Liberals, Conservatives Agree: Bash ADHD, Bully People Who Have ADHD

ADHD Bashing Bill Maher Arianna Huffington, Darrell Issa, Ron Kingstons, Liberals, Conservatives Agree: Bash ADHD, Bully the People Who Have It

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).

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.”

August 7, 2009 Real Time with Bill Maher

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.”

Arianna Huffington ADHD bashing

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 EyeglassesEyeglasses, 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

—Gina Pera

The first version of this post appeared August 12, 2009


20 thoughts on “Liberals, Conservatives Agree: Bash ADHD, Bully People Who Have ADHD”

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  4. Thanks Gina for creating the “Hall of Shame” Department. I know it will be a favorite for me and all your readers.

    Unfortunately, there are going to be so many inductees! The trite nonsense about ADHD being a normal variant of childhood (and adulthood?) is just too easy for lazy media meat-heads.

    Maybe we can embarrass a few of them into cleaning it up and doing their jobs.

  5. Yes, Doc Betsy, the singular lack of compassion — what I refer to as “mingy-minded meanness.” The irony is that these people think they are acting in service to the children and adults who are, in their minds, being uncompassionately diagnosed and treated.

    Thanks so much for sharing your story, Dr. McNeil, and being a fierce advocate for these kids.

    I’m honored to be visited by other esteemed bloggers. Kerch is an ADHD-savvy Life Coach. Dr. Boyd writes a column on psychology and psychotherapy. Of course Jeff is the brain behind Jeff’s ADD Mind. Terry doesn’t have a blog yet (that I know of), but I will try to channel his whip-smart observations and humor. And welcome Adrian, who is active in the Twitter world.

    It’s great to have allies on the Internet. If you’ve been reading the comic strip Pearls Before Swine lately, I’ve been looking for the equivalent of an Internet Happy Box (escape from the meanies). Found it here!

  6. betsy davenport, phd

    Oh, good, Gina. I have been talking about this with my daughter this week (after she was so stung and enraged by the show that she was – uncharacteristically – crying while gripping the remote control til it whitened her hand). I wondered aloud about my strong reaction to the AD/HD “discussion” and the COPD crack as well. I am always pissed when I read and hear the same witless blather. It does not evoke shame in me, but it always gives me a sharp stab in the stomach as I immediately think of the untold millions who are still suffering, many of whom will, as my daughter said, now go without what they need, and some of them may well lose their lives as an indirect result.

    No, what really got to me was this. Coupled with the gratuitous crack about COPD (that could have been my father when I took him to the last baseball game he ever saw, and he was too oxygen deprived to even carry the damned tank and too embarrassed to wheel it around), I reacted to the singular lack of compassion coming from Bill Maher and from the rest of them as well.

    It is that failure of empathy I found so painful — more painful than a stray comment about how people are over medicated — because if a person can’t imagine himself into a coal miner’s boots he surely can’t imagine himself into my Brain. I have no need of Maher’s understanding, but there are millions who need someone’s understanding (or, at the very least, their credulity) and if a bright educated guy who reads is tossing off that kind of misinformation and scorn, what will become of them?

    Not everyone has easy access to the public square and I think those who find themselves there have an obligation to treat the privilege – and their listeners – with respect.

  7. Gina,

    Once again you’re the “leader of the pack,” opening new paths and opening more minds in the process. Bravo!

    Now…some possible inductees to the Hall of Shame: Dr. Breggin; Dr. Baughman; Dr. Phil and his advisor Dr. Lawlis (notice how many have “Dr.” before their name).

  8. Thanks for putting this up. It is discouraging. Of course there is a definite kernel of truth in the criticisms of medicating kids, but most of the discussion on ADD was astoundingly absolutist.

    I think it would be helpful for there to be more admission and discussion that many kids from certain demographics are indeed over-diagnosed and over-prescribed, and that medicating should always be done by skilled, specialized providers, and never as the first course of action.

    That said, it is so painful to hear the ignorant blather coming from Huffington and Maher on this subject. So much misery has come from the idea that a kick in the ass will solve problems with kids. I didn’t expect this f from either of these people, despite Mahers diet beliefs. The other two guys–well, what can you expect?

    Very disheartening. Thanks again for covering it.

  9. Dr. Katherine Nell McNeil

    Gina, you are an angel. Thank you for helping with this battle. I am a special education teacher of high school students with severe emotional/behavioral issues. Most have a combination of ADHD and learning disabilities and comorbid conditions such as anxiety, bi-polar disorder, depression, and obsessive compulsive to name a few. I have taught this student population for the past 11 years and I can’t tell you how many time I have heard from individuals that all these kids needs is there “ass kicked” to get them back in line. I try to explain that many have had year of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse in addition to their disabilities. Because their disability is invisible there is a group that just refuses to believe in their disability and we won’t even go into appropriate therapy and medication as part of their treatment plan.

