Friday, October 27, 2006
He Said/She Said Woodshed
A number of commenters have objected to my characterization of Katie Couric's interview with Michael J. Fox. yesterday. Obviously I need to explain why I think it was wrong.
First of all, this is not actually a "controversy" in any legitimate sense. It was ginned up by Rush and the right wing noise machine to try to discredit a powerful spokesman for this issue, which is a very dangerous one for the Republican party. Now, it may be that the backlash against Rush will prove to have been worse than the fake one he and the press tried to create, but that's a testament to the basic decency of most people and the class act that is Michael J. Fox.
From the moment that Rush began his tirade (for which he has not apologized, despite the press's insistence that he has) the issue became whether Fox was faking his symptoms or failing to control them, whether it was right for him to show them at all, whether people should be "playing the gimp card" etc. All this is part and parcel of the right's ongoing program of character assassination. (Coulter recently took on the 9/11 widows, you'll recall.) Rush made this explicit earlier this week:
This is a script that they have written for years. Senate Democrats used to parade victims of various diseases or social concerns or poverty up before congressional committees and let them testify, and they were infallible. You couldn't criticize them. Same thing with the Jersey Girls after the 9-11 -- and in the period of time when the 9-11 Commission was meeting publicly. Victims -- infallible, whatever they say cannot be challenged. I don't follow the script anymore.
That's absurd, of course. The right holds up all kinds of people as being unassailable, particularly (Republican) veterans and religious figures. But that's not even the point. Nobody says you can't criticize a "victim's" point of view or disagree with their take on the issue. Rush could have made a straightforward argument that stem cell research is wrong. But the right wing almost never does this on any issue anymore. Virtually every time, they attack the person's character.
They do this for a number of reasons. The first is to give their followers some reason to reject a compelling argument like that set forth by Fox. They send this idea into the ether that Fox is faking it and create a controversy that suddenly makes what seems to be self-evident --- Michael J. Fox is suffering horribly from a dread disease that might be cured with stem cell research --- into a matter of interpretation. It furthers their meme that Democrats are phonies and flip-floppers who don't stand for anything. It helps their base come to terms with their own internal contradictions. They have turned spin into a worldview.
But they also want to advance the idea that the message always depends upon who is delivering it and you can accept or reject it purely on the basis of tribal identification. ("Don't think, meat.") And to do that they've introduced a form of congitive relativism in which there is no such thing as reality. The press's lazy "he said/she said" form of journalism reinforces it.
We've seen quite a bit of this in the campaign. In this case they are trying to make people feel ok about selling sick people down the river with the religious right's irrational devotion to saving embryos and the braindead at the expense of everyone else. In another, just a couple of weeks ago we saw James Dobson of Focus On The Family and many Republican politicians make a case that the Mark Foley scandal was a political dirty trick or that the pages had set him up.
Katie Couric becomes part of the problem when she validates these ginned up controversies or gives credence to accusations for which there is no evidence. She knows very well that nobody can really doubt Fox's sincerity. He's raised tens of millions of dollars for the cause and it's evident to anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear that he's got this horrible disease. He should not have to prove that he's not faking his symptoms and it's unconscionable that the media is allowing the issue to be framed that way.
If it was necessary to refute Limbaugh's ridiculous claims, she should have had a leading expert in Parkinson's come on to discuss the symptoms and then interview Fox about the issue itself. Instead she presented it like a "he said/she said" by interrogating Michael J. Fox about whether it was proper for him to go ahead with the shoot when it appeared that he was going to look like a Parkinson's sufferer on camera. In doing so she validated the accusation that he might have been faking it when the only "evidence" was Limbaugh's noxious ravings.
Yes, Fox was articulate and well able to defend himself because he has been in the public eye nearly his entire life, he's a professional and he has guts. And every time he appears he probably helps the cause of stem cell research because of that. But that doesn't change the fact that this method of dealing with phony right wing noise machine controversies leads to all those who oppose Rush Limbaugh's version of reality being constantly on the defensive over nothing. The press knows it, just as they know without doubt that Michael J. Fox is a sincere and legitimate spokesman for stem cell research who isn't faking a bloody thing. They persist because it's an easy way to pretend they are not biased. But it is biased in itself and it's a major reason why the rightwing has been so successful.
Even after that interview, the CBS web-site is running a poll today that asks:
Was Michael J. Fox exaggerating his Parkinson's disease symptoms for political effect?
Here's an email from a reader on this subject:
I cannot explain to you how seething mad I am over the remarks made by
Limbaugh and his friends in the conservative shithole universe. I
thought I reached the boiling point when I was able to view the
Limbaugh video of that fatass druggie mocking, MOCKING Fox's symptoms.
Then, I thought I would lose it when Lauer said "Didn't Limbaugh just
say what everyone was really thinking?". All wrong, the final nail
was the Couric interview and the portion you wrote about. What the
hell is the matter with people in this country when they're
questioning the authenticity of a person with a horrible, progressive
As a 23yo male who's been battling against a progressive
disease(Cystic Fibrosis) all his life and will continue to do so until
a cure is found, the original Michael J. Fox ad was both moving and
forceful. I've been singing the hopeful benefits of stem cells for
years now and have even managed to sway a few decent republicans my
way; indeed, my political transformation was mostly spearheaded by the
stem cell issue in 2001 and subsequent utter failures by
People with progressive diseases already wear different masks for
different occasions, but when it comes to treatments for our diseases,
we're supposed to put on a happy face and say, "hey, maybe one day if
congress comes around something fruitful will happen!!"? Not in my
lifetime. It's bad enough I feel as if I have to compose myself as a
somewhat healthy person during school, social events or else face
stares and neverending questions, but when people like Fox are
attacked in a very public way for "coming out of the closet" so to
speak, then I seriously start to question and worry for this country.
Like you said, should we just stay in our rooms and hope one day those
without disease will champion our causes?
It's like war; who do you want leading the fight? Some general with
battlefield experience or the ivy educated whizkid? I think the
current events answer that one.
I'm mad. I'm pissed. I literally want to throw something at the TV
every time I see some offthewall commentator proffer up his/her
worthless opinion on what Fox should and shouldn't be doing and how
it's so "political." You're left with one option against a
progressive disease -- to stay alive using every option, treatment
possible. And in this current "war," the patients with diseases such
as Fox's and mine are stepping onto the field not only without any
armor, but without a gun too.
How sad America has become when science is simply a tool to bludgeon
the head of those who advocate its welcome benefits.
That's what Rush and the cynical political creeps he represents don't want people to hear. They know they are on the wrong side of this issue.
If you want to see the full depth of Limbaugh's depravity and media complicity on this, Media Matters has documented the whole thing.
digby 10/27/2006 03:56:00 PM