An open letter to Oprah

@Oprah, don’t watch show but nice Duke speech. take own advice and make difficult decision to pull support from mccarthy, save lives. kthxbi

And now the long version:

Dear Oprah,

I have to confess, I have never watched more than a few minutes of your show. Probably not the best way to start a letter to you, but I want to be honest. And the truth is, I think you’re making a terrible mistake.

Last weekend, I spent more time listening to and watching you than in the rest of my life combined. My family and I were sitting in the Duke stadium, looking down on the thousands of giddy graduates (including my older brother), the esteemed faculty in their rainbow regalia, and the charming, if a bit over the top, fake castle festooned with flags representing the different academic schools. I had no idea you were the commencement speaker until the student speaker, Robert Paul Jones, pretended to get a cell phone call from Parking & Transportation services about your limo double-parked in front of the chapel.

Having only seen you in short commercial clips and on the cover of your magazine, I wasn’t sure what to expect from your speech. I was pleasantly surprised. You were warm and funny, your voice clear and yet dressed with feeling, and I am sure you meant every word. Over the course of those 20 or 30 minutes, I developed a great respect for you as a talented speaker.

But I couldn’t leave the stadium wholly inspired by you, as I’m sure many others did. To me, it is clear that a significant number of people look up to you, and trust your advice and judgment. That is why it is such a huge mistake for you to endorse Jenny McCarthy with her own show on your network.

Surely you must realize that McCarthy is neither a medical professional nor a scientist. And yet she acts as a spokesperson for the anti-vaccination movement, a movement that directly impacts people’s health. Claims that vaccines are unsafe and cause autism have been refuted time after time, but their allure persists in part because of high-profile champions for ignorance like McCarthy. In fact, ten of the thirteen authors of the paper that sparked the modern anti-vaccination movement retracted the explosive conclusions they made due to insufficient evidence. Furthermore, it is now clear that the study’s main author, Andrew Wakefield, falsified data to support these shaky conclusions.

We have come close to eradicating life-threatening and crippling illnesses because of vaccines, but are now struggling to prevent outbreaks because of parents’ philosophical beliefs that vaccines are harmful. Realize this: when someone chooses not to vaccinate their child, they aren’t just putting their own child at risk, they are putting everyone else around them at risk. Diseases with vaccines should normally be of little concern even to unprotected individuals due to herd immunity – with the majority of the population immune, unprotected individuals are less likely to come into contact with the pathogen. Unfortunately, herd immunity disintegrates as fewer people are vaccinated, putting everyone who hasn’t yet been vaccinated at greater risk for infection. Now, the rates of infection by diseases for which we have safe and effective vaccines are climbing, thanks to anti-vaccination activists like Jenny McCarthy.

You reach millions of people everyday and your words and endorsements carry an incredible amount of weight. If you say to buy a certain book, people will buy it. If you do a segment on a certain charity, people will contribute. And if you say that what Jenny McCarthy is saying has merit, people will believe you.

As your speech drew to a close on Sunday, you mentioned that you still make difficult decisions from time to time. You told us about a show where you had the exclusive first interview with the author of a prominent book on the Columbine tragedy. Despite days of promos and confirmed broadcast schedules, you decided to cancel the show at the last minute because it had a negative energy, and you didn’t want to be responsible for sending that dark energy out into the world. You didn’t want to be responsible for someone seeing that show, feeling that dark energy, and going out to commit another Columbine. You said that you followed your gut to make the right decision.

Maybe your gut is being silent on this one, so let me speak up on its behalf. You have another decision to make. Pull your support from Jenny McCarthy and her platform of anti-vaccination. Because while the Columbine segment raised the specter of potential future tragedy, anti-vaccination propaganda is causing more and more people – mostly children – to fall sick and die from preventable illness as I write this. Jenny McCarthy could be considered responsible for a significant number of these; you can imagine what might happen if you give her influence over your audience of millions.

