Megan Jula at Mother Jones:
Winfrey’s role in this controversy dates back to 2007, when she brought Jenny McCarthy, the Playboy model and actress, onto her show to talk about autism. McCarthy’s young son, Evan, had suffered a series of seizures at two-and-a-half years old and was later diagnosed with autism. McCarthy was adamant that the MMR vaccination Evan received as a baby caused his autism. On the show, McCarthy told Oprah she had been instinctually uncomfortable with allowing the doctor to give her son the vaccine. “I said to the doctor, I have a very bad feeling about this shot,” McCarthy recounted. “This is the autism shot, isn’t it?”
On the show, McCarthy’s claims went virtually unchallenged. Winfrey praised McCarthy as a “mother warrior” and plugged her book Louder Than Words: A Mother’s Journey in Healing Autism, which inaccurately suggests childhood vaccinations contribute to autism. Winfrey did read a brief statement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which said there was no scientific evidence of a connection and that scientists were continuing to study the causes of autism. “It is important to remember, vaccines protect and save lives. Vaccines protect infants, children and adults from the unnecessary harm and premature death caused by vaccine-preventable diseases,” the CDC statement concluded. But McCarthy had the final word. “My science is named Evan, and he’s at home,” she said. “That’s my science.
This wasn’t the first time Winfrey’s audience had been presented with the vaccines-autism theory. A few months before McCarthy’s appearance, Katie Wright, whose son has autism, said on the show, “The vaccine connection has not been refuted at all. In fact, we give 37 vaccines to babies under the age of 18 months. Nobody has shown that that’s safe, a wise idea, the multiple vaccines at once.”
“She wanted to say it, and I wanted you to get it out there,” Winfrey replied, as the audience clapped. “Because you are a mother dealing with your child every day.”