CBS’s "The Early Show" followed last night’s Michael J. Fox bonanza on the "Evening News" with more of the same on Friday morning. "The Early Show" aired more than 13 minutes of coverage to stories mentioning Fox, more than 10 minutes of that focused on Fox alone, while just a mere 40 seconds dealt with a response ad starring Patricia Heaton and Jim Caviezel.
Hannah Storm called Fox "courageous" and asserted "you just couldn’t take your eyes off the television last night." Harry Smith thought Fox’s interview was "powerful" and urged all those opposed to embryonic stem cell research to "at least listen to these arguments." Additionally, CBS tried to make Fox out to be nonpartisan, despite the fact that he is running commercials for Democratic candidates. Yet in their awe of Michael J. Fox, there was no exploration of the claims made in his political commercials and whether they are indeed factually accurate. Nor did CBS take the opportunity to differentiate between different types of stem cells. In fact, in a live interview, Katie Couric called Rush Limbaugh, someone who raised questions about Fox’s ads, "heartless."
Katie Couric chastised Rush Limbaugh:
"...And I think that Rush Limbaugh himself would admit that the way he expressed his feelings about Michael J. Fox's involvement with this was certainly heartless."
Everyone feels sympathy towards Michael J. Fox and his ailment, but he put himself in the political arena, and should therefore be subject to scrutiny. Just because he suffers form a terrible disease, does not put his position on stem cell research beyond question. Let us remember, Pope John Paul II suffered from the exact same ailment as Michael J. Fox, and he opposed embryonic stem cell research because he believed it to be immoral. But, you didn’t see the media fawning over him for his position, did you? It is not heartless to question the motives or issue positions of someone who has entered the political fray, although Limbaugh mimicking Fox’s movements was certainly in poor taste.
The Early Show also portrayed Fox as a nonpartisan, highlighting the fact that he supported Arlen Specter in 2004:
Katie Couric: "And he has in the past supported Republican candidates like Arlen Specter who believed that embryonic stem cell research is an important medical breakthrough..."
But just because he supported Arlen Specter does not make him nonpartisan. Specter is a liberal Republican who draws support from some fairly partisan Democrats in Pennsylvania. If Fox is so nonpartisan, why is he not running ads for Lincoln Chafee as well?
Harry Smith proclaimed that Fox thought he was just promoting an issue in Missouri:
"Michael J. Fox thought he was just promoting stem cell research in Missouri but this commercial for a senate candidate led to a political fight that still hasn't ended."
However, in the Missouri ad in question, Fox explicitly asks voters to cast their vote for Claire McCaskill, the Democratic candidate.
CBS played also played up the sympathy factor, in the 7:30 half hour Hannah Storm labeled Fox as courageous, and Katie Couric agreed:
Hannah Storm: "So courageous."
Katie Couric: "He is incredibly courageous, I think, because as he said, he checks his vanity at the door..."
Earlier at 7:15, Co-hosts Harry Smith and Hannah Storm fawned over Michael J. Fox following a report by Cynthia Bowers:
Hannah Storm: "Isn't that amazing to see Michael J. Fox struggling with the symptoms of the disease, but so eloquent and so impassioned. I thought it was just incredible."
Harry Smith: "The most powerful thing, I thought, was when he said, look, we all, there's so many people across America who have this in common. Fighting a disease like this or family who is fighting a disease like this. And for people who are opposed to it, you should listen, at least listen to these arguments."
Hannah Storm: "He said it’s non partisan but needs a bipartisan solution."
And at the top of the broadcast, Hannah Storm was enamored with Couric’s interview of Michael J. Fox as she proclaimed:
"And as we said, coming up, we’re going to have much more of Katie Couric's incredibly compelling interview with Michael J. Fox. You just couldn't take your eyes off the television last night. Fox discussed his struggle with Parkinson’s disease, responded to Rush Limbaugh's criticism of his appearance in a political ad and Katie will be here in our next half hour to talk about it."
But with all the expressions of admiration, as noted earlier, CBS neglected its journalistic mission and failed to explore whether Fox’s claims in his ads are entirely factually accurate. It is one thing for a viewer to admire the man for fighting for a cause he believes in, but that is not the role of the media.
There were three full stories about Michael J. Fox and his recent political activism, and the transcript of Hannah Storm’s discussion with Katie Couric follows:
Hannah Storm: "Katie Couric is the anchor and managing editor of the "CBS Evening News." It's good to have you here with us this morning Katie."
