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Jenny McCarthy, dangerous at any volume

July 16, 2013|By Paul Thornton
  • Jenny McCarthy, left, with "The View" panelist Joy Behar, was named Monday to join the ABC weekday talk show as a co-host.
Jenny McCarthy, left, with "The View" panelist Joy Behar, was… (Lou Rocco / ABC / Getty Images )

Thanks, ABC and Jenny McCarthy, for making it more likely that today's coddled children will get a taste of the character-building hardship our grandparents endured. Kids these days, they've had it so easy for so long, but they may finally get a dose of some old-world misery -- in the form of polio, whooping cough or smallpox.

As a new parent (of twins!), I won't have any of it.

You've probably learned by now that McCarthy will occupy a regular seat on the morning talk show "The View" starting in September, presumably bringing along her noxious anti-vaccine convictions. And for those who expect McCarthy's producers and co-hosts to tighten the reins when she spouts dangerous misinformation, take a hint from the no-so-subtle title of the show and put those expectations to rest. This is the program, you'll remember, where a co-host coaxed Rosie O'Donnell into launching a 9/11 "truther" screed.

But, McCarthy's apologists might ask, what's wrong with having a debate? After all, O'Donnell was deservedly ridiculed for her conspiracy-mongering on "The View." So when McCarthy inevitably insists to millions of, um, "Viewers" that vaccines cause autism and that the diseases they prevent are a far less severe fate than living with the disorder that struck her child, science-backed public shaming would serve as a potent antidote to her poison, right? 

If only new parents thought so logically.

Most people would see the evidence and dismiss McCarthy's dangerous misinformation. But most people aren't McCarthy's audience, and this a major problem (among many) with her activism: Those of us raising fragile, defenseless young children are a vulnerable bunch. The mere hint that something might harm our children turns us into the most primal of protectors. We're easily scared.

Worse yet, we've seen what it's like for parents and children to live with autism. When my wife was pregnant, we frequently discussed what we'd do if our twins turned out to have the disorder. We researched therapies. We looked up early warning signs for autism. And yes, I even read papers and watched videos online on the anti-vaccination movement. Just in case.

And what haven't we seen? Children stricken dead with polio, infants suffocated by whooping cough or any other young life snuffed out by the effectively eradicated diseases that devastated the generations before us. We no longer fear these sicknesses because we no longer live with them. In essence, because vaccines have been so successful in wiping out dreadful childhood diseases, we've been allowed to redirect our energy to treating and (I hope) eventually curing autism. 

We've also become terrified of autism -- and more likely to listen to the likes of Jenny McCarthy. Her gig on "The View" will ensure that millions of Americans -- no doubt many of them young parents -- will be exposed to and persuaded by her earnest yet discredited advocacy. Unfortunately, it wouldn't take many more well-meaning but credulous mothers and fathers to opt out of vaccinating their children to compromise the herd immunity that keeps diseases like smallpox and polio at bay. 

As a father who wants what is best for his young children, I don't doubt that McCarthy is a caring mother with many good qualities. But those qualities aren't redeeming when you've persuaded so many parents to abandon effective cures for childhood diseases.

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