Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Limbaugh says actor Fox exaggerating his disease as stem cell issue churns

Limbaugh says actor Fox exaggerating his disease as stem cell issue churns
By Andrea Stone, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — Rush Limbaugh has accused actor Michael J. Fox of exaggerating the physical effects of his Parkinson's disease in political ads urging viewers to vote for Democrats in next month's election.

The conservative radio host told listeners on Tuesday that Fox's lurching, palsied movements in a TV ad for Missouri Senate challenger Claire McCaskill were "an act." Limbaugh noted that Fox, a longtime advocate for research on embryonic stem cells, has said he sometimes does not take his medication in order to illustrate Parkinson's severe physical effects. Uncontrolled shaking and stiffness are among the symptoms of the nerve disease.

"If this was not an act," Limbaugh said later on the show, "then I apologize."

John Rogers, Fox's spokesman, called Limbaugh's remarks "shameful."

It's an appalling, sad statement," Rogers said. "Anybody who understands Parkinson's disease knows it's because of the medicine that one experiences" body movements like those seen in the ad.

Fox, who has had Parkinson's for 15 years, is supporting candidates who would vote to expand research using stem cells from human embryos.

Embryonic stem cells are the precursor cells to almost every tissue in the body. Advocates of their use in research say they hold more potential to cure spinal cord injuries, diabetes and other diseases than adult stem cells. Opponents say the research with embryonic cells, which destroys the embryos, amounts to abortion. This summer, President Bush used his first veto to kill a bill that would have funded research using leftover fertility clinic embryos that would otherwise have been discarded.

Fox has also made ads for Senate candidate Ben Cardin in Maryland and Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle.

In the McCaskill spot (, which aired during Game 1 of baseball's World Series on Saturday, Fox says McCaskill, the state auditor, "shares my hope for cures" while her opponent, Republican Sen. Jim Talent, wants to "criminalize" expanded research.

Talent spokesman Rich Chrismer called the ad "false" and says Talent supports "stem cell research that doesn't involve cloning or destroying a human embryo."

The Fox ads are part of a larger effort by Democrats who are using the issue as another weapon against Republicans already hurting from an unpopular war in Iraq and Bush's low approval ratings.

Democrats and interest groups are using ads, campaign events and celebrities in at least 20 House, Senate and governor races to push for more federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

Fox's dramatic ads are "very effective" with suburban voters, seniors and parents, says Evan Tracey of the non-partisan Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks political advertising. "It puts the Republicans on the wrong side of hope."

Other TV spots:

•Singer Sheryl Crow, a Missouri native and breast cancer survivor, appears in an ad ( sponsored by the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures, which backs a state ballot initiative to permit research on embryonic stem cells.

•In Arizona, an ad (www sponsored by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee features the granddaughter of Morris Udall, a popular congressman who died of Parkinson's disease in 1998. Loren Udall, who has the autoimmune disease lupus, says that "by voting in Congress to restrict stem cell research, (Republican Rep.) J.D. Hayworth has played politics with people's lives."

Brian Nick of the National Republican Senatorial Committee says such "fear-mongering" ads distort the positions of candidates who favor research using adult stem cells. "It's unfortunate they're using a good man like Michael J. Fox as a political pawn to misrepresent people's view."

Sarah Chamberlain Resnick of the Republican Main Street Partnership, whose members back embryonic stem cell research, says of Missouri's senator, "Talent's entire race is going to come down to stem cells. (McCaskill has) been killing him on it."