So Oprah, I hope you take my letter, and the well-intentioned if sometimes harsh criticisms from many others in the blogosphere, to heart. Because even though I still don’t watch your show, others do, and they listen to you. Probably not the best way to end a letter to you, but I want to be honest.

Yours turly,

Shirley

P.S. My dad – for whom English is his second language – calls you “Op-er-a.” Isn’t that cute?

Update 5/18/09: Due to much reposting on Twitter, Facebook, and other blogs (including Bad Astronomy!), this post already has over 5,000 views! Small potatoes compared to many blogs but it’s a big deal for this one. :) Thank you all for the unexpected, enthusiastic, and civil responses. Now the question is  – what should we do next? What is the best way to leverage whatever momentum we might build to get Oprah to pay attention?

Orac has a lengthy post dissecting Jenny McCarthy’s recent “scientific” video, “Biomedical Treatment 101″.

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290 Responses to An open letter to Oprah

  1. idoerg says:

    Beautiful. How do you get her to see this?

    • Hey Oprah! says:

      Oprah doesn’t care what you have to say. She has already made up her mind. And besides, you have failed to prove her wrong. There are hundreds of conflicting studies on this subject. The vaccine manufactures have been caught doing all kinds of shady and illegal stuff. Since you seem to trust them and your government so much, just take your vaccine and shut up. If they work so well then you have nothing to worry about right?

      • seattlekarma says:

        No, actually there aren’t “hundreds and hundreds of conflicting studies”. And where is your evidence that “the vaccine manufacturers have been caught doing”…well, anything illegal or shady at all?

        This post, however, is very typical of someone who simply doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Not surprising at all for an obvious anti-vaxxer.

      • Mary says:

        I don’t want to be too redundant, but the last reply was correct. There have not been hundreds of conflicting studies on this, just a few tidbits of pseudoscience.

        I’m sure the pharm companies have dirty laundry. There is too much money there for people not wanting to tamper with it (as there is with many industries). In this particular instance, that is irrelevant. The bottom line is many vaccines are necessary to keep us healthy.

        You clearly don’t know what you are talking about when you say that we have nothing to worry about if we are vaccinated. What about are babies who are not yet old enough to be vaccinated? When ignorant people don’t have their kids vaccinated, it puts others who cannot be vaccinated at risk. Ultimately choosing not to vaccinate your child can kill another person.

        All of this because you chose to listen to an attention seeking ex playboy bunny rather than the medical community.

      • Mary says:

        I don’t want to be too redundant, but the last reply was correct. There have not been hundreds of conflicting studies on this, just a few tidbits of pseudoscience.

        I’m sure the pharm companies have dirty laundry. There is too much money there for people not to tamper with it (as there is with many industries unfortunately). In this particular instance, that is irrelevant. The bottom line is many vaccines are necessary to keep us healthy.

        You clearly don’t know what you are talking about when you say that we have nothing to worry about if we are vaccinated. What about our babies who are not yet old enough to be vaccinated? When ignorant people don’t have their kids vaccinated, it puts others who cannot be vaccinated at risk. Ultimately choosing not to vaccinate your child can kill another person.

        All of this because you chose to listen to an attention seeking ex playboy bunny rather than the medical community.

        The one point I agree with as that we may not need all of them so young. We do definitely need to be vaccinated against the measles. I only bring this up because that seems to be one of the main shots brought up over and over again. Other shots such as hep B, I simply don’t know enough about. Then again neither do the antivaxxers who claim they do. I guess that’s why there are educated professionals out there who research these kinds of things. Do people still realize this? Remember back in the day when you took biology, chemistry, physiology…? There are people who have studied these things diligently and have dedicated their lives to “real” science and health. FYI: Jenny McCarthy is not one of these people.

      • Please read this, you idiot. says:

        What an incredibly smug and ignorant response. You’d think that dead children would get your attention, but no. Unforgivable moron.