Katie Couric: "Thanks, Hannah. It's really nice to be here, although it's a little weird for me."
Hannah Storm: "I'm sure it is, and thanks for getting up early."
Katie Couric: "Oh, of course."
Hannah Storm: "And, this was just so amazing. Last night to see him physically struggle with the symptoms of the disease and yet be so eloquent and impassioned. What was it like to sit there and be across from him talking to him?"
Katie Couric: "Well, clearly, it was initially unsettling, you know, because it's very difficult to watch someone who can't control his movements. And then I think ultimately, what you see is his spirit and his passion and his candor and his vulnerability shining through. And obviously, he's an extremely compelling spokesperson for this cause, because as he said, you know, I put a face on this disease. And millions of people suffer from not only Parkinson's but other neurological disorders that he feels could be helped tremendously if embryonic stem cell research goes forward."
Hannah Storm: "And he is in the middle of this huge firestorm with everyone commenting on this, and Rush Limbaugh's comments which we'll address in a minute. But, so calm and measured and respectful of everyone's opinion."
Katie Couric: "Well, what, you know, he said to me, Hannah, I'm not a Johnny come lately to this fight. You know, he's been involved and been an activist for many years. He was diagnosed with Parkinson's 15 years ago when he was 30 years old and has been quite active politically for quite a long time. So, he is not new to this party. And I think he pointed out, he does want to have a reasonable discussion with people. And he wants to be respectful of other views and by the way, you know, he has said repeatedly, this is a nonpartisan disease and it requires a bipartisan solution. And he has in the past supported Republican candidates like Arlen Specter who believed that embryonic stem cell research is an important medical breakthrough. So it's not just all Democrats. It happens to be during these midterm elections that he is stumping for candidates that are more receptive to this kind of science."
Hannah Storm: "At one point his microphone actually fell off during the interview, and you reached over and clipped it back on. What were you thinking at that time?"
Katie Couric: "Oh, well, I was thinking how hard this must be. Because -- you know, as you --"
Hannah Storm: "So courageous."
Katie Couric: "He is incredibly courageous, I think, because as he said, he checks his vanity at the door. I mean, to be in that business, a movie star and then to put yourself out there in this situation, I think requires an incredible amount of heroism and bravery and you have to admire him for that, no matter how you feel about the issue itself."
Hannah Storm: "Rush Limbaugh was extremely critical of Michael J. Fox and the political ads saying 'he's moving all around and shaking and it's purely an act, this is really shameless of Michael J. Fox. Either he didn't take his medication or he's acting.' And you called Rush and talked to him about this."
Katie Couric: "Well, he later apologized for that statement, and I wanted to make sure I was representing his beef accurately and responsibly. So, I talked to him and he told me what troubles is he feels as if the Democratic party too often uses victims, a word that Michael J. Fox takes issue with, to go out and that because of their situations, they're infallible and they can't be criticized. And he feels that when someone's in the political arena, they should expect to be criticized for their particular position. Now, of course, initially, you know, this notion that Michael J. Fox manipulates his medication I think scientifically, that's just not true. I think Michael J. Fox wishes he could -- any Parkinson's patient, wishes he or she could manipulate their medication. And I think that Rush Limbaugh himself would admit that the way he expressed his feelings about Michael J. Fox's involvement with this was certainly heartless."
Hannah Storm: "You also told viewers last night that your father suffers from Parkinson's disease. This is something that, I know, you had an hour special on Parkinson's with Muhammad Ali and others who have suffered from the disease. What is it like to love someone who suffers from Parkinson's?"
Katie Couric: "Well, you know, it's -- I've had a lot of experience, Hannah, with feeling powerless when someone's sick with my husband and my sister. And it is absolutely horrific feeling to feel that you can't do much to help. But my dad, my dad's Parkinson's is fairly slow and progressing. My dad's 86 years old. He was diagnosed with Parkinson's right after Jay died, and I saw his hand shaking, and I said, daddy, what's wrong with your hand? He said, I'm just nervous. But, you know, he takes medication. And as Michael brought out in our interview, it becomes less efficacious as the days and months and years go by. And your window of sort of stillness becomes shorter and shorter. So, obviously it's important that whatever avenue we pursue that new cures are investigated. But my dad is doing really well. And, you know, like Michael, he makes the best of his situation. And so many Parkinson's patients do that, 1.5 million in this country. And you know, they certainly deserve all our admiration and not our sympathy, but our support."
Hannah Storm: "Katie, thanks so much for being with us this morning. We appreciate it."