The phony attack on Bush's stem cell research "ban" (8/17)

By Brendan Nyhan

In his response to President Bush's radio address on August 7, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry drove home one talking point - that President Bush had banned embryonic stem cell research. He began by saying, "Three years ago, the President enacted a far-reaching ban on stem cell research" and later referred once to "the stem cell ban" and twice to "the ban on stem cell research." He never clarified his use of the word, leaving listeners to believe that President Bush has banned all stem cell research. But that is simply not true.

The reality is that the President has actually allowed federal funding for research into embryonic stem cell lines that had already been created before August 9, 2001 (22 are currently available according to the National Institutes of Health Embryonic Stem Cell Registry). Furthermore, privately-funded research can be conducted without restrictions in the United States. The only "ban" is on federal funding for new stem cell lines that were not included in Bush's original group - hardly the meaning that Kerry suggested in his address.

Unfortunately, this is part of a pattern, as Slate's Will Saletan, the Washington Post and the Associated Press have all pointed out. The Kerry campaign has pounded the "ban" talking point over and over in the last few weeks.

For instance, on July 26, a Kerry press release referred to "the ban on stem cell research," and an August 7 release on Kerry's radio address also referred to the alleged "stem cell ban" in its title and uses the term "ban" four other times. Also, in an August 9 speech, vice presidential nominee John Edwards falsely claimed Bush had created a "ban" three years before. The press release promoting Edwards' speech referred in its title to a "stem cell ban" and in its first sentence to "the three year anniversary of President George Bush's ban on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research," which is described as an "ideologically-driven ban." Only later did it clarify the meaning of the "ban".

When pushed on this issue, the campaign's defense - given by a spokesperson to the Associated Press - rings hollow:

Kerry spokesman Phil Singer said Bush's restrictions apply to 99.9 percent of potential stem cell lines that could be studied. "If that's not a ban," he said, "we don't know what is."

But as stated previously, Bush's restrictions apply only to federal funding, not to embryonic stem cell research itself. Nor does Singer's figure even make sense. "99.9% of potential stem cell lines" is an exaggerated and meaningless figure - there are an infinite number of "potential stem cell lines," and it is not true that 99.9% of currently available lines are off-limits. In May 2004, a Boston Globe survey found 51 lines available that were not eligible for federally-funded research, a number the newspaper said could rise to "more than 100" by the end of the year. In any case, the percentage of available lines that are off-limits is substantially less from 99.9%.

Other Democrats have also joined in recently. In one prominent example, Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) said during her address to the Democratic National Convention on July 26 that "We also need to lift the ban on stem cell research" without clarifying the meaning of the term "ban". And in a July 13 press conference promoting the convention, New Mexico Bill Richardson, a Democrat, referred to "the need to deal with diabetes and many other diseases that are prevented from the President's ban on stem cell research."

In a free society, there are no bans on misleading spin, but it's time for a moratorium on this deceptive attack.

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Update (8/19): A version of this post appeared in our Philadelphia Inquirer column today.

Related links:
-For more on how President Bush misled the country about the number of available stem cells in August 2001, read chapter 5 of All the President's Spin: George W. Bush, the Media and the Truth

8/17/2004 05:45:40 AM EST |


Bush misrepresents Kerry on Iraq (8/17)

By Ben Fritz

President Bush has a new favorite line. In several recent speeches, he has asserted that his Democratic opponent, John Kerry, said that even in light of the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, he still supports the President's decision to go to war there. But that is in fact not what Kerry said. The Massachusetts Senator stated that, knowing what he knows now, he still would have voted to give Bush the authority to invade Iraq.



It's a subtle but important distinction. Just because Bush had the authority to go to war doesn't mean he had to invade Iraq at the time and in the manner that he did, or at all. And Senator Kerry has repeatedly criticized President Bush for the way in which he decided to invade Iraq and has handled the war.

Here's what John Kerry said at the Grand Canyon on August 9 when asked if he still would have voted for the congressional resolution authorizing war in Iraq, according to the Associated Press: "I'll answer it directly. Yes, I would have voted for the authority. I believe it is the right authority for a president to have but I would have used that authority effectively."

President Bush has repeatedly twisted this statement into the suggestion that Kerry would have invaded Iraq. On August 12 at an appearance before the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, Bush said, "The other day [Kerry] said that knowing what we know today, he agreed that the use of force in Iraq was necessary."

That same day in remarks at a fundraising dinner in Santa Monica, Calif., Bush stated, "He now agrees it was the right decision to go into Iraq. After months of questioning my motives and even my credibility, Senator Kerry agrees with me that even though we did not find the stockpiles of weapons that we all believed were there, knowing everything we know today, he would have voted to go into Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from power."

The misrepresentation continued at an August 14 rally in Sioux City, Iowa, where Bush said, "See, after months of questioning my motives and my credibility, the Senator from Massachusetts now agrees with me that even though we have not found the stockpile of weapons we all believed were there, knowing everything we know today, he would have voted to go into Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein from power."

The difference between voting to authorize a war and supporting its execution may be a fine one, but it's how John Kerry has decided to draw the line on his views on Iraq. His opponents can criticize that decision, but the President's characterization of Kerry's remarks is deceptive.

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Update (8/19): A version of this post appeared in our Philadelphia Inquirer column today.

Related links:
-For more on President Bush's deceptions related to the war in Iraq, read chapters 8 and 9 of All the President's Spin: George W. Bush, the Media and the Truth

8/16/2004 11:46:33 PM EST |