Stanley's Strange Take on Michael J. Fox's Misleading Campaign Ads

The Times finds space in its news pages for Alessandra Stanley's TV Watch column on actor Michael J. Fox's campaign ads supporting embryonic stem-cell research ("Making Stem Cell Issue Personal, and Political").

The liberal-leaning Stanley is impressed, though it's hard to tell from her determinedly quirky first paragraph: "The plea is as disturbing - and arresting - as a hostage video from Iraq. In a navy blazer and preppy Oxford shirt, the actor Michael J. Fox calmly asks viewers to support stem cell research by voting for several Democratic candidates in Maryland, Missouri and Wisconsin, while his body sways back and forth uncontrollably like a sailor being tossed around in a full-force gale.

"In short, Mr. Fox's display of the toll Parkinson's disease has taken on him turned into one of the most powerful and talked about political advertisements in years."

"Republican strategists who saw how quickly the commercial was downloaded, e-mailed and reshown on news broadcasts certainly thought so. Rush Limbaugh rushed in to discredit Mr. Fox, though he mostly hurt himself. Mr. Limbaugh, the conservative radio talk show host, told his listeners that the actor either 'didn't take his medication or was acting.' Mr. Limbaugh later apologized for accusing Mr. Fox of exaggerating his symptoms, but said that 'Michael J. Fox is allowing his illness to be exploited and in the process is shilling for a Democrat politician.'"

She takes a strange detour: "If Mr. Fox did forgo medication for the advertisement as Mr. Limbaugh suggested, it could hardly be considered fraudulent: if anything, masking the extent of the disease's ravages is the deception, not revealing them. (A spokesman for Mr. Fox said his tremors were caused by his medication.)"

She makes Fox heroic: "These are times in which most actors seem prepared to do anything, and pay any price, to disguise flaws that could harm their careers. So when a famous one exposes the full, frightening extent of his infirmity in the name of saving lives, it tends to get noticed."

But since Fox sadly had to retire from active acting because of Parkinson's Disease, is there an acting career to harm?

Jim Rutenberg files a side-bar examination of Fox's ad for Claire McCaskill, the Senate Democratic nominee in Missouri, noting that Fox has recorded similar ads for Senate Democratic candidate Ben Cardin in Maryland as well as Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle. Rutenberg fails to hammer Fox for the ad's false statement that "Senator Talent even wants to criminalize the science that gives us a chance for hope."

Although Rutenberg only examines the Missouri ad, Fox's ad for Ben Cardin, running for a Senate seat in Maryland, is also inaccurate. As noted in a comprehensive posting by Tim Graham at NewsBusters, Fox's claim in his pro-Cardin ad that "Cardin fully supports life-saving research" is unsubstantiated. It's far too early to make the "life-saving" claim for embryonic stem-cell research.