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Mass Communication, [multi]media, methodology and much, much more!

The New McCarthyism

Posted by prof e on July 25, 2013

In the 1950s senator Joseph McCarthy made accusations that communists and communist sympathizers were taking over American institutions, including the entertainment industries.  According to Wikipedia, the term McCarthyism has come to mean “the practice of making accusations of disloyalty, subversion, or treason without proper regard for evidence.” 


This week the On The Media podcast has a story about a new kind of McCarthyism. According to OTM, ABC recently announced, “model, comedian, and anti-vaccine activist Jenny McCarthy would be joining the hit daytime talk show The View.” OTM host Bob Garfield didn’t mince words when he weighed in on this development. He doesn’t like it and thinks it is irresponsible of ABC to give McCarthy a platform to spread her “dangerous” message that vaccines can cause autism and other illnesses.

Garfield is not alone. Over at the US News & World Report website an editorial reaches the same conclusion. And at The Nation Katrina vanden Heuvel issued a similar verdict and accused McCarthy of fear mongering. This last article makes reference to a study that found that, “24% of parents surveyed recently by the University of Michigan say they place “some trust” in information provided by celebrities such as McCarthy about the safety of vaccines.” And among Hispanics, “40% of parents reported they have ‘a lot’ or ‘some’ trust in celebrities’ insight” (cited in Time magazine).

Which raises the question: who is guilty of making accusations without regard for evidence? Garfield and others are accusing McCarthy of making claims about the danger of vaccines without regard for the scientific evidence to the contrary. On the other hand, McCarthy may feel like these powerful media personalities are using their platform to silence her by accusing her of ignorance and fear mongering.

And that raises the question: does McCarthy have credentials that permit her to question medical science? McCarthy has said that she studied at “the University of Google” which, we all know, has some pretty wacky professors. McCarthy might counter that science is never conclusive. Science is always cumulative…it builds on previous studies and moves toward certainty but never arrives. It is questioning, not blind belief, that leads the way forward. Those who approach life from a more holistic philosophical perspective even argue that the “worship” of science has prevented mankind from experiencing and understanding the natural and supernatural realms that exist outside the reach of empiricism.

What do you think? Are the media complicit by giving celebrities a platform from which to espouse their sometimes-unfounded beliefs? Does ABC have an obligation to ensure that its talk show hosts are credible and trustworthy sources, and not purveyors of pseudoscience? Or should we let the marketplace of ideas operate without oversight imposed by media authorities?

5 Responses to “The New McCarthyism”

  1. Dominick said

    Let’s start off by putting it out there fully that celebrity status in this country is and has been a highly persuasive and conversely dangerous thing for a long time. The collective masses in America seem to throw out logic and get all googly-eyed whenever any one of their so-called “celebs”, shows what we should know all along–that they’re just flawed humans, precisely like us. That feelting moment of relation, when people lie to themselves and say “oh, they’re really just living the same way I do”, is complete poison.

    The instant credibility that is doled out to these people never ceases to amaze me no matter how impractical a thing said “famous” person might be into, endorse or co-sign. Why? Why give them some sort of elevated platform and springboard for their oft-deluded views? Because They’re easy on the eyes? They make tons of money for their overrated method acting? Or in Ms. McCarthy’s particular case, because she was a former well known sex object who successfully transitioned into show business?

    Inherent danger comes when a society values celebrity so much that they completely ignore the trained professional folks who’ve done the hard, rigorous science and research and whom are genuinely interested in educating a massive public; that by the day leans more on the Internet and quackery. I mean, I’m sure Ms. McCarthy is a charming woman and a decent mother, but why in the world would any sane person take her views on vaccinations and medical science at face value? I realize her son is or was autistic, but frankly that still doesn’t qualify her as an expert. She went to experts seeking advice and her next course of treatment for her son. She was told whatever she was told and then sought out an alternative approach that I suppose has worked for her and her family. Fine, fair enough, but come on, we’re going to let her get on daytime TV and spew her nonsensical, borderline conspiracy-theorist views to stay at home moms? It’s ludicrous…and as i said earlier, dangerous. By perpetuating her “views” as solid fact without any type of peer reviewed studies or vetting, the media once again lets someone who’s not qualified incite fear and perhaps even endanger the lives of other children through the dissemination of her ignorance.

    While I loathe the whole cyclical way this kind of charade plays out time and again via media, however I’d be lying to you if I said that I wouldn’t go to bat for McCarthy’s right to say utter nonsense every day of the week. It’s our right and It’s her right and despite the fact that there could be a clear and present danger in her anti-vaccination propaganda, she’s got an inalienable right to spread it and in turn make tons of dough by doing so. Frankly, big pharma is and can be the worthiest boogyman, but blindly attacking it isn’t going to correct the very real problems within the industry. Media outlets would be better served to, I dunno, maybe prop up someone who’s opinion can be peer reviewed, like say, a prominent doctor or group of healthcare professionals, rather than just celebrity’s who dealt with struggles in creative ways and experienced some results that can’t be quantified.

  2. Mark Rizzo said

    I personally do not think that ABC has any obligation to check the intelligence of the people that they choose to air as personalities. It would be nice, but unless you are the owner of ABC I do not think you would have much luck changing things. Having someone on air such as Jenny McCarthy would not be anywhere near as controversial as people would think. Unless they are talking about vaccines, its not like the conversation will just naturally turn into her own soap box. Not to mention anybody who knows anything about science would know not to listen to Jenny McCarthy’s medical advice in the first place. Even if we do not like what other people have to say, its just an opinion and often times is no more valid than any one other opinion. ABC is there to entertain, and whats popular will always prevail. While some regulation could have some positive potential, I say let the marketplace of ideas run its course.

  3. Mark Rizzo said

    Turow Correlation:

    This relates to the section of the textbook on distribution in the public relations industry. Turow defines a publicity outlet as “A media vehicle that has in the past been open to input from public relations practitioners” (578). This is essentially what The View is doing with Jenny McCarthy by giving a person who is know to both have adoring fans and to have rattled some cages time to talk about various topics and give their opinions on air. This publicity outlet is used until it is no longer mutually beneficial for ABC and/or Jenny McCarthy.

    Turow, Joseph. Media Today: An Introduction to Mass Communication. New York: Routledge, 2011. Print.

  4. Gretel Stockton said

    I do not know much about The View, but I do know that ABC is definitely geared towards entertainment, or in other words- not news. At best The View is merely “infotainment”. Other examples of this format are The Colbert Report and The Daily Show. In regards to The Colbert Report and The Daily Show, Joseph Turow states that “there is also evidence to suggest that tuning into such shows does not negatively affect political knowledge”. The hosts of the view may be expressing their opinions, beliefs, and other hot-button issues, but it is not presented as an absolute truth. The audience is free to interpret the information as they please. I do not believe ABC has any obligation to find trustworthy sources. If this were the case, ABC should probably look more to investigative reporters and new anchors, which would completely change the purpose of the show.
    Turow, Joseph. Media today an introduction to mass communication. 4th ed. New York: Routledge, 2011. Print.

  5. Andrea Cook said

    I believe that the media and ABC has right to and should not discriminate against hiring people with different ‘sometimes-unfounded beliefs’. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and should not have to be silenced if others do not have to same beliefs. Yes ABC should insure their The View is credible, but some of McCarthy’s views are credible just not on the beaten path of life. Media authority is important because as viewers we want the truth, but they should not control their workers, they should just insure what they are saying is factual. After all as an American McCathy has the right to voice her own morals; “TV and radio stand in the same protected position under the First Amendment as do newspapers and magazines.” (Turow 78)

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