No, wait, it's not murder after all

Tony Snow retracts his characterization of the president's views on stem cell research.

Published July 25, 2006 12:43PM (EDT)

When George W. Bush vetoed legislation expanding federal funding for embryonic stem cell research last week, White House press secretary Tony Snow said that the president considers such research to be "murder."

Never mind.

At Monday's White House press briefing, Snow retracted the "murder" charge, saying he had "overstepped" his "brief" by using the M-word and that, in the process, he had caused unnecessary trouble for White House chief of staff Josh Bolten, who said many words but offered few coherent answers when Tim Russert asked him about the claim during a "Meet the Press" interview Sunday.

Snow's retraction:

Question: Tony, not to bring up last week's news, but the issue of whether embryonic stem cell research is murder came up yesterday on "Meet the Press." You said, I believe, last week that some people regard this as murder and the president is among them.

Snow: Yes, well, I --

Question: Does he believe this is murder?

Snow: I overstepped my brief there, and so I created a little trouble for Josh Bolten in the interview. And I feel bad about it. I think there's concern. The president has said that he believes that this is the destruction of human life ...

The president certainly does not oppose stem cell research. But he does find -- he does have objections with spending federal money on something that is morally objectionable to many Americans. I will go ahead and apologize for having overstated -- I guess, overstated the president's position.

But on the other hand, I think it's also important in this particular case to keep in mind that when it comes to stem cell research this president was the first to allow the use of embryonic stem cell lines, and he has supported -- more than any other president in American history -- research into embryonic stem cell research, and also shares the goals that Sen. [Bill] Frist and others have talked about, which is unlocking the possibility of pluripotent cells.

Question: So the president does not regard this as murder?

Snow: He would not use that term.

Question: And the corollary question that's emerged on Capitol Hill and elsewhere is, if it is murder, do you then shut down in vitro fertilization clinics?

Snow: Well, as you know, they're not the recipients of federal money. We're talking about the use of federal money on things that are morally -- that some people consider morally objectionable and some do not. It's one of the reasons why, as you know, we've allowed states to make their own decisions. And a number of them have, in terms of assigning states' resources for use in embryonic stem cell research.

Say what you will about Snow's characterization of stem cell research as "murder," it offered moral clarity, even if the president and his supporters weren't willing to take it to its logical conclusion. Now? It's slippery slope time, and Snow's construct has the White House sliding right down one. Perhaps somebody ought to ask Snow this today: If it isn't appropriate to outlaw things that "some people consider morally objectionable and some do not" unless those things are done using "federal money," then how can the GOP advocate a federal ban on gay marriage or limits on Internet gambling?

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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