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Fearless Philosophy For Free Minds: The Drive-by Media Targets Limbaugh Once Again

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Drive-by Media Targets Limbaugh Once Again

Rush Limbaugh has once again found himself in the crosshairs of what he cleverly (and quite accurately I might add) refers to as “the drive-by media” over remarks he made on Monday’s program concerning Michael J. Fox’s campaign ad concerning stem cell research. Since then Limbaugh has devoted a substantial amount of the past week to the subject to better explain his problems with Fox’s ad and respond to criticisms he has received.

Limbaugh’s assertions (as I understand them at least) are as follows:

-The Democrats are using Michael J. Fox’s emotional plea to accuse Republicans of wanting to restrict or criminalize embryonic stem cell research

-Fox’s ad is misleading (as is the ballot measures Fox is promoting); offers victims of conditions such as Parkinson’s false hope

-Fox was likely either not taking his medication or used his acting ability to make the ad more dramatic and effective

-When anyone, regardless of who he or she is, enters the political “arena of ideas” he or she is fair game for fair criticism

Out of all of these assertions, the drive-by media chose to focus on the third argument. From there certain media outlets selectively quoted Limbaugh to make it appear as though he was doing nothing other than personally attacking Fox for three hours of his program. The Washington Post’s headline reads “Limbaugh Mocks Michael J. Fox’s Political Ad.” WaPo does not go into any of Limbaugh’s other points at all and he certainly was not mocking Fox. In the online edition by MSNBC, there is also a poll that asks “Did Limbaugh’s comments go too far?”

The poll question is a fair one (which I will answer below), but what about the other questions Limbaugh raised? Are they not worthy of debate? It seems to me that WaPo could have provided a little more context.
In the spirit of context, this one of the ads in question:



Now let’s analyze Limbaugh’s assertions:

The Democrats are using Michael J. Fox’s emotional plea to accuse Republicans of wanting to restrict or criminalize embryonic stem cell research.

I believe this to be a fair criticism. In the ad Fox accuses Jim Talent for trying to criminalize embryonic stem cell research. Talent is opposed to the Missouri ballot initiative in question and voted against easing restrictions on FEDERAL FUNDING of embryonic stem cell research that President Bush eventually signed early in his presidency. This is not the same thing as criminalizing the research; being opposed to federal funding of the research is not the same thing as being opposed to the research. One would be very hard pressed to find lawmakers in either party who would criminalize the PRIVATE research of embryonic stem cells (but give the Christian Right/Pro Life crowd enough time and they will get their hooks into at least a few).

Fox’s ad is misleading (as is the ballot measures Fox is promoting); offers victims of conditions such as Parkinson’s false hope.

I would also agree with this assertion that the ad offers victims of Parkinson’s false hope. While I think Rush Limbaugh is wrong about embryonic stem cells not showing any promising results, I also think Fox is overstating the progress of the research. There seems to be no middle ground here (outside of the scientific community at least). Yet, if you read peer reviewed medical journals [pdf], you will likely find that progress is being made but there is still a long, long way to go (surely Fox knows this?). This is precisely why this research is so important. But for Michael J. Fox to suggest that if Democrats are elected the cure will be all but found is wrong. I hate to be the bearer of bad news here but I doubt the cure will be ready in time to benefit Fox or anyone else who currently suffers with Parkinson’s. I would really like to be wrong about this but the cure is likely to be several decades away. It simply is not fair to act as though the cure will be found soon for those who are suffering now.

Fox was likely either not taking his medication or used his acting ability to make the ad more dramatic and effective.

Limbaugh based his medication claim on something Fox wrote in his autobiography several years ago. In the autobiography, Fox admits that he purposely chose not to take his medication when appearing before congress to speak on the issue. I think that’s a fair assumption. But assuming he didn’t take his medication for the ad: so what? Fox is trying to make a point about his condition. I don’t think it is dishonest in any way.

The second part of Limbaugh’s assumption is just idiotic. Yes, I know he’s an actor and sometimes the Hollywood types do some outrageous things to make a point but when someone has an actual medical condition and shows signs of that condition, you just have to give him the benefit of the doubt. Rush Limbaugh is not a medical doctor and therefore unqualified to make such a determination. To answer the MSNBC poll question; yes, Rush Limbaugh did go too far with his comments.

For what its worth, Limbaugh apologized for his “acting” remark and was critical of those who misquoted him as saying that Fox was “faking” his symptoms (I fail to see a difference here).

When anyone, regardless of who he or she is, enters the political “arena of ideas” he or she is fair game for fair criticism.

I absolutely agree with this last assertion. For example: I personally have a problem with the media going after the family members of politicians who choose to lead private lives. However, when that family member decides to make political statements or advance policies, he or she is fair game for criticism. Similarly, Fox has chosen to enter the political arena. Having Parkinson’s or any other ailment does not give one a license to say whatever he or she wants without criticism. Such criticism should be based on the facts of the argument though. Rush Limbaugh did not need to get into whether or not Michael J. Fox was taking his meds or if he was acting. His other arguments would have been much more effective if he had stuck to his other points. If Fox’s political ad is misleading, it is quite proper to point out where the ad is wrong.

And there you have it: a more complete analysis of the points Rush Limbaugh was trying to make. Why can’t the drive-by media do this? Are they afraid to look into these arguments? That would mean they would actually have to do some research. It’s much easier to misrepresent someone who many people already despise anyway.

