The controversy surrounding Michael J. Fox’s political ad supporting Claire McCaskill in the Missouri Senate race—and conservative commentary Rush Limbaugh’s comments regarding it—have sparked a whirlwind of media attention. You can hear about it, read about it and see stories about it on a variety of media outlets.

But what is the story, exactly? Is it Michael J. Fox, a beloved celebrity (don’t pretend you didn’t watch Family Ties. It was part of NBC’s Herculean Thursday night comedy block and it’s had plenty of runs on Nick at Nite) now suffering from Parkinson’s disease? Is it Rush Limbaugh, radio pioneer and conservative commentator, who wondered aloud if Fox was “acting” for the ad? Is it stem cell research, which was purportedly the focus of the ad itself?

How about the actual Senate race between McCaskill and Republican Sen. Jim Talent? Or maybe the larger battle between Democrats and Republicans, as both try to claim control after the 2006 elections? What’s the real story here?

The answer is both simple and complex: All of it. None of it. Whatever parts you find interesting. Nobody in the media cares what you think the story is really about, as long as you think it’s about something compelling enough to keep your attention.

You see, the folks who think the media has some hidden agenda are completely off base. There’s nothing hidden about it. Their agenda has always been crystal clear: Buy our paper. Stay with us through these commercial messages. Keep your radio tuned in, and we’ll be right back. Add us to your “Favorites,” or better yet, make us your home page. That’s it. There’s really nothing more to it.

Sure, the journalists and contributors are looking to inform, educate and entertain. But the big television networks? The radio stations? The newspapers? The media giants who own a little bit of everything? They want your time, your attention and your money. And if a story about Michael J. Fox political ad gets your attention, they’ll serve up all you can eat in daily courses until you get sick of it.

A story like this will never be a beacon of information. It’s a giant tree, with many branches that stretch across several media outlets. Just pick the branch that you like the best, and climb away. There’s a “Rush is an idiot” branch, a “Fox is being used by the Democrats” branch, a “stem cell research doesn’t produce results” branch, a “the bill in question is really about cloning” branch…and several others. The media doesn’t care which one you pick, as long as you go ahead and pick one. In the end, the story is the story.

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