    When they are all done ranting and raving I ask them, “What are the chances of a high school student with who has a 1.6 GPA, and barely makes it out of high school getting a BA? They give me a funny look and tell me “Maybe 10%.” I then ask, “Ok, what are the chances of a high school who has a 1.6 GPA, barely makes it out of high school, and can’t write a paragraph getting a MA? They tell me “Maybe 2%. I then tell them I have one last question, “What are the chances of a high school who has a 1.6 GPA, barely makes it out of high school, and can’t write a paragraph has severe ADHD and profound learning disabilities getting a PhD? They just laugh and tell me, “Not a chance, no how no way.” Then they laugh. I look at them dead in the eye and tell them that the hypothethical student I just described to them was me and that I was written off by all my teachers too and I will never turn my back on any of my students because if I can achieve what I have starting at the age of 32 and finishing my PhD at 49, so can my students. It leaves them with their mouths open.

    If I can leave someone questioning their beliefs then I have done my job. If anyone is curious about what I do everyday here is a short video. I teach 4 period of social studies and 2 periods of Digital Media Design. The video is of Digital Media Design.

  10. Thanks Katherine! I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to meet a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who “believes” in ADHD!

    In fact, I’ve encountered enough ADHD-bashing by other Pulitzer winners, I thought it was taught in a j-school class that I’d somehow missed. 😉

    Folks, Katherine is also the author of The Mommy Brain: How Motherhood Makes Us Smarter. Click on her name to visit her website, or click here:

  11. Thanks for chiming in, folks. Nominees always welcome!

    John writes a great blog about bi-polar disorder, among other subjects — Knowledge is Necessity.

    And you know, I did “go positive” — I’m positive these people belong in the Hall of Shame! 🙂

    1. Julie Appleton

      Congrats Gina, a well deserve accolade for your ongoing work.

      We Downunder seem to have peacefully crept through February ADHD Hunting Season this year – I guess there has been enough drama happening in the world to take the eyes off ADHD for a change. They do all belong in the Hall of Shame, It is bad enough to look stupid, but they opened their mouths and proved it.

      Keep up the good work.

    2. Thanks so much, Julie.

      Here in the U.S., there are so many profiteers out to exploit “stupid” on so many levels, it’s hard to keep track.

      I never thought this would be the case in the 21st Century, when we know so much.

      Glad to hear it’s been an ADHD Hunting Season with no casualties.


  12. Hey, Gina. Congrats on your Wall of Shame. May I add a new diagnosis? Asshole Personality Disorder.

    I was thinking of doing my own Hall of Shamers, then I decided to go positive. I’m composing a piece right now on blogs I whole-heartedly recommend and yours is one a a small handful that gets the two thumbs up. It should be up in another hour or two. Keep up the great work …

  13. Terry Minton

    You see two liberals and two conservatives. I see a closet-case, a smiling All-American fascist, a chronic attention-whore and an embarrassingly ignorant pot-head who objects to any drugs but his own.

    Nonetheless I find it entirely fitting that this self-righteous and self-infatuated gang of ignoramuses be honored as charter members of The ADHD Hall of Shame.

    (I also assume from patching together their words of wisdom that if people with COPD had been properly beaten as children, they wouldn’t be dragging those damn oxygen canisters around, ruining Bill Maher’s jaundiced view of the human landscape.)

    I’ll certainly be on the lookout for other worthy Hall of Shamers.

  14. Virginia S. Wood, Psy.D.

    What do I think? I think you, and titles like “Being Famous Doesn’t Make You an ADHD Expert” say it all. But I think you have stumbled on something of genius here and may not have even realized it: Attention-seeking Disorder. Can we add that to the DSMV? and can we then sedate these people into silence or some near-approximation thereof?

    1. Julie Appleton

      We actually could enforce their own solution – give them a paddling and see if it ‘cures’ their ignorance – but I doubt that anything will get through to that happy bunch.

    2. Hi Julie,

      Hhaha! Turnabout is fair play! Your solution makes perfect sense.

      Only one problem: Some of them might like the spanking too much. 😉


  15. Kerch McConlogue

    What a great idea to publish this kind of thing. Here’s to your notion growing in popularity. And thereby doing something to bash some other guys who freakin’ need it!

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