CNN presented Michael J. Fox as the "center" of controversy spurred by Limbaugh smears
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The October 24 edition of CNN's The Situation Room featured a report on nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh's accusation that actor Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson's disease, may have exaggerated the effects of his disease in a campaign ad for Missouri Democratic Senate candidate Claire McCaskill. Blitzer introduced the segment, asserting that Fox was "at the center of a campaign controversy." Correspondent Mary Snow did not clarify the nature of the controversy -- over comments made by Limbaugh, not Fox -- until about halfway through her two-minute-and-20-second report.
Intermittently throughout the segment, CNN showed text at the bottom of the screen that read: "Fox ads in good or bad taste?"
A spokesman for McCaskill's opponent, Sen. Jim Talent (R-MO), denounced Limbaugh's comments on the October 24 edition of Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson, saying: "I'm certain Senator Talent would never make a comment like that. It's just inappropriate."
From the October 24 edition of The Situation Room
BLITZER: His face and name are very well-known, and so is his disease. Michael J. Fox, the actor who's long publicly talked about having Parkinson's, is now at the center of a campaign controversy. Let's go to our Mary Snow. She's in New York, she's joining us to explain. Mary?
SNOW: Well, Wolf, it started out as a powerful moment during the World Series. Something you wouldn't see in the stands, but at home during a commercial break.
We've seen him before campaigning on behalf of stem cell research, but this year, television viewers could clearly see the toll Parkinson's disease has taken on Michael J. Fox.
FOX [video clip]: They say all politics is local, but that's not always the case. What you do in Missouri matters to millions of Americans. Americans like me.
SNOW: Fox is campaigning for Missouri U.S. Senate candidate and Democrat Claire McCaskill. In the ad, Fox urges voters not to support Republican Senator Jim Talent.
FOX [video clip]: Unfortunately, Senator Jim Talent opposes expanding stem cell research. Senator Talent even wanted to criminalize the science that gives us a chance for hope.
SNOW: Fox did similar ads for Democrats in Wisconsin and Maryland. It drew a strongly delivered response from conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who, on his nationally syndicated show, called into question why Fox was shaking so much.
LIMBAUGH [audio clip]: This is really shameless, folks. This is really shameless of Michael J. Fox. Either he didn't take his medication, or he's acting. One of the two.
SNOW: Some conservatives who oppose embryonic stem cell research don't agree with the way Limbaugh handled it.
RAMESH PONNURU [National Review senior editor]: I don't think Republicans are going to be hurt because one talk show host, however influential, said something foolish, although it wasn't helpful. I think the key thing that Republicans are going to have to do is explain that these ads oversimplify the issues.
SNOW: Embryonic stem cell research has gained much attention in Missouri because there's a state ballot initiative that basically supports stem cell research and any therapies that come of it. Proponents of the initiative have spent nearly $3 million in advertising, compared to the $111,000 from the opposition. Still, there is competition on the airwaves.
WOMAN [video clip from ad]: Embryonic stem cell research will require millions of eggs, and women will pay a terrible price.
SNOW: And while campaigning, Fox has taken issue with critics of embryonic stem cell research who've raised concerns about human cloning and egg farms. He said he is opposed to that. Wolf.
BLITZER: Mary Snow reporting for us. Mary, thanks very much.