On Good Morning America, Hannity offered a host of misinformation to attack Michael J. Fox

On Good Morning America, Sean Hannity accused Michael J. Fox of, as host Diane Sawyer put it, “shilling” for Democrats, claimed without elaboration that Fox's campaign ad in support of Missouri Democratic Senate candidate Claire McCaskill contained “factual inaccuracies,” and baselessly defended Rush Limbaugh's accusation that Fox was “exaggerating the effects of the disease” in the ad. Similarly, on The O'Reilly Factor, Culture Campaign president Sandy Rios falsely claimed that Fox was “lying” in his advertisement.

On the October 25 edition of ABC News' Good Morning America, Fox News host Sean Hannity accused actor Michael J. Fox of -- as host Diane Sawyer put it -- “shilling” for Democrats, claimed without elaboration that Fox's campaign ad in support of Missouri Democratic Senate candidate Claire McCaskill contained “factual inaccuracies,” and baselessly defended conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh's accusation that Fox was “exaggerating the effects of the disease” in his McCaskill ad. Similarly, during the October 24 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, Culture Campaign president Sandy Rios claimed that Fox was “lying” in his advertisement. In fact, Fox is campaigning for candidates who support embryonic stem cell research and has -- contrary to Hannity's suggestion that he has campaigned only for Democrats -- appeared in a campaign ad for Republican Sen. Arlen Specter (PA). Also, in his McCaskill ad, Fox stated that McCaskill's Republican opponent, Sen. Jim Talent (R-MO), “opposes expanding stem cell research”; and, in fact, Talent has opposed legislation that would “expand[] stem cell research,” as Media Matters for America has previously noted.

On Good Morning America, Hannity suggested that the “very political” Fox would support only Democratic candidates, asserting that Fox “wants to defeat these Republicans” and accusing Fox of engaging in “a little hypocrisy here” due to his support of Maryland Democratic Senate candidate Ben Cardin. But Fox has not limited his endorsements to Democrats. In 2004, he supported Specter. Fox appeared in a Specter campaign ad and, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, “prais[ed] Specter for his support of stem cell research and his role in doubling NIH [National Institutes of Health] funding for biomedical research."

Moreover, Hannity's charge of “hypocrisy” by Fox is baseless. According to Hannity, “Ben Cardin voted the opposite way,” on stem cell research than Fox would have “wanted.” Hannity then asked of Fox: “Why isn't he running ads against the Democrat [Cardin]?” Hannity did not elaborate on how Cardin “voted the opposite way” on stem cell research, and Cardin's voting record does not bear out Hannity's point. Cardin voted for H.R. 810, a House bill supported by Fox that would have “amend[ed] the Public Health Service Act to provide for human embryonic stem cell research.” On July 13, 2005, Fox spoke at a Senate rally in support of the bill, saying, "[T]he science is clear. Even the NIH says that more embryonic stem cell lines are needed." By that point, Cardin had already voted in support of the bill. After the bill passed the Senate on June 18, President Bush vetoed the legislation on June 19. Cardin then voted to override the veto, a bid that failed to gather the required two-thirds vote to succeed. Cardin did vote against the Alternative Pluripotent Stem Cell Therapies Enhancement Act, but that bill was opposed by the two lead sponsors of H.R. 810, Reps. Michael Castle (R-DE) and Diana DeGette (D-CO). As Castle noted in his floor speech voicing his opposition, “It requires researchers to develop new ways to create or isolate embryonic stem cells before the research with embryonic stem cells can even begin. So you add a whole additional step to the process. And in speaking with Dr. Leon Kass, the former director of the President's Bioethics Council, it could take years to develop these isolation techniques, which means the research is being held up even further.” DeGette opposed the bill for similar reasons, summarizing her opposition by stating: “Frankly, this bill does worse than nothing. This bill diverts attention and resources away from embryonic stem cell research, which is the research that really shows promise for diseases that affect tens of millions of people, diseases like nerve damage, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and so many others.”

Additionally, Hannity and Rios both claimed that Fox's ad was inaccurate -- Rios accused Fox of “lying” in the advertisement and claimed that it was “not true” that “Talent is against the expansion of stem cell research,” while Hannity claimed the ad contained “factual inaccuracies” and stated that he “believe[ed] it [the ad] will backfire in the end because there is false information in the ad.” In fact, Talent has indeed opposed expanding some forms of stem cell research. As Media Matters for America has previously noted, while Talent supports adult stem cell research, he is opposed to stem cell research which involves “destroying a human embryo.” Talent has also opposed a proposed Missouri constitutional amendment to legalize stem cell research in the state and has voted against easing the restrictions President Bush imposed on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

Further, after being questioned by Sawyer on whether Hannity felt Limbaugh went “too far” in attacking Fox, Hannity purported to defend Limbaugh, replying: “My take on what Rush said, was that Rush was referring to Michael J. Fox's own admission in his own book where he said that he stopped taking medications.” Fox stated in his memoir Lucky Man (Hyperion, 2002) that he testified before Congress in 1999 “without medication.” However, contrary to Hannity's suggestion, Limbaugh did not merely accuse Fox of not taking his medications. As Media Matters noted, Limbaugh initially accused Fox of “exaggerating the effects of” his “disease” and asserted that Fox's visible tremors were “purely an act.” Later in the program, Limbaugh added that Fox could have neglected to take his medication, stating, “this is really shameless of Michael J. Fox. Either he didn't take his medication or he's acting, one of the two.” As Media Matters has noted, it was not until the next day that Limbaugh pointed to Fox's statement in his book to justify his accusation that Fox had not taken his medication.

