CBS Gives Fox Platform to React to Limbaugh's 'Ugly' Criticism, Skips Fox's Distortions

Ignoring the inaccuracies in Michael J. Fox's TV ads against some Republican Senate candidates, CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric gave him a lengthy forum -- more than eight minutes -- to react to Rush Limbaugh's suggestion his swaying in the ads was exaggerated beyond the real impact of Parkinson's disease and to advocate for federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. With video of Fox behind her, Couric portrayed Limbaugh as the aggressor: “The battle over embryonic stem cell research turns ugly, and he is a target.” Though Fox's ads denounce Republicans and insidiously suggest they are against curing his disease, Couric never challenged Fox on the false charges he made in the ads which injected Fox into partisan politics. She never even played those portions, instead only showed this positive line from one of the ads: "In Missouri, you can elect Claire McCaskill, who shares my hope for cures." In that ad against Missouri Republican Senator Jim Talent, Fox distorted Talent's opposition to cloning into how "Talent even wanted to criminalize the science that gives us the chance for hope." In his ad for Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin, Fox alleged that Republican candidate Michael Steele “would put limits on the most promising stem cell research,” meaning embryonic. But embryonic has not shown promise and there's lots of research money going into it.

Couric noted, “in the spirit of full disclosure,” that “my dad has Parkinson's disease” and that “in the past I've made contributions for Parkinson's research through Michael J. Fox's foundation." But, she didn't note if she will give equal time soon to someone with a contrary view to Fox's on the desirability of federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. (Full transcript and counter-information follows)

Couric did ask "what about research on adult stem cells?" And she pointed out how "some people are concerned about this science because they feel it's a slippery slope, and that there won't be enough oversight or regulation" (Fox mockingly retorted with how “getting up in the morning is a slippery slope”) and she even pressed him with a conservative point: "What about other people who say, 'listen, this can be done in the private sector.' Why not take politics out of it? Why not take it out of the government's hands?"

In a Wednesday posting on the American Thinker blog, Mary L. Davenport, MD, an obstetrician and gynecologist, and a Fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, undermined Fox's characterization of embryonic as the 'most promising” stem cell research. An excerpt from “The Unconscionable Claims of Michael J. Fox”:
The popular and appealing actor Michael J. Fox has taken to the airwaves in Senate battleground states Missouri, Maryland, and New Jersey with a highly misleading ad urging defeat of Republican Senatorial candidates opposing the use of taxpayer dollars to fund new embryonic stem cell line research. He states,

“Stem cell research offers hope to millions of Americans with diseases like diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s…. But George Bush and Michael Steele would put limits on the most promising stem cell research.”

Mr. Fox and his ads’ sponsors are guilty of conflating embryonic stem cell research, which the GOP candidates and many Americans oppose for destroying a human life in the name of curing other people’s diseases, with stem cell research in general, which includes adult stem cell research and umbilical cord blood stem cell research.

The only limits in question are on federal funding of new embryonic stem cell lines, requiring the sacrifice of new embryos. Private and state-funded research (California voters are spending six billion dollars borrowing money to fund this) is ongoing. The implicit claim that research based on new embryos is “the most promising” is absurd, completely unsupported by the scientific literature, and an insult to voters, based as it is on the assumption that they are incapable of understanding the issue. Too stupid to tell the difference, is the elitist assumption underlying this campaign.

Flim-flam is a charitable description. Why would federally-funded research be more promising than state- and privately-funded research? And on what possible basis can the claim be made that embryonic stem cell research is more promising than adult stem cell research?

The plain fact is that embryonic stem cell research is proving to be a bust. There are currently 72 therapies showing human benefits using adult stem cells and zero using embryonic stem cells. Scientifically-minded readers can review this medical journal article on the status of adult stem cell research. Adult stem cell therapies are already being advertised and promoted while no such treatments are even remotely in prospect for embryonic stem cell research.