Related:
Michael J. Fox responds saying he was not off his meds
One More Time: I Did Not Make Fun of Michael J. Fox by Rush Limbaugh
New Scientist Stem Cell Page
How Stem Cells Work by Stephanie Watson

5 Comments:

Blogger Renee said...

As for Michael J. Fox, well he lived in this country for decades without being an U.S. citizen. Not until he wanted the government to fund embryonic stem cell research, he decided to obtain citizenship for the sole purpose of lobbying. It brings up comparison in the current immigration issue, Canadian Anglo and rich who wants pharmaceutical welfare no question , but Mexican Latino and poor not welcome.

Sure there aren’t any rich Anglos crossing the border, but the difference is the Latinos want to work, this Anglo is looking for to pay for a pork project that leads us no where in stem cell therapy. He’s rich. He has friends in Hollywood. He could raise his private funds, but no way he wants welfare (the government) to pick up that tab.

Why doesn't his wife and himself donate their procreative elements to create their own embryos for research? Since technically such embryos are his genetic offspring (let's not call them his children). There would be less fear of foriegn body rejection when the cells created from the embryonic stem cells are transfered, when they find a cure. Sure make other people sacrifice their progenitive capacity or leftovers from IVF in the name of science, apparently Fox's fertility is too sacred for such research.

http://thestar.com.my/health/story.asp?file=/2006/3/19/health/13676397&sec=health

"Using a person’s own bone marrow cells avoids the major problem in transplantation of foreign cells, namely the phenomenon of rejection. Since the adult human grows out of the fertilised embryo, if embryonic cells are injected into a patient, there is a possibility that the cells can regenerate the damaged part, whether heart or nerve. But our body resists the introduction of all foreign cells, a protective mechanism against the many germs in the environment. So if foreign embryonic cells are injected, the immune system of the body must be rendered weak, so that the cells can survive in the receiving host. Suppressing immunity will also make the patient vulnerable to the many types of germs of the surroundings. Furthermore, there is the ethical problem of “killing” embryos to get the cells. Hence, using a person’s bone marrow stem cells, which avoids the problems of immune suppression and ethical issues, is certainly a spark of genius! "

and also stem cells can from a women's menses....

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/medicalnews.php?newsid=39522
Quote:

In the first study, the team collected menstrual blood from six women to obtain a sample of endometrial cells (E-DOM). The researchers found that approximately half of the E-DOM cells contracted simultaneously, suggesting an electrical communication between the cells. Further analyses of the cells revealed appropriate cardiac gene expression and action potential, as well as sustained and significant positive cardiac troponin-1, a calcium-regulated protein in muscle tissue, and connexin 43, a protein that assists in intracellular interactions The in vitro data suggests that stem cells from this source have significant CM potential and are potentially valuable not only because they can be easily collected from young volunteers, but also because of their collection-efficacy. A single sample of the menstrual blood returns a large number of stem cells. In a second study, the same team collected human umbilical cord blood-derived mesenchymal stem cells (UCB-MSC). In reviewing these cells, nearly all of the UCB-MSC contracted simultaneously, indicating a significant electrical communication between the cells. Again the extended analysis showed cardiac gene expression, as well as significant positive cardiac troponin-1 and connexin 43.

8:54 PM  
Blogger Stephen Littau said...

Renee, you raised some very good points. Libertarians in particular seem to focus on government welfare when it comes to the poor. An equally or perhaps even more offensive use of taxpayer’s funds go to welfare for the rich. Neither are acceptable practices in my view.

Their does seem to be a grey area constitutionally speaking though when it comes to scientific research. I am not a lawyer so maybe you can help me out with this part of Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution:

“The congress shall have the power…To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries”

My understanding of this is that federal funding of scientific research is legally perfectly permissible. Otherwise, on what basis could the government create a program such as NASA?

Putting the legal issues aside for a moment: is federal funding the best way to go about making scientific discoveries? If his goal is to fund embryonic stem cell research or any other kind of research for that matter, Michael J. Fox would probably be better off going the private route (as you suggested in your comment). Fox does have the Hollywood crowd and lots of sympathetic individuals who would gladly donate to his cause. If the federal government starts funding the research, why would these same individuals even bother? Also, he should consider that with government funding there are always strings attached. With private research, the researchers would have more freedom to work.

As far as the actual promise of embryonic stem cells: I have a hard time believing that it would be pursued if there were no promising results. I must admit though that I need to do further research and perhaps revisit the issue in a future post. My current understanding is that embryonic stem cells offer the most hope because the cells can be manipulated to become virtually any kind of tissue. If I find that I am wrong, I will gladly revise my position. What I am interested in are the facts. Unfortunately this issue has been so politicized that the facts have taken a back seat to emotional arguments.

I also want to do further research in what you brought up about stem cells from menses. I have heard a great deal about stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood (when my wife was pregnant we received tons of brochures on the subject) but had never heard of taking cells from menses. I don’t know anything about it other than what you have written here but it seems to make sense that this could work similarly to cord blood.

At the end of the day though, all of this research is going to happen one way or another-federal funding or not. British PM Tony Blair has already stated that if the U.S. was not going to do embryonic stem cell research, the U.K. would. Many other nations are also participating. I sincerely hope that research, in whatever form it takes, will eventually find cures to many of these ailments in our lifetime. Michael J. Fox is putting a human face on the suffering of untold thousands. Though I have my disagreements with how he is proceeding, I cannot fault him for trying to make a difference.

12:58 PM  
Blogger SUNNYBROOK said...

I think the funniest part of this whole controversy is this admission by Fox after he was challenged.

8:09 AM  
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