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Yesterday, Barbara Walters announced a new host for her ABC daytime talk show "The View." A place at the table will be reserved for Jenny McCarthy, the model, actress and prominent skeptic of vaccines. It's that last detail that has stirred consternation, as NPR's David Folkenflik reports.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Here's one quick response to the idea of McCarthy showing up every day on a big network show.
DR. EDGAR MARCUSE: Her information, at least when it comes to vaccines, is absolutely baseless. It has no scientific support whatsoever.
FOLKENFLIK: Dr. Edgar Marcuse is a professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at the University of Washington in Seattle. He's helped to lead efforts in that state to convince reluctant parents of the needs to immunize their children against communicable diseases.
MARCUSE: So it ends up being pretty irresponsible to propound a course of action that actually can endanger the children of your listeners.
FOLKENFLIK: Many of today's new parents grew up seeing Jenny McCarthy as an instantly recognizable figure in popular culture - on the cover of Playboy magazine; talking openly about sex, fame and love; and hosting a dating show on MTV.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE JENNY MCCARTHY SHOW")
CHRISTINA NORMAN: So Jenny McCarthy is a big personality. She is like a party starter.
FOLKENFLIK: Christina Norman is a former president of MTV and the former CEO of Oprah Winfrey's OWN network, and she's a fan of McCarthy.
NORMAN: She sort of has taken that brand that she has of being outspoken and transforming it into being outspoken about other things as well.
FOLKENFLIK: Norman says "The View" wants McCarthy to inspire widespread reaction among viewers, not widespread agreement. The source of controversy involving McCarthy stems from her work as an advocate for the parents of children with autism. After the birth of her son Evan, she said he had been diagnosed with autism and attributed it to vaccination.
Seth Mnookin is author of the 2011 book "The Panic Virus." Its subtitle is "The True Story Behind the Vaccine Autism Controversy." He says he first became aware of McCarthy's advocacy four or five years ago as friends who were young parents fretted over having their children get shots.
SETH MNOOKIN: In this country, certainly, she is the single most important figure in kind of popularizing this notion that vaccines are dangerous and could potentially cause autism.
FOLKENFLIK: Mnookin says McCarthy's celebrity ensured her books received coverage even as the link between autism and vaccines is given credence by no medical authority. While the vast majority of parents across the country immunize their children, participation has fallen meaningfully in certain communities. In recent years, McCarthy has restrained her rhetoric, calling on public officials to slow down vaccinations and to study them more. As she did here on Rosie O'Donnell's show.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE ROSIE O'DONNELL SHOW")
FOLKENFLIK: No comment so far from Barbara Walters or McCarthy herself about the controversy. Interestingly, McCarthy has written that Walters was among the toughest interviews she's ever faced on the subject of vaccines. Another irony, Walters took time off this year after suffering from chickenpox. It is a disease that can be prevented by vaccination.
David Folkenflik, NPR News.
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