Back in 2006, Rush Limbaugh responded to an ad that actor Michael J. Fox had made, in which he endorsed Missouri Senate candidate Claire McCaskill over her support for embryonic stem cell research, by accusing him of “exaggerating the effects of [Parkinson's] disease.” Limbaugh also claimed “either he didn't take his medication or he's acting,” mimicked Fox's tremors, and falsely accused the actor of doing ads only for Democrats. Limbaugh later apologized -- then suggested Fox had deliberately taken too much medication to induce the tremors displayed in the ad.
Limbaugh waded back into that controversy again on his May 24 radio show -- this time by getting Fox's latest remarks wrong and minimizing his own role in attacking Fox in 2006.
Limbaugh cited an article at the anti-abortion website LifeNews to claim that Fox, in Limbaugh's words, “is admitting that stem cells -- nothing to him. Right here, I have it, LifeNews.com, Michael J. Fox admits embryonic stem cells likely will not cure him.” Limbaugh insisted that this proves his earlier claim that embryonic stem cell research “was not even about curing Parkinson's or Alzheimers” but “a way to promote abortion.”
In fact, not only did Fox not specifically reference embryonic stem cell research in his recent comments -- adult stem cells are a different avenue of research -- but he didn't say that there was “nothing” to it. Fox said that stem cell research is “part of a broad portfolio of things that we look at,” other avenues of research have become “as much or more promising,” and that he's “glad” to have promoted stem cell research in the face of those who tried to shut it down for “ideological reasons.”
From a May 18 ABC interview with Fox:
DIANE SAWYER (host): Our colleagues at Yahoo say that they're getting a lot of questions about stem cell research and whether this is the promise, this is the future.
FOX : Well, certainly stem cell is an avenue of research that we've pursued and continue to pursue, but as -- it's part of a broad portfolio of things that we look at. There's been some issues with stem cells, some problems along the way, although there's work continuing at places like Sloan-Kettering, they're doing some good work. But I would say that it's not so much that it's diminished in its prospects for breakthroughs as much as it's the other avenues of research have grown and multiplied and become as much or more promising. So, an answer may come from stem cell research, but it's more than likely to come from another area, and we're continuing those.
SAWYER: There may be a secret in it, we're just not there yet. We haven't found the secret.
FOX: Yeah. I'm glad I put the effort into promoting it, into -- I mean, really, my quest in that regard was really about research freedom and not shutting down avenues of research because of ideological reasons that were countered by the majority's opinion of whether it was worthwhile doing so. Hopefully, stem cell will result in something. I'm glad we pursued it, I'm glad we fought for the right to do it. But there's other areas too that we're pursuing.
SAWYER: So the whole thing is to be able to ask the questions -
SAWYER: -- and not have anything foreclosed from asking the questions.
FOX: Yeah. It really is tough when you respect the other side's opinion and you want to hear it, and you sit down and you say, “Tell me, tell me what your issues are,” and then you counter it with an argument that's supported by two-thirds of the country. And so there's got to be some weight given to that too.
Limbaugh returned to the subject later in his show, repeating his misleading claim that Fox said there was “nothing there” on embryonic stem cell research -- ignoring the simple point that one has to actually do the research to find out if something will work or not -- going on to call the embryonic stem cell debate “phony.” He then went about rewriting his own history on the issue:
LIMBAUGH: Remember the grief I took? Michael J. Fox entered the political arena by doing commercials for this, and I was critical, and you can't be critical -- it's not nice to be critical of somebody suffering this disease. Well, wait a minute now. Once you enter the political area, you don't -- you're not inoculated from criticism. That was my point. But, of course, Michael J. Fox was inoculated -- that was the whole reason for using him, so he couldn't be criticized, and I didn't get the memo. No, I got the memo, I just ignored it.
As noted above, Limbaugh did much more than “criticize” Fox -- he baselessly accused Fox of manipulating his symptoms for the camera and mockingly mimicked his tremors.
In the final segment of his show, Limbaugh noted Fox's response to Limbaugh's attacks -- Fox said, “It only sharpens your resolve” -- and added his own creative interpretation: “He's basically saying I make people better, which we all know to be the case.”