Last night, as I settled in to watch my St. Louis Cardinals beat the Detroit Tigers (fairly, no less!), I told my husband about a political ad I’d seen the day before. It featured actor Michael J. Fox asking people in Missouri to support an amendment to their state constitution that would ensconce embryonic destruction for the purpose of stem-cell research.
I’m a big fan of Fox and I have followed his battle with Parkinson’s for a while. Which was why I was shocked to see what a devastating turn for the worse the disease had taken with him. He was writhing around, lifting a contorted hand and bobbing back and forth.
When I had seen him on a television show a few weeks ago, he seemed to have been doing well — or at least along the lines of what I have come to expect when I see him every few months. Like all good campaign commercials, this one was emotionally gripping. I wondered, though, whether Fox and the commercial’s producers had overdone it a bit in their attempt to be politically effective.
My husband informed me that Rush Limbaugh was in a world of trouble over similar comments about the commercial. He said he thought that Fox either didn’t take his medication or was acting to exaggerate the effects of the disease. Let’s look at how The Washington Post handles this today:
Possibly worse than making fun of someone’s disability is saying that it’s imaginary. That is not to mock someone’s body, but to challenge a person’s guts, integrity, sanity.
I can’t tell from the online version, but I suppose it’s possible that this comes from that den of complete immunity: the Style section. Still, I’m not sure if even the Style section permits such gross mischaracterization of Limbaugh’s comments. Limbaugh didn’t say Fox imagined he had Parkinson’s. He said Fox exaggerated the effects. When someone makes an incendiary comment that you want to criticize, exaggerating the comment serves no one. What Limbaugh said — though I must admit I thought exactly the same thing — was bad enough. At least I only told my husband. And now you all. Let’s keep it between us, if that’s all right.
In polite society, we’re not allowed to wonder whether someone with a horrible disease is playing it up for sympathy or political gain. We’re all supposed to permit the victim to say or do whatever he wants. You lose a son in combat, you’re an expert in foreign policy. You develop a debilitating disease, you’re an expert in bioethics. It may not be fair, but that’s how the game works.
Even if Fox has admitted that he lays off his medication before public appearances where he’s trying to elicit support.
Anyway, my real beef with this and almost all other stories dealing with embyronic-destroying stem-cell research is that they fail to distinguish between stem-cell research and embryonic-destroying stem-cell research. To wit:
The actor, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, has done a series of political ads supporting candidates who favor stem cell research, including Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin, who is running against Republican Michael Steele for the Senate seat being vacated by Paul Sarbanes.
That is not true. What reporter David Montgomery means to say is that Fox is campaigning for candidates who favor embryonic stem-cell research.
Everyone, more or less, favors stem-cell research. Stem cells are considered very exciting avenues for research these days because of their remarkable potential to develop into different cell types in the body (muscle cell, brain cell, skin cell). Some stem cells come from adults while other stem cells come from embryos. Each type has various advantages and disadvantages.
Some people don’t think advances in science should come by destroying embryos. Others think destroying embryos is a price you have to pay for the possibility of developing cures to diseases.
Characterizing people who oppose destroying embryos as opponents of all stem-cell research is unconscionable. It’s one thing if Michael J. Fox does it in a campaign commercial. It’s another if a reporter for a publication like The Washington Post does it.
Words have meaning. Journalists, of all people, should know that.
UPDATE: GetReligion is a forum for discussing how the media treat religious issues. It is not a forum for discussing religious issues themselves. Or scientific issues. Or medical issues. Please do not comment on your personal views of embryonic stem-cell usage. Comments are open for discussion of how the media treat this issue.