The fact is that adult stem cells have already produced remarkable cures, whereas embryonic stem cells have failed....
In a Tuesday posting, “Doc Hollywood on the Campaign Trail,” National Review Online Editor Kathryn Jean Lopez took apart Fox's claims:
Even in an emotionally wrenching package -- you see Fox very visibly suffering from his disease as he unnervily jerks back and forth -- these claims are familiar and disingenuous. George W. Bush, Jim Talent, Mitt Romney….any politician who has taken any kind of lead in opposing embryonic-stem-cell research (and cloning, which is rarely spoken of, but is a necessary element of much of what embryonic-stem-cell advocates want to do) is all too often portrayed as being against stem-cell research -- and hope. In truth, President Bush was the first president of the United States to authorize federal funding for any embryonic-stem-cell research. In correcting a writer from The New Republic back in 2004, my colleague Ramesh Ponnuru pointed out, “Actually, Bush provided funding for the first time. Congress had essentially banned funding, the Clinton administration issued preliminary regulations getting around the ban, and then Bush imposed a policy of funding with restrictions.”

Further, embryonic-stem-cell research is currently legal and completely unrestricted in both Maryland and Missouri, and in the vast majority of other states. It is largely personal and institutional ethics that keeps scientists from cloning research. The debate we’re having is almost always about government funding or radical measures like the one currently on the ballot in Missouri (Amendment 2), which would write a right to cloning into the state constitution.

Additionally, embryo-destroying stem-cell research is by no means the only or the most promising stem-cell research. Alternative research -- including cord-blood research and adult-stem-cell research -- is already working, unlike the embryonic-stem-cell research we’re all focused on as if it were a proven cure-all. As Princeton professor Robert P. George, who sits on the president’s bioethics commission, tells National Review Online:
[T]he ads exaggerate the therapeutic potential of embryonic stem cells beyond anything that Michael J. Fox or anyone else has reasonable grounds to believe they can be used to accomplish. Adult stem cells -- stem cells that can be obtained harmlessly from umbilical cord blood, bone marrow, fat, and other sources -- have actually been used successfully to treat people. They have been used to improve people’s lives. Embryonic stem cells have not helped anyone. No one knows when, if ever, embryonic cells will be used in therapies at all. Indeed, not a single embryonic-stem-cell-based therapy is even in stage one of clinical trials. That is because the tendency of embryonic stem cells to produce tumors makes it unethical to use them in human beings -- even in experimental treatments. By contrast, there are more than 1,000 adult-stem-cell-based therapies in clinical trials. In his ads, Michael J. Fox hides these crucial facts, thus creating an appallingly false impression and slandering candidates against whom the ads are directed.”
Couric's 'Couric & Co.' blog posting about her interview.

CBSNews.com has posted video of the entire half hour Couric spent with Fox, and promises a transcript.

Below is a transcript of the portion of the “exclusive” interview which aired in the first of two excerpts played on the October 26 CBS Evening News:
Katie Couric: “The political battle over federal funding for embryonic stem cell research has been front page news the last couple of days, and that's because of a flap over TV commercials featuring actor Michael J. Fox who's a very outspoken advocate of such research. A few hours ago, he stopped by our studio for an exclusive interview, but first, a bit of history and his role in this latest controversy.”

Scene of Fox in Spin City: “I cannot believe what I'm hearing.”

Couric: “He isn't really a spin doctor. He just played one on TV. But Michael J. Fox has become one of the most visible crusaders on the campaign trail, rallying voters for Democrats who support embryonic stem cell research.”

Fox at Tammy Duckworth campaign event: “We need brave, smart, energetic people to step up and lead right now.”

Couric: “Fox, one of the 1.5 million Americans suffering from Parkinson's disease, appeared in suburban Chicago on Tuesday, a strong show of support for Illinois congressional candidate Tammy Duckworth. And he's done ads for candidates in three states, including this one for Missouri Democratic Senate candidate Claire McCaskill.”

Fox in TV ad: “In Missouri, you can elect Claire McCaskill, who shares my hope for cures.”

Couric: “That ad prompted conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh to accuse Fox of exploiting his illness.”

Rush Limbaugh on Monday, in Web video of his radio show: “This is really shameless of Michael J. Fox. Either he didn't take his medication or he's acting, one of the two. He is moving all around and shaking, and it's purely an act.”

Couric: “Later that same day, Limbaugh offered this apology:”

Limbaugh: “All I'm saying is I've never seen him the way he appears in this commercial for Claire McCaskill. So I will, bigly, hugely, admit that I was wrong, and I will apologize to Michael J. Fox if I am wrong in characterizing his behavior on this commercial as an act.”

Couric, in facing chair across from Fox: “And joining me now is Michael J. Fox. How are you?”

Fox: “I'm fine, thank you.”

Couric: “When you did the campaign ad, tell us what you were experiencing that day and what we were seeing as a result.”

