Respectful Insolence

Yesterday afternoon, while working on grants, I was flipping through radio channels, and I came across something that stopped my dial twiddling in its tracks. It was Rush Limbaugh, and he was trashing Michael J. Fox for making a commercial in support of stem cell research.

As you may recall, Michael J. Fox is the unfortunate sufferer of a virulent form of Parkinson’s Disease, which he contracted at the very young age of around 30. He’s now had it for 15 years, and, as Parkinson’s is wont to do, it’s slowly gotten worse. Indeed, Fox has more or less given up acting since 2000 because of the disease. He now heads an advocacy organization, the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research and has become a strong advocate for stem cell research, given that Parkinson’s Disease is one of the diseases for which stem cell therapy shows promise. He has appeared in a political ad for Claire McCaskill in Missouri, and this is what ticked Limbaugh off:

Limbaugh’s reaction was utterly despicable. He assailed Fox for using his disease to “shill” for a Democratic candidate. But, worst of all, he said:

A political ad in which a Parkinson’s-afflicted Michael J. Fox talks about stem cell research was criticized Monday by conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who asserted that Fox was “either off his medication or acting” while filming the commercial.

“Michael J. Fox is allowing his illness to be exploited and in the process is shilling for a Democrat politician,” Limbaugh said of the ad for Senate candidate Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

Limbaugh later seemed to back off the idea that Fox was acting out symptoms, saying he didn’t mean to imply “that one could easily act it out for the purposes of a commercial.”

But he also said, “I have gotten a plethora of e-mails from people saying Michael J. Fox has admitted in interviews that he goes off his medication for Parkinson’s disease when he appears before Congress or other groups as a means of illustrating the ravages of the disease.”

This article doesn’t give the full flavor of what Limbaugh actually sounded like. He accused Fox of acting multiple times before finally saying that he thought that Fox was either acting or intentionally went off his medications for the ad. Audio of Rush’s tirade can be found here, so that you can see for yourself what I mean. However, there was much more than just this clip, as this transcript shows.

Such ignorance and spite are appalling. For one thing, the medications used to treat Parkinson’s Disease become slowly less effective over time, requiring higher and higher doses. And these medications have side effects that are not trivial. For example, I’m not a neurologist, but to me it looked as though the movements that Fox was demonstrating were not due to his Parkinson’s, but rather due to dyskinesia (a known side effect of the most common treatment for Parkinson’s, L-Dopa). Parkinson’s disease looks different, with tremor, rigidity, and bradykinesia, generally not dyskinesia as its key characteristics (think Pope John Paul II in the months before he died or Muhammed Ali). In any case, multiple Google searches failed to show any evidence that Fox ever said he went off his medications for dramatic effect when advocating for Parkinson’s Disease research. The movements in the ad, which are tragic to look at, are almost certainly a consequence of the chronic use of dopamine agonists used to treat Fox’s Parkinson’s disease and stand as a visual testament that we truly do need better treatments for this disease, which in its later stages becomes a horrible choice between the symptoms of the disease itself or the consequences of chronic use of the drugs needed to control the disease.

Rush Limbaugh: Mocking and beating up on seriously ill people to make political hay. Ya gotta love it. Even if you are of the opinion that stem cell research has been overhyped and that claims have been made for it that it is unlikely to live up to, this is not the way to make that point.

ADDENDUM: Apparently Grrlscientist doesn’t like this either. Art Caplan has also castigated Rush.

ADDENUM #2: The Rude Pundit weighs in and confirms that this was almost certainly dyskinesia:

Now, a Google and Lexis/Nexis search hasn’t revealed where this admission by Fox might have come from. But the Rude Pundit did find a July 24, 2002 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle where Fox said that the meds give him dyskinesia. “The more L-dopa one takes, the more pronounced the dyskinesia. Timing the medication, Fox says, has become an important part of his routine.”

Comments

  1. #1 Skeptico
    October 24, 2006

    Fox should have doped himself up on OxyContin – there would have been no problem then.

  2. #2 Turcano
    October 24, 2006

    So Rush Limbaugh is a giant putz. In other news, the earth is round and revolves around the sun.

    Seriously, what do expect from a guy who once referred to a president’s daughter as the family dog?

  3. #3 Chuck C
    October 24, 2006

    ‘Course, the GOP members weren’t exploiting Terri Schaivo’s health issues in order to make pollitical hay.

