Over the past few years, Wisconsin Republican Tommy Thompson has toyed with making another run for public office about as often as Brett Favre pondered retiring and un-retiring from professional football.
Thompson, the former Wisconsin governor and U.S. health and human services secretary, said in 2009 that he might run again for the Wisconsin governor’s seat the following year, but he didn’t. In 2010, he was said to be weighing a challenge to then-U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., but he never jumped in.
Nevertheless, considerable buzz followed a Politico.com report on May 17, 2011, that Thompson had told he friends he plans to run in 2012 for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated after 24 years by Democrat Herb Kohl.
Later that day, this headline appeared on the liberal and widely read HuffingtonPost.com:
"Tommy Thompson wanted to implant data chips in humans."
The headline stopped us because it read like it might have come from the Onion satirical newspaper. So we decided to do some peeling to see if the claim was accurate.
Was Thompson an advocate of chip implantation? Was it to be voluntary or something more forceful, as the headline seemed to suggest?
The headline topped an article by Michael McAuliff, senior congressional correspondent for Huffington Post and a former Washington reporter and editor for the New York Daily News. McAuliff is the "king of headlines," according to a fan of his on Twitter who re-tweeted the article about Thompson.
The article recalled that in 2005, Thompson joined the board of VeriChip Corp., a Florida company that implants digital chips in people. He joined the board a few months after resigning from the health and human services post he held under then President George W. Bush.
VeriChip, McAluliff wrote, "makes something called radio frequency identification chips that are implanted in an arm, and can help doctors track a person's medical history, or can be used in high-tech security systems."
The article linked to two sources that contained statements Thompson made in July 2005 about the chip:
Spychips.com, which says the chips "pose serious risks to consumers," posted two video clips from an interview Thompson gave to the former CBS Marketwatch, a financial news operation that was a partner of CBS News. Saying human implantation was "completely voluntary," Thompson called the chips a "giant step forward to getting to what we call an electronic medical record for all Americans."
In a TV interview on CNBC's "Squawk Box" business program, Thompson said he would get such a chip implanted in his arm. "I certainly would and I think it's the coming thing," he said. "And the problems is, is that medical technology is so far behind that (the chips) are going to really be the impetus in order for us to get new technology in the medical field that's going to help people improve their quality of care, and that's what it's all about."
So, the two Thompson statements show he was enthusiastic about the chips, although he wasn’t advocating they be implanted in people involuntarily.
We asked McAuliff if he had other evidence to back the headline. He said the two videotaped Thompson statements meant "case closed" -- in other words, it was clear, he said, that Thompson wanted to implant data chips in humans. McAuliff also said he didn’t think the headline suggested that Thompson wanted people to be implanted involuntarily.
We sought comment from Thompson, but one of his advisers, Madison lobbyist Bill McCoshen, didn’t respond.
We found other accounts of Thompson’s support of the VeriChip chip for humans, including two more statements from July 2005.
When Thompson joined VeriChip's board, the company issued a statement quoting Thompson as saying: "We are all well aware of the need to enhance information technology in health care. It is my belief that VeriChip is an important and secure means of accessing medical records and other information. I look forward to working with the company as it continues its growth."
U.S. News & World Report quoted Thompson as saying he planned to have the chip implanted. "People are dying all the time because they can't access their medical information overseas," he said.
It’s unclear whether Thompson ever did get the chip implanted, as later reports quoted him as saying he was waiting for more hospitals to be able to read the chips. When Thompson resigned from the VeriChip board in 2007, he held options for 55,556 shares of VeriChip stock and, in 2006, had been paid $40,000 by the company, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article.
By 2010, the majority owner of VeriChip, which had become known as PositiveID Corp., said the company had stopped marketing the chip that Thompson had touted as an electronic medical record and instead would use the technology for medical diagnostic purposes.
We’ve peeled enough of this onion. What’s left?
The headline of an article by HuffingtonPost.com reporter Michael McAuliff said Tommy Thompson "wanted to implant data chips in humans." Thompson certainly was a major cheerleader for the product, although he made it clear he was only advocating that people choose to be chipped voluntarily.
The headline was accurate, but needed clarification.
We rate it Mostly True.