This is an image of Oprah Winfrey. She is a black woman with natural, loosely curled hair. She is wearing a peach colored, ruffled shirt and smiling. There is a living room in the background.

#Oprah2020 Would be a Disaster for the Autistic Community

#Oprah2020 was trending on social media last week. Speculation about Ms. Winfrey running for President became part of the morning news cycle after her inspiring Golden Globe acceptance speech.

Oprah Winfrey has a fondness or pseudoscience. This fondness has caused harm to the medical community, the practice of psychology, and to our autism community in particular.

If she runs I will neither support nor vote for her regardless of her wide global appeal, her great skills as a speaker, her famed generosity or her business acumen.

“Why you hating on Auntie Oprah?” A human right activist friend of color asked me.

“I don’t hate her.” I answered.  “I am upset about the massive harm she’s done.“

Oprah gave us Phil McGraw, Dr. Oz, and most hurtful to my son and the autistic community, Jenny McCarthy. With help from Oprah, Jenny McCarthy introduced the anti-vaccine movement to mainstream America.

Does Oprah realize the harm she continues to cause? As if devastating fires, hurricanes, floods, mudslides were not enough, hospitals across the United States are now fighting record numbers of a new, virulent strain of influenza.  How many more families would have gotten a flu vaccination early this season if it weren’t for Oprah’s infamous “Mothers Battle Autism” episode? How many more families would vaccinate their children if Oprah had not given a massive platform to Jenny McCarthy, a misguided and misinformed celebrity autism mom, and the disasters that followed.

Phil McGraw

Phil McGraw isn’t a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist. He has a psychology degree. He consulted for Oprah on a legal matter and she featured him regularly on her talk show as a life coach. Eventually he launched his own show. A Statnews and Boston Globe investigation of Dr. Phil’s show unearthed allegations of practices that put some of the show’s vulnerable guests at personal risk These questionable actions were taken for the sake of entertainment. Actively detoxing drug users were left unattended for 48 hours in hotel rooms. One man alleges he was given alcohol and Xanax by the show’s staff. “It’s a callous and inexcusable exploitation,” Dr. Jeff Sugar, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of Southern California, told the Globe. “These people are barely hanging on. It’s like if one of them was drowning and approaching a lifeboat, and instead of throwing them an inflatable doughnut, you throw them an anchor.”

Dr. Oz

Dr. Oz is a cardiothoracic surgeon, Columbia University professor, pseudoscience promoter, author, and television personality.

Oz became famous by appearing onon The Oprah Winfrey Show beginning in 2004In 2009, Winfrey’s Harpo Productions and Sony Pictures launched The Dr. Oz Show, a daily television program focusing on pseudoscience and quack cures.

He has been criticized by physicians, government officials, and publications, including Popular Science and The New Yorker, for giving non-scientific advice and promoting pseudoscience.” He has a two-hour special about whether vaccines cause autism, and gives equal time to real doctors and the disciples of Andrew Wakefield Oprah still appears as an occasional guest on the Dr. Oz Show. Would you want Dr. Oz to be your surgeon general?

Jenny McCarthy and The Vaccine Wars

The worst offense for me and many autistic activists, families and professionals in the autism community is Ms. Winfrey’s infamous episode “Mothers Battle Autism.” This single episode launched Jenny McCarthy, the actress, playboy model and anti-vaccine self-titled “mother-warrior” into a massive media blitz that allowed her to launch a fear-based movement against vaccines, publish several books, and market all manner of products through her nonprofit to vulnerable autism families.  She presented Andrew Wakefield, a disgraced British gastroenterologist not licensed to practice medicine here, to American audiences and even wrote a book with him. She contends that vaccines caused her son’s autism but that she ‘cured’ it through biomedical supplements.

Jenny McCarthy’s efforts have resulted in an increased fear and misunderstanding of autism, and the promotion of the false idea that autism can be ‘cured’ and puts autistic loved ones at risk from quack science based ‘therapies’ that can harm autistic people.

As we all know, there is no ‘cure’ for autism.

Jenny McCarthy’s interview, with Ms. Winfrey concurring on her guest’s New Age ideas on vaccines and autism, have led to numerous outbreaks of childhood diseases long eradicated from our country because people fear vaccinating their children will cause them to become autistic. My son is now presented as some sort of cataclysmic outcome of vaccination. That is inexcusable.

This episode remains on Ms. Winfrey’s Website, ten years later. There has never been a retraction or apology.

I don’t hate Oprah. I don’t know her. I doubt I ever will.

But I cannot accept and condone what she has done, nor can I forgive that she has done nothing to educate herself on the harm she’s enabling and rectify her mistakes.

#Oprah2020? No, thank you.

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