      • BKD says:

        Wow. I bet you’re a big Alex Jones fan too. Thanks for shrinking the gene pool with your stupid insanity. Hopefully, you’ll come down with measles, cholera, rubella, the flu (which managed to decimate the population of the entire WORLD), and smallpox. This is why the US is falling so behind in all intellectual fields.

    • Julie says:

      Jenny wants vaccines greened and safe for all kids. Face it kids these days are getting way too many too fast. Hence the rise in Autism. My son has Autism and I full heartedly believe due to vaccines. Informed choice and spacing out vaccines is being responsible. Have you seen the ingredients you are injecting into your kids. if you looked you may also have second thoughts and refigure the pros and cons of allowing injections of so many at such a young age. 3-4 vaccines at a time on top of unknown milk intolerances, gut issues and antibiotics is asking for trouble in the immune system. Space them out and take your time is a strategy that all can live with. With the rise of both parents having to work and daycare being the option parents are in a rush to vaccine and meet state requirements to enroll children in daycare and preschools. This is yet another trend to look into. With daycare also comes illnesses due to developing immune systems, small children and poor hygiene or sharing of toys, cups and more. Happens no matter how hard you try to keep things sanitized. Jenny offers informed consent to families facing too many too fast with ingredients that make your heart sink. If your going to judge and make comments I think you should be aware of the true issues. Parents are trying to make a choice they can live with. Would you willingly give cancer, asthma, ADHD so on to your child? I think not. Many parents are only asking to be allowed to space vaccines out gaining time for the immune system to develop. Also asking to take out unnecessary and toxic ingredients that on their own are life threatening.
      Thank you Jenny and Oprah for taking this on and being the voice of so many children who are yet to be vaccinated! Informed choice – Please green our vaccines!
      Julie

      • Jason Brown says:

        Standard Disclaimer : (Yes, I read all the ingredients that are put in my food) (You should take a portable spectographer with you the next time you go outside, you would be surprised by all the “Toxins” you are inhaling.) Even if you greened everything, the world creates millions of tons of cough “Toxins” a year.

        Lets look at this . . .


        Too Many/Too Soon – Well, for most anti-vaxxers, Please read this

        http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=466

        Its important. Actually read it too, not just skim it. The Information you want is there. It might take a little while.


        Milk Intolerances – We have only had the gene that allows us to drink cows milk or lactated animal milk for the the last 30 to 40 thousand years. Its a relative new gene, and not all the bugs have been worked out. I`m sure you can send a letter to Mother Natures Product and Development team.

        Anti-Biotic’s – Well, I might give this one too ya. Not that it has anything to do with vaccinations or Autism. Just that many people don’t take anti-biotics correctly which have led to many strains of virus’s that have become resilient.

        Life-styling – Well, that is just silly. Yes, kids get sick at pre-school, or kindergarten or where ever kids congregate. I guess you should send your kid out wrapped up in layers and layers of bubble-wrap. Just watch out for kid holding a pin.

      • angela says:

        Jenny does not want ‘greened vaccines’ that is her propaganda to suck in all the parents that are terrified that vaccines are harming their children (contrary to scientific evidence) What Jenny wants (in my opinion) is for the world to see her as a pioneer, a poor woman dealing with the supposed ‘tragedy’ of having an autistic child. A child whom she admittedly allows unorthodox, non approved so called medical treatments and experiments on.
        Lupron is not a joke. Injecting a child with a larger dose than is recommended for precocious puberty is not sane or safe.
        I have seen the ingredient list for vaccines, as well as the scientific studies on these ingredients and the impact on child health. Perhaps you should actually look at the research.
        My last parting shot, Julie, is that one does not GIVE their child ADHD. Such disorders are not contagious they are genetic.

      • Mary says:

        What exactly does green vaccines mean anyway? And I don’t just want to know that it means to take the crap out. My question is how? while also keeping these vaccines effective. I swear one of my biggest pet peeves is when people say that SOMEONE needs to do something. Can someone please tell me why this bunny is getting airtime on this issue?

