Should We Hate the Media?

Oct. 27, 2006

Opinion Video: Missouri Stem Cell Referendum

Being on the inside of a breaking story, as I am now with the Missouri stem-cell research ballot initiative, is eye-opening. It has changed forever the way I consume news. I used to think much of the media was essentially ill-willed—out to get’ya, ideologically motivated, and disingenuous. Now I know better.

The primary driver of what you see on the news is the entertainment factor. Most media outlets are for-profit businesses. Steady eyeballs make money.

I feel a lot better knowing this. Ideology is a factor, but it’s not THE factor. All news executives, producers, and on-air talent see the world from their own perspective. Their ideas and values color their decision-making. That will never change, and it shouldn’t. To ask people to make editorial decisions in a moral and cultural vacuum would be to de-humanize the business.

Similarly, we can’t ask media moguls, who are in the business of making money, to ignore what brings in the bucks. A news hour that gives equal airtime to the social problems in Africa and dirty local politics will soon be out of business.

This explanation doesn’t give an ethical free pass to news outlets. But it gives a framework for own decision-making about the news we consume. Here are the questions I ask as I read the morning paper and watch the news:

• Why is this story making the news?
• Why has this story attracted my attention?
• Will this story have any long-lasting impact on people or on the world?
• If the story is important, what complimentary news sources will I use to understand it in its fullness?

The Missouri referendum on stem-cell research and human cloning is the perfect example of how the news works. While readers of this blog and viewers of FOX News know the facts surrounding the ballot issue, including the diverging opinions of the competing campaigns, the average television and internet addict knows only one thing: Michael J.Fox is sick and has been attacked.

That is breaking news? Yes it is. But how important is it? Does it say anything to us about the ballot issue itself, about biomedical ethics, about the senate race hanging in the balance?

More coming your way later today about prudent news consumption and the Missouri stem-cell and human cloning issue. Stay tuned. Both issues matter, at least I think so. Do you?

And now you don’t have to hate the media.

God bless, Father Jonathan

Thursday, October 26, 2006

St. Louis is wet and cold. Its people are welcoming and warm. I've spent a lot of time in New York and California of late; it's where you get things done. But being in the Midwest reminds me of home, and home is always good!

Yesterday, I told you about my interviews that never were. In the news world, that was way back when. At the time, promoters of Amendment 2 were untouchable. They had money, Michael J. Fox, and the minds of Missourians. With all those “M's” they didn't need to talk to Father Morris. They knew I was in St. Louis to analyze what Amendment 2 was all about. While I would have listened to them and aired their side of the story, they preferred quiet.

Today is very different. In response to the Fox commercial blitz, St. Louis Cardinal ace pitcher Jeff Suppan threw a curve ball and hit a home run. On a night Busch Stadium was rained out, he took to another field with a group of fellow athletes and Hollywood actors. They produced a television commercial that tells the other side of the story. They say it like it is; Amendment 2 will enshrine in the state's constitution a right to do human cloning.

The word is now out; Amendment 2 allows “somatic cell nuclear transfer” (SCNT) and that, in most everyone's book, is cloning.

The Stowers Institute spokeswoman is an exception to the rule. Speaking to my producer, she explained it like this (paraphrased):

SCNT is a process by which you take a cell from a sick patient and combine it with the donated egg whose nucleus has been removed. A copy of that cell is made. Stem cells from the new cluster of cells are used to replace sick cells.

She went on to say that people, who say SCNT is cloning, do so because of religious belief.

It's easy to destroy “clusters of cells.” That's why promoters of Amendment 2 prefer not to use scientific terms. The cluster of cells is a cloned human embryo. Who are you going to believe — the Stowers Institute or me? Don't believe either. Read the scientists below and decide for yourself.

Watch for updates later today and tomorrow. This is an issue that affects all of us.

God bless, Father Jonathan

What I'm Reading:

National Academies of Science

Cloning using somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). . . leads to the formation of a blastocyst, or pre-implantation embryo.”