    Nope, no exploitation there.

  4. #4 Alison
    October 24, 2006

    I just got finished looking at this over at Crooks and Liars, and I don’t think it will become any less appalling no matter how many times I read about it. One commenter had the audacity to criticize Fox for not caring about curing Parkinson’s until after he got it himself. Since Rush can’t actually attack his opponents for anything they’ve actually done, though, claiming that someone who is sincere is faking his illness is about all that’s left to him.

  5. #5 PiGuy
    October 24, 2006

    It’s been said before (or nearly so) but rush Limbaugh is a Big Doped-Up Idiot.

  6. #6 tripp
    October 24, 2006

    I don’t know if this is where Rush got his info, but the “E True Hollywood Story: Michael J. Fox” did say the part about going off his meds to show the full extent of the disease. I don’t believe Fox says it himself in the show, but the narrator states this while showing Fox’s testimony before congress. Whether this is accurate or not, I have no idea…

  7. #7 Pharma Bawd
    October 24, 2006

    William J. Weiner M.D., professor and chairman of the department of neurology at the University of Maryland Medical Center. He’s also director of the Parkinson’s clinic there.

    …:

    What you are seeing on the video is side effects of the medication. He has to take that medication to sit there and talk to you like that. … He’s not over-dramatizing. … [Limbaugh] is revealing his ignorance of Parkinson’s disease, because people with Parkinson’s don’t look like that at all when they’re not taking their medication. They look stiff, and frozen, and don’t move at all. … People with Parkinson’s, when they’ve had the disease for awhile, are in this bind, where if they don’t take any medication, they can be stiff and hardly able to talk. And if they do take their medication, so they can talk, they get all of this movement, like what you see in the ad.”

    http://www.tnr.com/blog/theplank?pid=51219

  8. #8 qetzal
    October 24, 2006

    For example, I’m not a neurologist, but to me it looked as though the movements that Fox was demonstrating were not due to his Parkinson’s, but rather due to dyskinesia (a known side effect of the most common treatment for Parkinson’s, L-Dopa).

    I’m not a neurologist either, but I agree. Which makes Limbaugh’s comments that much more stupid – MJF’s movements in the video seem to be evidence that he is on meds (with dyskinesia), not off.

  9. #9 Ali
    October 24, 2006

    I heard this on the radio, too. My grandmother suffered from Parkinson’s. I wouldn’t wish it even on scum like Limbaugh. I can only hope that he alienated at least some of his devoted audience with that ridiculous monologue. I was thinking the same thing about the dyskinesia, fwiw.

  10. #10 Steve Watson
    October 24, 2006

    Fegh, Limbaugh has no decency, does he?

    My mother had Parkinson’s (albeit late-onset). I got to see her “frozen”, I got to see her mobile, alert — and paranoid-delusional (a side effect of high doses of L-dopa) — and finally I got to watch her spend the last three years of her life mumbling incoherently in a wheelchair, trapped between taking enough Sinemet to give her some movement, but balanced by enough anti-psychotics to prevent the delusions. CAT scan showed “cerebral atrophy”, though I was never clear on whether that was an effect of advanced PD, or an independent disease process (she also had the usual octogenarian CV issues, including occasional TIAs). Watching the tragedy unfold broke my father’s heart and killed him three years back, then Mom finally passed away last May (ie. in body — as a person that you could hold a simple conversation with, she had been “gone” for a while).

  11. #11 Amy Alkon
    October 24, 2006

    I blogged this too, and linked to Fox’s very moving account of his experience with the disease, along with another clip of him on The Actor’s Studio.

    http://www.advicegoddess.com/archives/2006/10/giving_michael.html

  12. #12 TheProbe
    October 24, 2006

    What amazes me is that anyone is really shocked by what Limboob said. He is the classic do as I say, not as I do, neocon nutcase. He opposes reasonable accommodations under the Americans With Disabilities Act, but has his own to deal with his hearing problems. He bleated and brayed over drug users in the early days of his show, where one hour was carried exclusively on WABC in NY. He claims that AD/HD and other similar conditions are actually excluses dreamed up to avoid personal responsibility.

    When it comes to Rush Limboob, you get vile air.

