Los Angeles Times, USA Today, The Independent & others published fake Jenny McCarthy quote

Attention journalists, Jenny McCarthy never said this:

Let me see if I can put this in scientific terms: Think of autism like a fart, and vaccines are the finger you pull to make it happen.

She’s responsible for many objectionable and false claims about autism, but the above isn’t one of them. It first appeared online as a joke photo caption on a June 2012 post from a site called The Superficial.

But it recently began appearing as a real quote in articles published by the Los Angeles Times, The Independent, USA Today, The Week, Business Insider, ScienceBlogs and others.

The Superficial has a post noting how its photo caption morphed into a fake quote:

I don’t know if I should be impressed with myself for writing something so perfectly stupid no one would question Jenny McCarthy said it or be taking a mental inventory of anything I believed after reading it online which should be nothing. Believe nothing.

The site’s About page explains:

If this is your first time at this website (if you have been here before, you should know better), this is a satirical site. Nothing we say, should be construed as factual reporting or anything more than irreverent commentary and satire and you should not take a single word we say here seriously. Do not say that we did not warn you.

On July 15, the Los Angeles Times and Business Insider used the quote in stories about McCarthy joining “The View.” (Business insider’s story is headlined, “17 Things Jenny McCarthy Has Actually Said”.)

That appears to be the first day the quote began making the rounds. By the 16th, many other sites were using it freely.

From the Times article:

“Think of autism like a fart, and vaccines are the finger you pull to make it happen,” McCarthy so memorably put it. McCarthy has said her son was handed to her after his birth, “pre-vaccinated with a Band-Aid on his foot,” and that was the beginning of all the trouble. (It should be noted here that no vaccine is administered on the foot immediately after birth. But a phenylketonuria test, which ensures that a baby has an enzyme necessary for normal growth and development, is routinely conducted at that time.)

The paper does a nice job debunking what I presume is a real quote from McCarthy — right after it offers up the fake one. As of this writing, the article includes a correction at the bottom, but not for the quote.

Business Insider has since removed the quote from its original article, and did not add a correction. But the version of the same story on its Australian site still includes the quote, and suggests it came from an interview with CNN.

I emailed Henry Blodget of Business Insider to ask how they learned the quote was fake, and why there isn’t a correction on the original story.

I also emailed people at the Los Angeles Times to alert them to the fake, and ask how it came to be added to the story. It’s possible the Times piece is the one that set off the cascade of fake quote publishing.

Update:

Update: As a commenter noted at the bottom of this post, the Times removed the McCarthy quote from its story after I contacted the paper. The correction at the bottom of the story now reads:

An earlier version of this online article incorrectly stated that the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine had contained the preservative thimerosal. It did not. Also, the post previously included a quote from Jenny McCarthy whose veracity has since been called into question.

USA Today also removed the quote and added this to the top of its piece:

Update: One quote has been removed from this story after reports questioned its veracity.

Business Insider has also appended an editor’s note to its original piece:
Editor’s note: In the original version of this post, we included a Jenny McCarthy quote from The Superficial that turned out to be fake. We have removed the quote and apologize for the error.

The quote is still present in the other articles mentioned at the top of this story.

We have made it easy to comment on posts, however we require civility and encourage full names to that end (first initial, last name is OK). Please read our guidelines here before commenting.

  • http://www.animenews.biz Humberto Saabedra

    It should be made clear to Poynter that Business Insider will not offer a direct statement to the organization regarding this mistake. They are both infamous and notorious in the tech and online journalism circles for refusing to admit mistakes in stories or filing proper corrections to stories unless constantly pressured to do so. I commend Poynter for trying to do the right thing and leading the way on this issue, but Business Insider’s purpose is the pursuit of profit and attention, and they will not let facts get in the way of their efforts, no matter which organization or person points out their mistakes.

  • Heraldblog

    I’m not trying to get anyone. The important point is when a public figure misleads her public, either intentionally or unintentionally, she needs to be brought to account. McCarthy uses her fame to influence parents, and relies on false and misleading statements to create fear, uncertainty and doubt about vaccines. She may not be obligated to retract her errors, in the way the rest of us are obligated to pay taxes, pay our bills, or educate our kids. But she is hardly immune to well deserved criticism of her anti-vaccine activism.

    And there is no clear evidence that SV-40 created any additional cancers in the 98 million or so people who received the contaminated polio vaccine between 1955 and 1961. The virus was unheard of until 1960, and steps were taken to clean up the Salk vaccine after the contamination was discovered. All polio vaccines produced after 1961 were SV40 free, except for those from a major eastern European manufacturer.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16288015

    Your claim that the vaccine industry did not pull the vaccine when they found it to be contaminated with SV40 is largely baseless, but you are under no obligation to stand by your statement because you are not a newspaper.

  • dvdj

    The Superficial, which I’ve never visited, is being modest when it calls
    itself merely “a satirical site.” Based on the nominal excerpts from
    its site displayed in this article, it’s also a semi-articulate sight. When it comes to basic mechanics of language, Superficial it is.

  • Heywood Jablowme

    Yeah, you got me. It was the polio vaccine that was contaminated. I got my vaccines mixed up. The smallpox vaccine was invented way back when Jenner figured out that cowpox was an inoculation. But my point remains; the vaccine industry has plenty to hide. But you got me.

  • Heraldblog

    If you click on the link you provided, you would see the article refers to polio vaccine, not smallpox vaccine. They are two different diseases, and two different vaccines. But since you are a person, not a newspaper, there is no need for you to follow standards of thoughts or opinions.

  • Heywood Jablowme

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thimoseral#Autism Some children get upwards of ten vaccines at a time, while infants or newborns. All that mercury had to go somewhere.

  • Heywood Jablowme

    Click the link to the Wikipedia article I posted in reply! Yes it did!

  • Heraldblog

    The smallpox vaccine never contained SV40, but since you’re an individual, and not a newspaper, it’s OK to make stuff up.

  • Heywood Jablowme

    She is not obligated to. She is a person, not a newspaper. There are no standards for an individuals thoughts or opinions. As for the vaccine industry; why did they not pull the Smallpox vaccine when they found it to be contaminated with SV40? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SV40#Polio_vaccine_contamination

  • SteveAuerweck

    LAT has pulled the quote online.

  • Heraldblog

    I’ve been monitoring the anti-vaccine movement for six years or longer. I don’t recall a time when McCarthy or any member of her “angry mob” fessed up to a mistake.