennifer Byde Myers, agreed when I spoke with her by phone.
“I don’t know what I would have to gain from her opinion because I feel like, in the face of science, she has said, ‘That doesn’t matter, my mommy instinct will pull me through.’ ” Myers said, adding, “She comes from a really different place that’s not based in science or facts. Honestly I am just a little bit stunned that yet again we would put her in a position where she has such a megaphone.”
McCarthy’s new employers have said they are excited about bringing her mom-next-door voice to their audience. Susanna Negovan, editor of “Splash,” said the intent of the blog is to be light-hearted and entertaining, and that McCarthy will not be writing about science or medicine.
“Over the past three years, she has moved away from talking about the causes of autism and moved more into fundraising to help families deal with the costs of having a child with autism,” Negovan said. “Her public voice on it has shifted over the last few years. I think a lot of people misunderstand where her position is today.”
McCarthy is known for being brash, funny and foul-mouthed. Her blog posts so far have focused on how to stay interested in sex with the same person in a long relationship, and wanting to hide from her maternal responsibilities when she has PMS.
Negovan emphasized that McCarthy will stick to this light fare in her blog. But given her very public positions on vaccines and autism, her commentary has the potential to be dangerous, critics say.
“One of the things that bothers me most about her is she seems to be the anointed one,” Myers said. “Most people either say I don’t know, or I don’t have all the answers, let me get some research. It’s not that she’s only speaking about her personal experience. It’s that she espouses this advice on how to parent an autistic kid, and says it like it’s truth. It’s a confidence she has, but I don’t know where that confidence comes from, because she’s not an expert on anything on which she speaks.”