      • Prose says:

        Julie I agree with what u say 100%. I just want my child’s immune system to develop first before I go sticking in things like mercury. If u knew there was a slight chance that your child could end up with a disease from these vaccinations wouldn’t u try to protect your little one??? Over seas children are not allowed to get vaccinated till there 2 and they don’t get half the shots that America gives and people over there are perfectly fine. I’m greatly appreciated for what Jenny McCarthy has done and I hope she keeps it up.

        • rdv_chio says:

          I am a person from an “underdeveloped third world country”…I am happy that they vaccinate me the day I was born, I have more vaccinations than most of my peers that are from the USA, and I know that because upon coming here for grad school, that was informed to me by the health services in my university (they were surprised)…and no, we don’t have higher autism, nor dead kids…those come from from the infectious diseases that we cannot vaccinate for.

        • habibbi says:

          You do know that autism happens everywhere, right? Not everybody “over there” is perfectly fine. Maybe you should read more history so you know what kind of world you’re advocating a return to… fevers so high children are blinded, deafened, their brains cooked, reproductive systems sterilized and that’s if they don’t die. Simple viruses that turn into wheezing and pneumonias and leave children turning blue and frothing as they struggle to breathe. Paralysis. Diarrhea that kills. Heart and kidney damage that will eventually mean a transplant. Viruses that cause miscarriages in strangers. Ulcerated lips and tongues, throats that close up with swelling and webbing that causes hemorrages if you try to remove it. Internal bleeding from sores in the GI tract and stomach. These aren’t all simple diseases you can easily recover from. We still have supportive measures only and kids do still die from them ALL THE TIME. You’re not going to get “just a little” polio because you have a strong immune system. ANd if my baby dies of measles before it can be vaccinated because you THINK getting your kid vaccinated MIGHT cause it to have ADHD, so help you.

      • Ellen Tebbits says:

        Wow. How limited, self-centered and just wrong. You want to blame one thing for the rise in autism? How about the rise in antibiotics use in animal farming? How about the rise in cesareans (which prevent the babies from gaining gut microbes from their mom as in natural birth), how about the rising age of dads? Or the overuse of cleaning materials that deny kids exposure to germs (cat owners have less asthma)? With daycare comes exposure to germs, but also that exposure makes the kids less sick when they enter elementary school. You worry about the ingredients in vaccines, which are given in small amounts, yet where is your horror about the amount of arsenic your chicken-nugget eating kids are eating? Science has pretty much rules out that the one thing that doesn’t pose a risk to your kids are the vaccines. The diseases on the other hand, can kill them.

      • BKD says:

        You’re a moron. What medical school did you go to, since you obviously you know better than the entire medical community? WHY would you take the word of a scientifically illiterate former playboy bunny over the CDC and all other medical professionals (Andrew Wakefield does not count, as he has been thoroughly discredited and lost his medical license). I know you may not understand this, but CRITICAL READING IS IMPORTANT. Kneejerk reactions are not. Frankly, your genes are probably defective as you are unable to discern fact from fiction. A little harsh? Perhaps. Grow up.

    • Nick says:

      What a ghastly, arrogant and ignorant piece of text. What about Ian? http://www.iansvoice.org Pleople don’t just get autism Shirley, they die.

  2. bill says:

    Iddo: Google Juice might work. See FF discussion: http://friendfeed.com/shwu/1e268870/open-letter-to-oprah

  3. Hari says:

    I am sure you have seen this website . I first heard about it thanks to Alan Dove on TWIV ( this week in virology podcast). Its the Jenny McCarthy Bodycount

    http://www.jennymccarthybodycount.com/Jenny_McCarthy_Body_Count/Home.html

    This is a very nice letter and I sure hope it has the desired effect.

    I wonder when people will stop taking advice that impacts their health from untrained professionals

  4. kumarhk says:

    That was excellent, far better than my post on the same subject. I really hope she sees the light and pulls the plug on McCarthy.

