When ADHD bashing hits the headlines or the airwaves, I smell a rat. A rat that has no education in biology, much less neurobiology. A self-serving rat. A rat on the make.
A time-honored bit of wisdom says: “Consider the Source.” That’s what I will do in this post. I’ll highlight just one TV show, with four people disparaging the very idea of ADHD.
Along the way, I’ll point out why we should always consider the source.
You’ll find many links to my related blog posts and articles elsewhere. But rather than distract you from reading this post, I’ll refer to them and link at the end.
Introducing: The ADHD Hall of Shame
Wouldn’t it be great if we could bridge this “left-right” divide in our country? If only we could agree about something.
Oh wait. Left and right do sometimes agree on something: That it’s okay to disparage the very diagnosis of ADHD, not to mention the medication used to treat it.
Welcome to a new ADHD Roller Coaster department: The ADHD Hall of Shame.
Inaugural inductees are Bill Maher, of HBO Real Time with Bill Maher, and his guests Arianna Huffington, Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA), and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA).
You’ll find the August 7, 2009 episode of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher below. It’s set to start at the relevant point in the conversation.
Since the first publication of this post, later in 2009, the original link disappeared and the show cannot be found elsewhere. That’s the only reason for sharing a link to Darrell Issa’s YouTube channel.
You might find some of these points “political.” I say, the political is personal. These characters all stand to gain something, on the backs of people with ADHD. I believe in talking back to this toxic propaganda.
Brief Backgrounds of ADHD Bashers
If you don’t know these people, a few bio bits point to their lack of credentials for even commenting publicly on ADHD:
Bill Maher: Anti-pharmaceutical medication of any (including antibiotics) fanatic; openly celebrates his cannabis use. Hosts an HBO show with profits based on ratings.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA-50): A high school dropout with an early criminal record. Actions include stealing a Maserati and driving the wrong way down a one-way street. The police stop revealed a concealed weapon in his glovebox. After other unsavory actions, he went on to popularize the screaming car alarms that plagued the land in the 1980s.
Arianna Huffington: A conservative commentator in the 1990s who bashed “women’s liberation” in the 1970s. She then heavily embraced liberal views at her liberal-targeting Huffington Post (cofounded with rightwing personality Andrew Breitbart. This was a “News Aggregator” —a business model based on “re-purposing” articles from newspapers with paid staff while producing no news of its own).
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Later Huffington embraced anti-psychiatry stances and a business model targeting employees with “stress and burnout” Some say this trend appeals to businesses that are reluctant to improve working conditions, instead shifting the burden to employees as a personal problem. More about her personal story below.
Jack Kingston: Now a Washington DC lobbyist. Previously, a Georgia Congressional representative serving on the House Agricultural Committee, which oversees the federal school lunch program for the underprivileged. Addressing Georgia Republicans, he suggested that student recipients “…sweep the floor in the cafeteria” to promote a work ethic and “instill in them that there is, in fact, no such thing as a free lunch.”
Right and Left Agree: Bash ADHD
Make that two self-avowed “liberals” and two “conservatives” who gleefully agree: It’s okay to bash the legitimate science-based diagnosis of ADHD. (Note: Huffington still called herself a liberal at that point.)
“Paddling a child is inhumane but drugging a child is the way to go?” began an indignant Rep. Kingston. The implication? There’s nothing about ADHD that a good whuppin’ won’t cure. (See link at post’s end.)
From there, Maher and the other two guests piled on ADHD, especially the evidence-based medications that millions take to alleviate their symptoms.
Look for the Personal Grievance — and Profit Motive
Over 20 years, I’ve identified a clear phenomenon: The people most publicly virulent against the very idea of ADHD have a personal connection. Either it has been suggested to them that they have ADHD — or that their child does.
Put another way, nothing breeds vitriol against ADHD like the suggestion that the person—or his or her children—might have ADHD. This is important. It means it’s doubtfully “neurotypicals” or “non-ADHD” people publicly raging against the legitimacy of ADHD. It’s more likely the “in denial” folks with ADHD.
Scratch a little deeper, and you’re likely to find a money-making hustle based on ADHD Outrage Quite the two-fer!
Recent case in point: Maria Shriver and Christina Schwarzenegger teaming with Netflix to produce a “documentary”(link below).
As If On Cue, Huffington Digs In
Therefore, I waited expectantly for one of these four show panelists to say, “And the school said my children should be evaluated for ADHD!”
Huffington piped up, right on cue.
Skim her last two books and you’ll find self-confessions of electronic-device overuse and sleep issues, which she claims led to her collapsing of exhaustion. Cue: Her next business venture in “mental health.”
Christina Huffington’s Struggles With Cocaine
Huffington made a personal and public attack on a legitimate medical issue that affects millions of people. Unfortunately, her voice carries weight. That’s why I think it’s important to “consider the source.”