Stem cells derived from embryos are called embryonic stem cells. . .”

The American Medical Association

Human therapeutic cloning involves the cloning of human embryos for the purpose of extracting stem cells that can be used to repair tissues and organs.”

The International Society for Stem Cell Research

“Therapeutic cloning: somatic cell nuclear transfer for the isolation of embryonic stem cells.”

The American Association for the Advancement of Science

“While use of the term embryo can be polarizing, it can also promote clarity, even where some feel it has too great a political, emotional, or social 'charge.' Thus, for the purposes of this report, we have chosen to use the term cloned embryo to describe the product of nuclear transplantation.”

UK Human Fertilization & Embryology Authority

“The cloning technique, cell nuclear replacement, involves removing the nucleus of a human egg cell and replacing it with the nucleus from a human body cell, such as a skin cell. The egg is then artificially stimulated. This causes the egg to divide and behave in a similar way to a standard embryo fertilized by sperm.”


• Scientific and Medical Aspects of Human Reproductive Cloning, Report of the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine, National Academy Press, Washington, DC, Jan. 2002; pg. 2-2, 2-4 (preprint).

AMA Basic Genetics — FAQs.

Glossary of Stem Cell-Related Terms, International Society for Stem Cell Research, (last checked January 8, 2006).

• Regulating Human Cloning, American Assoc. for the Advancement of Science, Washington, DC, April 2003; pg. 4.

HFEA grants the first therapeutic cloning license for research, Press Release of the UK Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority, August 11, 2004, ( last checked January 8, 2006).

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

My internal clock tells me it is 9 a.m. Ugh…I now remember I'm not in Europe and at this ungodly hour I should be sound asleep.

Later today, I'll be on the streets of St. Louis, interviewing people about the Nov. 7 ballot issue called “Amendment 2.” If this proposed state referendum passes, it will create a constitutional right In Missouri to carry out all forms of stem cell research (including research on human embryos). The small print of the referendum also permits human therapeutic cloning, also called "somatic cell nuclear transfer".

My interview schedule will be lighter than expected because some people in high places don't want to talk to me anymore.

Generally, when I'm on a story people are eager to speak to me. They want airtime to tell their side of the story.

Not so in Missouri. The campaign to pass “Amendment 2” prefers quiet.

I can understand their hesitancy to talk with me on camera. They know I'm not a reporter. I analyze and give commentary on the news.

In this case, analysis and commentary is precisely what they don't want.

They prefer to stick to simplistic and artificial semantics that pit those who have a heart to cure people like Michael J. Fox against “religious bigots” who don't.

A representative from the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, the founders of which have donated over $27 million to promote “Amendment 2,” told this to my producer:

"I have discussed your request with Dr. Neaves, and we agree that it would not be appropriate for the Institute to participate in this story."

What story? I guess they read this blog.

The big story in Missouri right now, as I see it, is this: The legal language of “Amendment 2” misleads voters. The convoluted jargon in the proposed referendum appears to ban human cloning, when, in fact, it creates a constitutional right to do cloning, as long as scientists don't intend to implant the newly cloned human embryo in a uterus and bring it to complete gestation.

The Missouri for Life-Changing Cures Campaign — also promoters of “Amendment 2” — have backed out of an interview in a likewise manner. They have asked me not to come to the NPR studios, as I had previously planned, where a live debate will take place this morning between campaign spokesmen.

This type of resistance is to be expected. In-depth news commentary pushes people out of their comfort zone of public relations semantics. In issues as complicated as biotechnology, there is an increasing danger of letting technocrats and “experts” determine what we believe and what we vote for.

We can't let that happen to the good people of Missouri. Missourians can't let that happen to the good people of America.

This week I'll be updating this blog once or twice a day. I want you to have an inside look at what I'm doing and what the opinion makers who are talking to me are saying.

Back to bed.

