CNN's Beck, Fox's Angle misleadingly claimed Bush "was the first president to ever actually give federal funding to stem cell research"

››› ››› ROB DIETZ

CNN's Glenn Beck and Fox News' Jim Angle repeated the misleading claim that President Bush was "the first" president to allow funding for human embryonic stem cell research, even though the Clinton administration drafted guidelines to fund embryonic stem cell research, but those rules had yet to take effect when he left office and were suspended by the Bush administration in favor of its own, stricter set of rules.

On the October 26 edition of his CNN Headline News program, Glenn Beck repeated the misleading claim that "President Bush was the first president to ever actually give federal ... funding to stem cell research" and the claim that "federal funding for embryonic stem cells is restricted in the first place" because of a bill signed by former President Bill Clinton. Similarly, on the October 25 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, Fox News chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle deceptively asserted that Bush "was the first one to dedicate any federal funds to stem cell research." But as Media Matters for America has documented, the Clinton administration drafted guidelines to fund embryonic stem cell research, but those rules had yet to take effect when he left office and were suspended by the Bush administration in favor of its own, stricter set of rules.

Beck and Angle credited Bush with initiating stem cell research while discussing an ad by Missouri Democratic Senate candidate Claire McCaskill, in which actor Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson's disease, endorses McCaskill for supporting embryonic stem cell research. Beck claimed that what "the Democrats don't want to tell you in their cute, little ad" is that the reason "federal funding for embryonic stem cells is restricted in the first place" is "because of a bill that was passed in Congress in 1995 and signed into law by ... Bill Clinton."

Further, both Beck and Angle misleadingly claimed that Bush, not Clinton, was, in Angle's words, "the first one to dedicate any federal funds to stem cell research." In fact, after Congress passed a bill in 1993 that included a provision that allowed federal funding on human embryo research, the Clinton administration convened a panel that proposed federal funding for obtaining stem cells from spare embryos from fertility clinics. It was the Republican-controlled Congress that, in 1995, passed a bill that contained a general ban on research in which human embryos are damaged or destroyed each year beginning in 1996 (the legislation was first proposed in 1995). And while Clinton signed the bill each year he was in office, Clinton did not have the ability to separately veto the general ban language, as each year the provision was part of a larger omnibus budget reconciliation bill and/or part of a larger bill funding the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Clinton administration drafted guidelines to fund embryonic stem cell research consistent with the law, but those guidelines were suspended by the Bush administration before they took effect. Moreover, in criticizing Clinton for "restrict[ing]" stem cell research, Beck neglected to mention that Clinton pushed for federal funding of such research as the science behind it became more promising, a move that Bush, then the governor of Texas, criticized.

Dispatches, a weblog on the website for the Public Broadcasting Service program NOVA Science Now, documented, on April 13, 2005, the evolution of federally funded embryonic stem cell research in the mid-1990s and noted Clinton's 1993 effort "to fund human embryo research for the first time." The site asserted that "Bush's repeated claims to be 'the first president ever to allow funding' for human embryonic stem cell research" are "not accurate":

Recall the political context. In 1993, with something called the National Institutes of Health [NIH] Revitalization Act, Congress and President Clinton gave the NIH [National Institutes of Health] direct authority to fund human embryo research for the first time -- ushering in what seemed like a new era. In response, the NIH established a panel of scientists, ethicists, public policy experts, and patients' advocates to consider the moral and ethical issues involved and to determine which types of experiments should be eligible for federal funding. In 1994, this NIH Human Embryo Research Panel made its recommendations -- among them, that the destruction of spare embryos from fertility clinics, with the goal of obtaining stem cells, should receive federal funding. Embryos at the required stage are round balls no bigger than a grain of sand.

[...]

President Clinton rejected part of these recommendations and directed the NIH not to allocate funds to experiments that would create new embryos specifically for research. But for the Gingrich-era Congress that took up the matter in 1995, funding any work with human embryos was going too far, and the recommendations created an uproar. Within a year, Congress had banned the use of federal funds for any experiment in which a human embryo is either created or destroyed.

[...]

[Bush] has presided over the first flow of federal funds to a promising area of research that relies on destroying human embryos. And yet Bush's repeated claims to be "the first president ever to allow funding" for human embryonic stem cell research (made, for instance, during the second nationally televised presidential debate in fall 2004) are not accurate. Here, he lays claim to a stem cell legacy that isn't his. Truth is, Bush's immediate predecessor, Bill Clinton, was a far greater supporter of human embryonic stem cell research.

From the October 26 edition of CNN Headline News' Glenn Beck:

BECK: And here's something else the Democrats don't want to tell you in their cute, little ad: The whole reason the federal funding for embryonic stem cells is restricted in the first place is because of a bill that was passed in Congress in 1995 and signed into law by -- oh, what was his name? He was the president -- oh, Bill Clinton. Yeah, that's right: Bill Clinton.

In fact, President Bush was the first president to ever actually give federal spend -- funding to stem cell research. But that little fact doesn't really fit nicely into an ad campaign premise that Republicans, you know, are pro-disease.

From the October 25 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

ANGLE: Though President Bush did veto federal funds for any research on new embryos, which some see as tinkering with human life, he did not restrict research in any other way. But the fight in Missouri is as much about celebrities as it is about science -- Brit.

HUME: Speaking of which, is it true, as Michael J. Fox said, that Jim Talent opposes expanding stem cell research?

ANGLE: Well, not in the strictest sense, no. He does not oppose expanding it; he only opposes expanding it to research on new embryos. You know, the president was the first one to dedicate any federal funds to stem cell research, but only on existing lines of stem cells.

There's an argument about whether those are sufficient, but there are many people, including the president, who believe you cannot do research on new embryos without tinkering with life, Brit.

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