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: 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.

  • Craig Silverman

    Craig Silverman (craig@craigsilverman.ca) is an award-winning journalist and the founder of Regret the Error, a blog that reports on media errors and corrections, and trends regarding accuracy and verification.


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