  5. shwu says:

    Thanks, everyone!

    @Hari, yep, Jenny McCarthy Body Count puts things in new perspective. I think I linked to it in the post, though not too obviously.

    We’ll see if anything comes of the combined outcry.

  6. Mickey says:

    2 days later and this post is in the top 10 Google results for “open letter to Oprah” or “letter to Oprah”.
    Now if only Oprah actually reads it…

  7. Jim H says:

    Quite a step out of character for a self professed introvert, but I am proud of you. Keep writing, Shirley Wu.

  8. Very nice letter. I hope that it, and other similar letters, have an effect.

    BTW, thanks for the link. I hadn’t heard about This Week In Virology. I will need to go check it out.

    Derek Bartholomaus
    http://www.JennyMcCarthyBodyCount.com

  9. Daisy says:

    Well said! I have a son with Asperger’s. Vaccinations most definitely did NOT cause his form of autism. I am appalled that Oprah, with her good resources for research, would support someone so un-scientific as Jenny McCarthy.

    • cycle3man says:

      Cycle3man Says:
      Hey Daisy, Why are you so sure that vaccines weren’t responsible for the damage to yout child.
      You definitely DO NOT know that for sure

  10. tim says:

    Very well written. I agree with others in asking, “How do we get Oprah to read this?” Everyone please share with your wife, mom, etc. which is the Oprah target demographic IMHO. Tell them to contact her and make sure this letter is read. I am tweeting the link now. Thank-you for writing this Shirley!

  11. valerie says:

    Absolutely perfect!!! Excellent job!

  12. Tricia K. says:

    Hi, great letter, love the point, although i’ve seen Jenny’s interviews and she does state that she is not anti-vaccine, she wants them “green” and spaced out. I don’t think even a little bit that vaccines caused autism in either of my boys. I can’t say for certain that this is the case for all children. I’m not a scientist or a specialist or a doctor. I do, however, find it very disturbing that Jenny McCarthy is the voice of autism. I don’t feel that she represents the real families or has any idea of what we go through. There is no cure for autism and she readily says that her son was cured or recovered. She sells false hope and takes money for her books from parents who are told their child has autism by someone who may make it sound as if their child had cancer. She profits off of others fears. If she cared about autism so much, she would take that money and actually help families with the real issues – schools, teachers, therapies, equipment, service dogs, living expenses. I wish Oprah had the real story from real people, not some playboy bunny with the mouth of a sailor. Just my two cents….

    • MJ says:

      It’s ASD, some of it can be helped some can’t. She went through just as much as the trauma as everyone else. She took her responsibility seriously. She went through the same hoops most parents went through.

    • Mary says:

      Well stated. I hope you and your family are doing well. The only point I don’t totally agree with is that she is not anti vaccine. She has stated this. However, now that we have youtube, it is easy to watch what she has said in the past. I have noticed a trend of her “clarifying” previous statements. But, if you go back and watch some of her previous videos, she said exactly what she had been accused of. She has flat out said that the mmr shot gave Evan autism. She said it was the thimerosal in that shot. She also said that the doctor yelled at her when she asked about it (she is a chronic victim). Then she said that all the ingredients in the shots may contribute to autism…and it could be any shot or just the accumulation of them. She has also said that autism is not a mystery. I could go on, but why bother. Her opinions have changed over time.

      I am also baffled that we are bombarded with bad info from a playboy bunny with a mouth like a sailor. I really don’t understand why opinions/stories from other people like you don’t seem to have merit. They do in my eyes. I guess it’s not good tv.?

    • Mary says:

      Well stated. I hope you and your family are doing well. The only point I don’t totally agree with is that she is not anti vaccine. She has stated this. However, now that we have youtube, it is easy to watch what she has said in the past. I have noticed a trend of her “clarifying” previous statements. But, if you go back and watch some of her previous videos, she said exactly what she had been accused of. She has flat out said that the mmr shot gave Evan autism. She said it was the thimerosal in that shot. She also said that the doctor yelled at her when she asked about it (she is a chronic victim). Then she said that all the ingredients in the shots may contribute to autism…and it could be any shot or just the accumulation of them. She has also said that autism is not a mystery. I could go on, but why bother. Her opinions have changed over time. By the time this is posted, her opinion may change again.

