ABC's Halperin: Conservatives no longer letting "liberal entertainers" like Michael J. Fox "have a free ride"

››› ››› ROB DIETZ

During a report on the October 29 edition of ABC's World News Sunday about the controversy surrounding nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh's recent attacks on actor Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson's disease, ABC News political director Mark Halperin claimed that "[i]n the past, conservatives let liberal entertainers kind of have a free ride," but now "they're saying, under George W. Bush, if you get involved in politics, we're going to come after you and the Democrats you're supporting." As Media Matters for America has documented, Fox is campaigning for candidates who support embryonic stem cell research; in 2004, he appeared in a campaign ad for Republican Sen. Arlen Specter (PA).

Halperin's claim that "liberal entertainers" no longer "have a free ride" echoed NBC's Today co-host Matt Lauer's declaration that "if Michael Fox goes out there politically and puts himself in the fray, he has to expect to be taken to account," which Lauer made six days after Halperin told Fox News host Bill O'Reilly that ABC and the rest of the "old liberal media" -- the broadcast networks, CNN, and major newspapers -- have "a chance in these last two weeks" before the midterm elections "to prove to conservatives that we understand their grievances," and that "[w]e should use this last two weeks as an opportunity to help rebuild our reputation with half the country."

Additionally, during a report on Iraq earlier on World News, ABC News correspondent and host Dan Harris claimed that Democrats are "not so quick to offer solutions" regarding Iraq, while ABC News senior national correspondent Jake Tapper said that "[w]hen it comes to Iraq, Democrats are all over the map." But neither Harris nor Tapper noted divisions within the Republican Party over Iraq policy.

As Media Matters noted, several Republicans have raised concerns about the administration's strategy in Iraq, among them Sens. John Warner (VA) and Olympia Snowe (ME), and former Secretary of State under President George H.W. Bush, James A. Baker III. Further, in the lead-in to Tapper's report, Harris cited an ABC/Washington Post poll conducted October 19-22 that showed that "57 percent of Americans say the war was not worth fighting." But neither Harris's introduction nor Tapper's report noted that the same poll showed that 48 percent of respondents "trust" Democrats "to do a better job handling" the "situation in Iraq," compared with 40 percent who favor Republicans.

From the October 29 edition of ABC's World News Sunday:

HARRIS: In the latest ABC News poll, 57 percent of Americans say the war was not worth fighting. Democratic candidates have been quick to focus on that discontent, but not so quick to offer solutions. Here's ABC's senior political correspondent, Jake Tapper.


TAPPER: When it comes to Iraq, Democrats are all over the map.


TAPPER: If Democrats take the House, look for investigations into what one top Democrat calls Bush administration "Deception, Manipulation, Torture, Retributions and Cover-ups in the Iraq War" -- a focus on how we got into Iraq, even if they have no cohesive answer on how to get out. Jake Tapper, ABC News, Washington.


HARRIS: In tonight's "Sunday Spotlight," when celebrities and politics collide. This morning on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, actor Michael J. Fox responded to an attack from conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh. Celebrities have been politicking, mostly on behalf of Democrats, for years, but these days, it seems that, increasingly, they are taking a beating.

FOX: I don't want to react personally to these -- these attacks. It's pointless. It's silly. It's, like, getting in a fight with a bully. But make no mistake, it hurts.

HARRIS: The man who Michael J. Fox is calling a bully is Rush Limbaugh, who accused Fox of exaggerating the symptoms of his Parkinson's disease in this Democratic campaign ad.

LIMBAUGH: He is moving all around and shaking, and it's purely an act.

FOX: When I heard that response, I was like, "What? Are you kidding me?"

HARRIS: Fox may have been caught off guard because while celebrities have been pushing political causes for decades, they are usually treated with more respect than, well, politicians. It is mostly Democrats that get a hand from Hollywood.

BEN AFFLECK (actor): Welcome. Welcome, everybody.

HARRIS: Humphrey Bogart stumped for FDR; Harry Belafonte for Kennedy; Warren Beatty for McGovern.

HALPERIN: In the past, conservatives let liberal entertainers kind of have a free ride. Now they're saying, under George W. Bush, if you get involved in politics, we're going to come after you and the Democrats you're supporting.


HARRIS: The lesson -- in today's political climate -- anyone who enters the arena, even popular and ailing celebrities, better come wearing armor.

Republicans, it should be said, have their own celebrity backers, including Clint Eastwood, Wayne Newton, and Bo Derek. One man who is increasingly getting active this year, is Jim Caviezel, who plays Jesus in The Passion of the Christ. And we'll be right back.

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Mark Halperin
ABC World News Tonight
Propaganda/Noise Machine
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