  13. #13 Prup aka Jim Benton
    October 24, 2006

    Apparently Limbaugh repeated the attack today — after Fox appeared in an ad for Ben Cardin. The political blogs have been all over this. The report of today’s idiocy can be found — among other places — at

    http://www.firedoglake.com/2006/10/24/compassionate-conservatives/

    But as several comentators have noticed, this should not be surprising in an election which has seen one Republican Congressional Candidate say to her Libertarian opponent, who has MS, ‘If you weren’t sitting in that chair, I’d slap you across the face.’ Which has another Republican gubernatorial candidate accuse his opponent — a minister and psychologist — of being supported by NAMBLA because, as a Congressman he voted ‘present’ on a bill. Which has a Republican congressional candidate accuse his opponent — who supported allowing partners of gays into the country — of trying to ‘flood the country with homosexuals.’

    Etc., etc, ad a level of nauseam all the medication in your hospital’s pharmacy wouldn’t cure.

  14. #14 Hyperion
    October 24, 2006

    I choose to look at this in a positive spin:

    Fox showed incredible courage in speaking about a difficult personal battle in the hopes that he might be able to help others, even knowing that any cure would likely come too late for him to benefit.

    The reaction to Limbaugh illustrates that the vast majority of society finds that sort of bigotry against disabled individuals utterly despicable.

    Incidentally, given his substance abuse problems and proclivity for saying really tactless things without thinking first…maybe Rush is AD/HD.

    Nah.

  15. #15 Greg P
    October 24, 2006

    As another neurologist, but not MJF’s neurologist, I saw the video clip on TV, not on the internet.

    Clearly, this is a dyskinesia, most likely from medication.
    One might consider whether he might have intentionally taken “too much” medication to do this, but as I observed the clips, what I noticed was that he didn’t have the dyskinesia when he wasn’t talking. This suggests to me that his symptoms are rather tenuously under control, so in order to be mobile, he has to push to the edge of side effects. I have many patients who sense that they “need” that dyskinetic tendency in order to keep from freezing.

    No doubt Rush Limbaugh has former conservative fans who have Parkinson’s or someone in their family with it.

  16. #16 Brian X
    October 24, 2006

    You know, this basically proves two things about the most visible Republicans out there: Most of them are heartless bastards, and based on their attitude that stem cell research is overhyped, simply don’t get the point of basic research.

    I know there are moderate conservatives out there — we had twelve years of them running the Commonwealth of Massachusetts before the current arch-conservative spacefiller. The smart conservatives need to take their party back from the wingnuts and put an end to the culture wars or we’re all in a great deal of trouble.

  17. #17 Greg P
    October 24, 2006

    As another neurologist, but not MJF’s neurologist, I saw the video clip on TV, not on the internet.

    Clearly, this is a dyskinesia, most likely from medication.
    One might consider whether he might have intentionally taken “too much” medication to do this, but as I observed the clips, what I noticed was that he didn’t have the dyskinesia when he wasn’t talking. This suggests to me that his symptoms are rather tenuously under control, so in order to be mobile, he has to push to the edge of side effects. I have many patients who sense that they “need” that dyskinetic tendency in order to keep from freezing.

    No doubt Rush Limbaugh has former conservative fans who have Parkinson’s or someone in their family with it.

  18. #18 spelger
    October 24, 2006

    i too heard rush say these things. honestly i do not find what he said to be as bad as you. not every one on teh planet knows all about this disease nor has the time to do the research. i don’t have it. i don’t have the time to research it. i might even say something like that out of ignorance. that does not make me a bad person. that does not make rush a bad person. let the attacks begin.

  19. #19 Orac
    October 24, 2006

    Rush went way beyond merely spouting off out of ignorance.

    He accused Fox of either faking his symptoms or, later, of not taking his medications. And he made that accusation repeatedly. (I’ve even been informed that he did it again today.) In essence, in his eagerness to attack anything he sees as “liberal,” Rush showed such a reckless disregard for the truth as to be very close to lying. Rush acted like a spiteful moron in this case. Period.

  20. #20 A.
    October 25, 2006

    If memory serves, Fox explained the dyskenesia during an appearance on Bravo’s “Inside the Actor’s Studio”.

  21. #21 James
    October 25, 2006

    It would seem to an outsider to US politics that if the Republicans want to stop the likes of Fox from “shilling” for the Democrats, all they have to do is change their stance on stem cell research.

