Michael J. Fox Pilloried on our Bruising Political Culture
Did you gin up your illness to wring sympathy from viewers in a political ad?
The minute I heard Rush Limbaugh had gone out on that creaky limb -- of course, he now says the "drive-by media" distorted the points he was making -- I knew he had committed the same mistake Republicans have been making all year.
Progressives and liberals can't touch conservatives when it comes to crafting a powerful message and amplifying it through a secondary network of TV, radio and print outlets which serve their agenda. So their only problem comes when they wound themselves -- taking the rough and tumble of modern-day election propagandizing way too far.
Limbaugh's comments may have boosted the morale of hardcore Dittoheads who love seeing him tear into a celebrity they perceive as a typical Hollywood liberal. But he also made Fox look sympathetic as hell to anyone with an ounce of objectivity during the former TV star's appearance a few hours ago on Katie Couric's CBS Evening News broadcast.
To his credit, Fox has kept an amazingly good attitude about Limbaugh's blockheaded criticism -- sitting through a set-up report by Couric that included clips of the talk radio king waving his arms in a horribly insensitive parody of his pro-stem cell research commercial. (humor Web sites sprung into action, offering parody stories in which Limbaugh accused Christopher Reeve and U.S. troops killed in Iraq of faking their deaths to serve a liberai agenda)
One sample --
Couric: “I called Rush Limbaugh and he told me, ‘I believe Democrats have a long history of using victims of various things as political spokespeople because they believe they are untouchable, infallible – they are immune from criticism.’”
Fox: “Well, first thing, he used the word ‘victim’ and [on] other occasions I heard you use the word ‘pitiable.’ Now understand, no one in this position wants pity. We don’t want pity. I could give a damn about Rush Limbaugh’s pity or anyone else’s pity and I am not a victim.”
Still, I got a little queasy watching a guy who has done nothing but work hard to beat a horrible disease patiently explain that Parkinsons sufferers can never anticipate the effects of medication, and that too much medication can also produce uncontrollable movements -- which what he says happened during the commercial taping. He also noted offering similar support to Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, a cancer survivor who also is an aggressive advocate for stem cell research.
This interview also proved to me the degree to which Couric makes herself vulnerable to conservative critics, simply because she reacts to their flak more visibly. Asking Fox probing questions as a devil's advocate, she wound up treating Limbaugh's paranoid political fantasies as a valid concern, instead of bringing some reasonable perspective to a clearly wacked out concept.
I already knew Limbaugh was full of it, because I had heard from a friend years ago who sat next to Fox and his family at a vacation resort dining hall and told me sadly of how tough it was for the former Family Ties star to control his movements, even then. Couric, who admitted at the end of her interview that she has contributed to Fox's stem cell charity for years and has a father who is struggling with Parkinson's, also knew the deal going in and should have made that clear in her questioning.
Thanks to Couric's fear of looking partisan, we viewers spent long minutes watching a guy with an awful illness explain how it is so awful, he really couldn't have controlled it in the way Limbaugh claimed. It became a living testament to how putrid our political discourse has come, especially on TV -- as debates on terrorism, nuclear arms and the limits of freedom in a democracy at war are boiled down to shouting matches between Susan Estrich and Laura Ingraham on the Today show.
As if from the mouth of babes, former NBC News correspondent Linda Ellerbee has produced a documentary for Nickelodeon on this very issue (airing at 8:30 p.m. Nov. 5), Cheap Shots and Low Blows: How Debate turns to Hate, asking, "is debate more honest when we take the gloves off, or just louder?"
Watching her capture Ann Coulter express sympathy for Limbaugh having to look an Al Franken book with a bruising title (her quote about Muslims: "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.") is almost as sidesplitting as seeing Franken criticize the argument culture just before justifying the book's title.
The lesson here is simple. Time for the silly arguments to stop and the search for real answers to begin (I'll be trying to put this ethic into action when I appear on Rob Lorei's local pundit show, Florida This Week at 8:30 p.m. Triday on WEDU-Ch. 3).
And its time for media figures to stop profiting from the fight and start leading the charge to sanity. Because if they don't, who will?