It’s a major epidemic, but I hope we can all agree: Children are not just products of chemistry, not just dying to be manipulated at an early age. If you look at the symptoms of Attention-Deficit Disorder, they are the symptoms of childhood!
[Maher: “And when you put kids on drugs, they’re going to get used to drugs!”] “Absolutely.”
Just a few years before this Bill Maher episode, Huffington’s 16-year-old daughter reported doing her first line of cocaine. In an interview with Glamour magazine, Christina Huffington conveys a poor-little-rich-girl childhood (see link below).
Christina Huffington’s Struggles with Parents
Given that Arianna Huffington claims mental health expertise, let’s just get a snapshot of what was happening with Christina’s parents. Her father, Michael Huffington, was a wealthy, extremely public California Republican politician, her mother an extremely public “media mogul.”
Christina reports being especially troubled when her parents decided to run against each other for the 2003 California gubernatorial race. This was after the Republican-led recall against sitting Governor Gray Davis (Dem). Then they divorced a few years later, in 1997.
Prior to that, Michael Huffington had spent an unprecedented $5M on his 1992 congressional race. After one term, he’d spent $28M to unseat Senator Diane Feinstein in 1994. That set a historical spending record for a non-presidential race.
He lost the California Senatorial race. But he says he saw it as an opportunity to make a public pronouncement in 1998: He’s gay (see Michael Huffington’s Secret Unveiled: He’s Gay).
ADHD Bashing Promotes Shame and Stigma
We who know ADHD intimately know that all-too-familiar traveling companion: shame. Partly, shame originates from not knowing you have ADHD. Partly, shame comes from internalizing all the inexplicably negative feedback you encounter, from childhood on.
Another type of shame, though, is lobbed full force at people with ADHD. It comes from people (some of them highly educated on other issues) who refuse to educate themselves (or know the truth but. lie for their own purpose). Yet, they self-righteously criticize ADHD as a “pharma invention” or “the disease du jour” or “over-diagnosed” or or or or.
These pundits are entitled to their own opinions, as they say, but not to their own facts. When their deluded opinions target my friends and everyone with ADHD—on the airwaves, in print, or on the Internet—it leaves me at once angry, heartsick at this cold-hearted, unabashed arrogance, and bewildered to see so few counters.
Would they taunt eyeglass-wearing children with the schoolyard bullying chant “Four eyes! Four eyes!”? That was common, not so long ago. (See link below.)
Would they rip into the parents of children who wear eyeglasses? Would they hurl accusations that if they loved their children more, fed their children more healthfully, and spent more time with their children, there would be no need for vision correction?
My guess is, if it elevated their platform or aided a business or political venture, yes. But ADHD makes a very convenient whipping post.
What Do You Think About Public ADHD Bashing?
I figured it’s past time we hold up the mirror to the bloviating blowhards (even as they profess valiant defense of children and adults who would otherwise be unjustly “drugged”). Let them get a little taste of the shame they are doling out. Hence The ADHD Hall of Shame.
What do you think?
Links to Related Stories:
—Glamour interview with Christina Huffington: Christina Huffington: “Cocaine Almost Killed Me”.
—Opinion from Adult with ADHD: Business consultant, author, and Huffington Post blogger Michael Laskoff often writes about his experiences having ADHD. He also took issue with the show in a recent column, “Being Famous Doesn’t Make You an ADHD Expert“.
—Example of “Not My Child!”: I wrote about neurologist Richard Saul’s personal connection in ADHD Does Not Exist? Wrong, Richard Saul.)
—Spanking as ADHD treatment: We’ve already talked back once to that bad idea with this U.S. News and World Report piece: “One View: A Spanking Might Beat Ritalin.” Parenting columnist Nancy Shute provided a platform to ADHD gadfly-contrarian behavioral pediatrician Larry Diller. Unfortunately, the news outlet deleted the dozens of insightful comments. I had rallied many of my friends with ADHD to share how childhood spanking worked for them. It didn’t.)
—Esquire went on an ADHD bashing expedition, so I rounded up friends and allies to counter in the comments. Comments are long gone, unfortunately. But the editor of the New York Observer asked me to write a guest opinion: How Esquire Got ADHD Wrong
—Stigmatizing the Wearing of Eyeglasses: Eyeglasses, ADHD, & Stigma, Part 1
—Typical NYTimes sensationalism: The Truth Behind The New York Times “10,000 Toddlers Medicated for ADHD”
—A preeminent expert counters the NYTimes: Dr. Thomas E. Brown Responds to NYT’s Alan Schwarz
—Rupert Murdoch Promotes A Non-ADHD Expert: ADHD Does Not Exist? Wrong, Richard Saul
—Maria Shriver and Christina Schwarzenegger serve up sensationalism with Netflix: Netflix’s Take Your Pills: Anti-Science and Mean
The first version of this post appeared August 12, 2009