      I am also baffled that we are bombarded with bad info from a playboy bunny with a mouth like a sailor. I really don’t understand why opinions/stories from other people like you don’t seem to have merit. They do in my eyes. I guess it’s not good tv.?

  13. Great letter – are you a fan of hers on Facebook? Try sending it to the magazine – the front section should have letters to the Editor – if you get it to Gale King that would be a good start.

    My two teens are autistic, but not from any vaccine, I believe it is in the genes. Their father is paranoid schizophrenic and Alzheimers is in my family genes.

  14. Great letter! Thanks for writing it!

    The thing that boggles the mind is, what, exactly, is Oprah thinking? She’s a smart woman. She knows the kind of power she has. I really wonder, in her heart of hearts, with no one to answer to but herself, what is she really thinking?

  15. Right on. I can’t stand Jenny McCarthy. I can’t stand the way she tries to foster mistrust of medical professionals and scientists with her woo. And then she turns around and sells books and advertising slots for worthless treatments and false hope.

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  17. rich says:

    @TriciaK

    McCarthy’s position when she started her little crusade was the assertion that thimerisol in the MMR vaccine caused her child’s autism. When that was proven wrong many times over, she then shifted the goalposts to where it stands now. All this while she never once admitted that her first stance was wrong, nor with any apology to those she may have hurt. And the evidence for her current position? There is none, but why should there be, she has books to sell.

  18. mattusmaximus says:

    This was an excellent letter. I shall give it a shout-out on my blog.

    Cheers,

    Matt
    The Skeptical Teacher

  19. Julio Vannini says:

    I agree with everyone hereÑ this a terrific letter. Keep the good fight?

  20. Pingback: Shout Out: An Open Letter to Oprah « The Skeptical Teacher

  21. Badrescher says:

    Great letter. I will do my best to bring readers to it.

  22. Alan Hogan says:

    What a well-written and important letter. Thank you for writing it. I have heard about the anti-vaccination movement in a positive light from my own mother and relieved to see such claims do not seem to bear water.

  23. TankGrrl says:

    I’d like to suggest that people who retweet this also include @oprah and #letter2oprah so that maybe it will become a trending topic (and maybe @Oprah’s staff will see it).

  24. metousiosis says:

    Thank you! We will work to spread it as widely as possible…

  25. sarah says:

    I just wanted to say that I agree with you on all of this.

    Back when my son was a baby, the media was going crazy over Wakefield’s study into the MMR vaccine. That plus the fact I have friends with kids who have autism who SWORE that the MMR did it.
    I put off getting his MMR by almost a year longer than I should have because I was so scared that he would get autism.

    He was diagnosed with Autism a year later.

    I am not an expert but I seriously doubt the MMR did it. In that year it took me to decide whether or not to get him vaccinated, I researched everything I could find on the subject. I spoke to doctors, scientists, directors in the health service, etc. It was the hardest decison to make as a parent so far. A lot of parents will just BELIEVE Oprah because she is who she is. I don’t know much about her (she’s that twitter chic with a million followers, right?) – I don’t watch her show, and I know even less about Jenny McCarthy, but. Huge names promoting anti vaccination?! Not good. For all the reasons you said.

    Anyway, yeah. I agree with you.

    Sarah

    P.S. No, I don’t have regrets about getting my child vaccinated. He’s A.MAZ.ING, funny, smart and gorgeous. And his memory is like a superpower. I wouldn’t take the autism away, even if the MMR did it, incase it takes a bit of him away.

    • MJ says:

      Your points are well taken. I think since Autism has evolved into ASD a better medical description is needed of it. I often don’t understand what people are refering to.

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