    I have a hard time understanding why abortion is such a big political issue in your country. In New Zealand abortion is uncontrversially legal. I don’t beleive a single party in parliament has a stated policy on abortion and the most political action you see on the subject is an occasional letter to the editor and some guy who stands outside parliament with a sign (mostly just reading the paper).

  22. #22 Pinko Punko
    October 25, 2006

    spegler, when I accuse you of horrible atrocious things, it’s just out of ignorance. I’m not a bad person. So sorry. Nice troll post, I’m sure you’ll have everyone worked up into a froth. Chunderbag.

  23. #23 JW Tan
    October 25, 2006

    Spegler said:

    “i too heard rush say these things. honestly i do not find what he said to be as bad as you. not every one on teh planet knows all about this disease nor has the time to do the research. i don’t have it. i don’t have the time to research it. i might even say something like that out of ignorance. that does not make me a bad person. that does not make rush a bad person. let the attacks begin.”

    Two observations:

    (1) In general, when in ignorance, most sensible people shut up, or ask questions. The latter is favoured.

    (2) When caught in ignorance, admit it, retract the statement, and correct oneself. This is the courteous thing for “good persons” to do.

  24. #24 Berlie
    October 25, 2006

    I did see an interview with Fox, Oprah way back when, where he says that he went off the meds for his appearance in Congress. Although, he also explained that they knew he was off them, and it was to show them what a Parkinson’s sufferer would eventually have to deal with.

    Spegler, I have to agree with Tan. If you don’t know what you’re talking about, either research it, or keep your d**n mouth shut. And I would agree it does not make you a bad person, just a really lazy or stupid one. Aparrently, you or your family have never been the victim of rumors started by someone who didn’t bother to learn the full story.

    -Berlie

  25. #25 DrSteve
    October 25, 2006

    Of course, if stem cells could cure fatness, baldness, hearing loss, oxycontin addiction or rectal cysts, Rush would join MJFs foundation.

    Well, maybe not for the rectal cysts since he needs those to avoid any upcoming drafts.

  26. #26 Kiwiwriter
    October 25, 2006

    Rush Limbaugh says a good deal of his harsher rhetoric for that noblest of purposes: to get higher ratings. When he spews out vicious garbage like that, it gains him attention, people fire off angry e-mails, and tune in to his show, either to argue the point or hear what he’ll say next.

    Other radio shock jocks have pulled off equally tasteless stunts: Opie and Anthony in New York sent a couple into St. Patrick’s Cathedral with a sound crew, ordered to have sex in that venerable building, live, on microphone. The Archdiocese was furious, the FCC even more so. Opie and Anthony got the axe…and then a better deal from a rival station that smelled controversy and high ratings thereof.

    Beau Duran of Phoenix pulled his rock in the 2002 baseball post-season. The Cardinals’ pitcher Darryl Kile had died of a heart attack earlier in the year, and his widow was attending the playoffs in Phoenix. Duran phoned her up in her hotel room, and hit on her — asking the grieving widow out on a date, live and on the air. Duran got the axe, but only after the station took four days to ponder the situation. The radio station apologized…not to Mrs. Kile and the Cardinals, but to the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Cardinals had the last laugh, as they won the series.

    Howard Stern is the master of this ugly art, and every young radio host, political or otherwise, has sought to imitate him, and that’s what they are, pale imitations.

    Rush has not been hot news for a while, so I guess he figured he needed to be more visible.

    It’s ugly and disgraceful. Unfortunately, being ugly and disgraceful seems to be a big part of the human make-up.

  27. #27 Kiwiwriter
    October 25, 2006

    Rush Limbaugh says a good deal of his harsher rhetoric for that noblest of purposes: to get higher ratings. When he spews out vicious garbage like that, it gains him attention, people fire off angry e-mails, and tune in to his show, either to argue the point or hear what he’ll say next.

    Other radio shock jocks have pulled off equally tasteless stunts: Opie and Anthony in New York sent a couple into St. Patrick’s Cathedral with a sound crew, ordered to have sex in that venerable building, live, on microphone. The Archdiocese was furious, the FCC even more so. Opie and Anthony got the axe…and then a better deal from a rival station that smelled controversy and high ratings thereof.

    Beau Duran of Phoenix pulled his rock in the 2002 baseball post-season. The Cardinals’ pitcher Darryl Kile had died of a heart attack earlier in the year, and his widow was attending the playoffs in Phoenix. Duran phoned her up in her hotel room, and hit on her — asking the grieving widow out on a date, live and on the air. Duran got the axe, but only after the station took four days to ponder the situation. The radio station apologized…not to Mrs. Kile and the Cardinals, but to the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Cardinals had the last laugh, as they won the series.