Oh, I just remembered. My sleeplessness may be due to the excitement of seeing my prediction come true for last night's World Series game. Jeff Suppan will be on the mound tonight, and, like Carpenter last night, he'll knock down those Tigers one by one. That, too, is commentary.

God bless, Father Jonathan

Monday, October 23, 2006

Editor's Note: Click here to watch Father Jonathan's appearance on FOX News Live, where he discussed the letter 28 Muslim leaders recently wrote to the Pope.

On Wednesday evening I’ll be in St. Louis, Missouri as the Cardinals take on the Detroit Tigers in game four of the World Series. Jeff Suppan will be standing on the mound looking down at the feisty Tigers. He’ll knock them down one-by-one and chalk up another win, just like his teammate Chris Carpenter will have done the night before.

By midnight on Wednesday, the Series will stand 3-1 in the Cardinals' favor.

Unfortunately, I won’t be in the stadium on Wednesday to see if my baseball predictions come true. I’ll be elsewhere in the city looking at a story that's even more important than baseball.

Missourians know what I’m talking about.

On November 7th, they will go to the polls to vote for, or against, Amendment 2. It is a referendum that would enshrine in their State’s constitution the right of biotechnology firms to do human embryonic stem cell research.

My original interest in this story was based on what I foresaw as two national ramifications from this Missouri ballot issue:

First, the Republican Party’s stance on this life issue is in the balance. For the first time since the 1920’s, the Republicans control both houses of the Missouri state legislature, as well as both Senate seats, and the governorship. If Missouri politicians, at the pinnacle of their Republican influence in the state, do not make this an essential wedge issue between them and their opponents, they will have sent a message to the nation that when it comes to the protection of human embryos, there is no difference between the two parties.

Secondly, if voters in a traditionally conservative state like Missouri vote to approve Amendment 2, we will know that American voters have decided that the survival of human life in a Petri dish is less important than the quality of life of adult humans.

My interest, however, has evolved after reading the actual Amendment text. While I could do an interesting and important story on the ethical and scientific pros and cons of embryonic stem cell research, another story is emerging. It is a story of possible deception.

Do Missourians know what they are actually voting for?

Opponents of the referendum say the lengthy 2,400-word amendment serves as a master plan of deceit to trick Missourians into legalizing human cloning. They point to two apparently contradictory sections within the Amendment.

Section 2 (1) states, “No person may clone or attempt to clone a human being”

A voter who reads this may think that he or she is voting to approve embryonic stem cell research as long as it does not permit human cloning.

Not so fast, say opponents.

Section 6 (5) defines embryonic stem cell research to include a common method of cloning. “Human embryonic stem cell research, also referred to as ‘early stem cell research’, means any scientific or medical research involving human stem cells derived from in vitro fertlization blastocysts or from somatic cell nuclear transfer.”

“Somatic cell nuclear transfer” is the scientific term for therapeutic cloning, the very same method used to clone “Dolly”.

With an estimated 80% of Missourians claiming to be against all forms of human cloning and the proposed referendum (that permits therapeutic cloning) enjoying a clear lead in the polls, it is logical to ask whether Missourians have been sold a bill of lies.

I’m looking for an answer. Have Missourians been duped, are they asleep, or have they just thrown in the towel, not just about embryonic stem cell research, but also about human cloning?

Beginning Wednesday, I’ll update this blog on a daily basis on what I see and what I learn, from both sides.

God bless, Father Jonathan

What I'm Reading

Religion and Culture

U.K. Veil Controversy:
The polarised debate over full-face veils could spark race riots in the UK, the head of the Commission for Racial Equality has warned.

Commentary: It's My Cross and I'm Proud to Bare It

Immigration and Inculturation

French Police Face 'Permanent Intifada'

Religion and Politics

Conservatism Doesn’t Need God:
The GOP has become the party of religion, and Democrats have been scrambling to play catch-up. The truth, though, is that piety doesn’t belong in politics.

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