From the October 25 broadcast of ABC News' Good Morning America:

HANNITY: What's so sinister about this ad, first of all, it's an 11th-hour ad. It comes out, Michael J. Fox knows he's -- well, he wants to defeat these Republicans, that's why two weeks out of an election, he's come in here. Michael J. Fox -- the issue of the medication came up because of that. Look, there are some factual inaccuracies in the ad and need to be debated. And I think, you know, unfortunately, he wants to create an impression here, Republicans don't care about the health of people, they don't want to cure Parkinson's. This is only about the funding of federal stem cell issues.

SAWYER: Well, well. But Rush Limbaugh, even in his apology, said that Mike Fox was allowing his illness to be exploited, shilling for a Democratic candidate. If you have Parkinson's disease and you believe embryonic stem cell research is the answer, a possible answer, a possible cure, don't you have a right to speak up?

HANNITY: You have a right to speak up, but he also has a right to be criticized. He's a guy that is very political, he wants the defeat of these candidates. You know, there is some little hypocrisy here. He's supporting a guy in Maryland, [Democratic Senate candidate] Ben Cardin, and Ben Cardin voted the opposite way of which he wanted. Why isn't he running ads against the Democrat? He supported [2004 Democratic presidential nominee] John Kerry, he supported [Sen.] Chuck Schumer [D-NY]. He wants these guys defeated. It doesn't -- he's not immune from any criticism.

SAWYER: Right. Bottom line, did Rush Limbaugh go too far for you?

HANNITY: My take on what Rush said was that Rush was referring to Michael J. Fox's own admission in his own book where he said he stopped taking medications.

SAWYER: He didn't say that.

HANNITY: Well, that's my understanding.

SAWYER: He didn't talk about the congressional testimony. He was talking about this ad.

HANNITY: I didn't hear the comments, but my understanding is that Michael J. Fox had admitted that. Look, you know something, Diane? Everybody wants Michael J. Fox to get well. Every Republican I know, every Democrat. Everybody wants a cure for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and Parkinson's. It is an insidious, difficult disease. What's unfortunate and deceiving about the ad, though -- this is important -- is that this is about the federal funding embryonic stem cells. Stem cell research is legal in Missouri. It's being funded, and it's going on in state universities, and that's not put in the ad.

SAWYER: Well, there's a big difference between adult and embryonic, as we know. But anyway.



SAWYER: OK, quickly from you. We know the latest poll from ABC, 54 percent think the Democrats in their congressional district should be elected; 41 percent, the Republicans. What's going to happen? Thirteen days.

HANNITY: Boy, if I could pick those, I think I'd be a pretty wealthy guy. You know, look, it's always the sixth year of an election, as you know, is always tough for the party in power. But I sense, being on radio talking to people three hours a day and television one hour a night, that there's been a momentum shift. I think this Michael J. Fox ad is going to backfire. I think -- I believe it will backfire in the end because there's false information in it. I think, you know, I think if the Democrats want to play the race card, I think that'll backfire. And I think the race ultimately is going to be decided on issues. National security, immigration, taxes. And when people focus on that, I think that benefits the Republicans.

From the October 24 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:

RIOS: Bill, everybody feels terrible for him. That ad is just really hard to watch. I mean, we all love Michael J. Fox and the things that he's done, but his illness and the severity of it does not give him license to mislead people in a political commercial, which is what he did.

And actually, the problem is -- could I just say that even in your setup, the misleading part is to say that Michael J. Fox is helping support those people that want more research on stem cell research.

That's not the point. Everybody wants more stem cell research. Adult stem cell, cord blood has been very successful.

The controversy is on embryonic stem cell research.

O'REILLY: All right, so you say he's misleading the public. How?

RIOS: He's actually lying. He's said Jim Talent is against the expansion of stem cell research. That's not true. Jim Talent is against embryonic stem cell research, because embryos have to be destroyed for that process.

O'REILLY: So Fox didn't make the distinction between all stem cell research and embryonic?

RIOS: That's what lots of people are not doing. And so therefore, people like Jim Talent and [Republican Senate candidate] Peter Roskam here in Illinois and [Republican Senate candidate] Michael Steele in Maryland are becoming -- they're becoming smeared. As though they don't care about Michael J. Fox?


O'REILLY: But wait, wait, wait. But the stem cell lobby says flat-out, “If you don't want all kinds of stem cell, including embryonic, then you're holding up the process.” That's their argument.

RIOS: Bill, the research does not show that at all. Embryonic stem cell research, in the cases where it has been used -- and it has really been used in very few studies because they're kind of afraid of it -- has caused tumors. It has been a woeful failure.

O'REILLY: OK. I got it. I don't want to --

RIOS: The advances in stem cell are adult.

O'REILLY: I don't want to debate the issue because it never ends. You know what I'm talking about?

RIOS: But this is the truth.