    Howard Stern is the master of this ugly art, and every young radio host, political or otherwise, has sought to imitate him, and that’s what they are, pale imitations.

    Rush has not been hot news for a while, so I guess he figured he needed to be more visible.

    It’s ugly and disgraceful. Unfortunately, being ugly and disgraceful seems to be a big part of the human make-up.

  28. #28 Coin
    October 25, 2006

    The sad thing here is, Limbaugh’s “rhetoric” worked. The media now appears to be running more stories about Limbaugh attacking Fox than they are about the Fox ad itself. It doesn’t matter if a bunch of bloggers who already support stem cell research and already think Limbaugh is despicable geta chance to reconfirm their premises; if Limbaugh can eclipse the message of Fox’s ad among the public with the message of “Fox’s ad faked (says some guy)”, or allow stem cell opposers an out by handing them the meme that they can think about the “controversy” of Fox’s ad rather than having to actually face the pain that Parkinson’s sufferers are going through, he’s won.

    Well poisoned. Mission accomplished.

    Oh, and the first celebrity counter-ad is already planned.

  29. #29 Pharma Bawd
    October 25, 2006

    There’s a response add up already. I had to rant about it a little here:

    What Would Jesus Do About Michael J. Fox?

  30. #30 Commander Nemo
    October 25, 2006

    Shilling, eh? What did Flush have to say when Nancy and the First Alzheimer’s Patient did their ads for STR?

  31. #31 Jonathan Dobres
    October 26, 2006

    As someone with a mild disability, I found Limbaugh’s remarks absolutely infuriating. Americans with disabilities are largely invisible to wider society, and MJF should be applauded for his brave attempts to raise awareness. Not only brave, but necessary. Limbaugh’s comments are some of the most ignorant I’ve ever heard. My feelings on the issue are very strong, and I wrote a longer version here.

  32. #32 David Harmon
    October 28, 2006

    “…maybe Rush is AD/HD. Nah”

    More like E/SOB!

  33. #33 G. Tingey
    October 30, 2006

    Orac said: “Rush acted like a spiteful moron in this case.”

    No.

    Rush Limbaugh IS a spiteful moron.

  34. #34 Rebecca
    October 30, 2006

    My only problem with this article was that the link for “Dyskinesia” was for Wikipedia. While the info may be accurate, Wikipedia is generally considered an unreliable source of information as anyone can add or change the entries. As a student, the general consensus of my professors, regarding Wikipedia, is that I might as well be citing a Cracker Jack box.

  35. #35 HCN
    October 30, 2006

    This might be better: http://www.wemove.org/pdys/

    But the Wikipedia article may actually be more understandable. It is probably good for a general definition in a blog entry, but NOT for a research report.

  36. #36 Rey Fox
    October 30, 2006

    Even if he was off his meds, then how is that exactly dishonest? Why not show what Parkinson’s disease is like? What exactly is Rush’s point? “We don’t need stem cell research because if you just bankrupt yourself with medication that you have to take every day of your life, you’ll be relatively fine and dandy! Unless you have adverse reactions to that medication, in which case you’re screwed!”

  37. #37 Bronze Dog
    October 30, 2006

    Orac said: “Rush acted like a spiteful moron in this case.”

    No.

    Rush Limbaugh IS a spiteful moron.

    G. Tingey’s got it down: Rush doesn’t need to act.

  38. #38 ruby
    October 31, 2006

    Rush isn’t exactly in a position to be accusing others about taking or not taking drugs, youknowwhatimean?

  39. #39 Paul
    November 3, 2006

    Limbaugh is a problem, but he’s every bit as much a symptom suffered by our society. I’ve been disabled over a decade now, and have suffered heavily during that time from the same sort of bigotry that has people attacking his appearance.

    After writing as many emails as I could last week, started working on a video that I just got posted: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ayuINRlr9Lo
    Took a while, maybe too long, but with some symptom flare-ups, guess I shouldn’t complain.

    Fact is — and I’m pretty sure most disabled, including Fox would agree — we just want to be treated like everyone else. Granted that’s not always easy, and understanding is really very much appreciated, but that’s about it.