Fox: “Well, on any given day, I have a thousand different things I can feel. I go through a million cycles during the course of a day. For example, right now, this is a dearth of medication, not by design. I just take it and it kicks in when it kicks in. Sometimes it kicks in too hard, and you get what is called dyskinesia, which is that rocking motion I had when I did the commercial.”

Couric: “When you go side to side and that's caused actually by the medication?”

Fox: “It's caused by medication. It's funny the notion that you could calculate it for effect and the people with Parkinson's out there are just kind of going, would that we could.”

Couric: “Could you have waited to do that ad when you were -- had less dyskenisia, for example?”

Fox: “When do you know when that's going to be? Funny, my mother was visiting me day, was in the back room, and she was saying throughout -- throughout the filming of it, she was talking to my friends back there, and she was saying, he's trying so hard to be still. And so she was the one who actually -- when the comments were made, she was the only one I talked to who was really angry, and she said, 'I can't even see straight.' I said, 'mom, just relax, it's okay.'"

Couric: “In fact Rush Limbaugh suggested that you had failed to take your medication intentionally, so when you did that ad you'd be more symptomatic and, therefore, more sympathetic.”

Fox: “Irony is I was too medicated.”

Couric: “I called Rush Limbaugh and he told me: [text on screen] 'I believe Democrats have a long history of using victims of various things as political spokespeople because they believe they are untouchable, in fallible. They are immune from criticism.'”

Fox: “First thing, he used the word 'victim.' and on another occasion I heard he used the word 'pitiable.' Understand, nobody in this position wants pity. I don't want pity. I could give a damn about Rush Limbaugh's pity, anyone else's pity. I'm not a victim. I'm someone in some situation, I think I'm in this situation along with millions of other Americans, and we he a right, if there's answers out, to pursue those answers with the full support of our politicians, and so I don't need anyone's permission to do that.”

Couric: “You have said before this is a bipartisan problem that requires a bipartisan solution.”

Fox: “Disease is a non-partisan problem that requires a bipartisan solution.”

Couric: “Would you support a Republican candidate?”

Fox: “I have. Arlen Specter is my guy. I have campaigned for Arlen Specter. He's been a fantastic champion of stem cell research. In the meantime, separate and apart my political involvement I started a foundation that has raised $85 million for research and is the second leading fund of Parkinson's research after the federal government. And, you know, it's not -- I'm not a johnny-come-lately. Nobody plucked me off the apple cart to come and do this. I mean, I believe in this cause. I put a lot of my life and energy into it and we're serious about it.”

Couric: “What about research on adult stem cells?”

Fox: “It's fantastic.”

Couric: “This is such a political hot potato, as you well know.”

Fox: “But the point of it is that the cells that we're not using, hundreds of thousands of cells that are left over from invitro fertilization are being thrown away, are being wasted. They're not going to become life. They're not going to become life. They're being thrown away.”

Couric: “Some people are concerned about this science because they feel it's a slippery slope, and that there won't be enough oversight or regulation.”

Fox: “Everything is a slippery slope. Getting up in the morning is a slippery slope. You apply your best sense of intelligence and ethics and planning and foresight and oversight into what you do. I mean, you know, like I said, why we have this lack of faith in our scientific community? I don't know. They've done such wonderful things for us over the years.”

Couric: “What about other people who say, 'listen, this can be done in the private sector.'
Why not take politics out of it? Why not take it out of the government's hands?”

Fox: “Well, the government, the government builds us roads, the government builds us, you know, things to keep us safe and to -- and in different parts of society, and I think our health is an integral part of society. And the other thing is the federal government can throw more money at these things by accident, than the private sector can on purpose. There are 100 million Americans that are either touched by incurable illness or knows somebody who has an incurable illness, or loves somebody who has an incurable illness, and my hope was by being that guy that says I know that guy, that 14 days after an election we'd be talking about stem cells. And we are and I'm greatly gratified. If bringing the message means the messenger gets roughed up a little bit, I'm happy to be that guy.”
Couric then plugged another excerpt to air later in her newscast, ostensibly about Fox's personal struggles with his disease, but he used the time to plead for more federal funding.

After the plug, Couric noted:
“By the way, in the spirit of full disclosure, I think it's important to mention that my dad has Parkinson's disease. He told me today it's okay to tell that you. And in the past, I've made contributions for Parkinson's research through Michael J. Fox's foundation.”
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center