There’s an interesting piece in the Chicago Tribune on the “Oprah effect”. The upshot is that products or people who Oprah deigns to grace with airtime tend to find enormous public acceptance.
While this is well and good if the product is a novel or the person is a television chef, it’s less clear that the Oprah effect is benign in the case of people without medical expertise offering medical advice.
From the article:
In May, Winfrey, whose contract for “The Oprah Winfrey Show” expires in 2011, struck a deal with actress, author and Chicago native Jenny McCarthy, who emerged as an autism activist after her son was diagnosed with the disorder. The deal with McCarthy, who has been a guest on Winfrey’s show several times, calls for McCarthy to develop a variety of projects with Harpo, one of which could be a syndicated talk show.
McCarthy’s position on childhood vaccines, however, has kicked up controversy. McCarthy has said she is not “anti-vaccine” and that she is advocating for improved vaccines. But she said in an interview on Oprah.com that if she “had another child, I would not vaccinate.” She also told Time that “I do believe sadly it’s going to take some diseases coming back to realize that we need to change and develop vaccines that are safe.”
Asked if Oprah or her show endorses McCarthy’s views, a representative for Oprah’s program said, “We don’t take positions on the opinions of our guests. Rather, we offer a platform for guests to share their first-person stories in an effort to inform the audience and put a human face on topics relevant to them.” When McCarthy’s views have been discussed on the air, statements from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics saying that there’s no scientific evidence of a vaccine-autism link have been read.
(Bold emphasis added.)
I’m curious to hear what you all think about this. Is it acceptable to give any guest you please a soapbox without taking a position on the opinions they voice from that soapbox? Is reading official statements from the CDC and AAP enough “balance” to Jenny McCarthy’s views on vaccines, or do you think the “Oprah Winfrey Show” needs to do more?
And, if Oprah and her producers are aware of the Oprah effect (which, really, they have to be, right?), should that awareness of their reach lead them to try to meet a higher ethical standard as far as the foreseeable consequences for giving Jenny McCarthy a soapbox?