Follow-Up to Matt Franck Anti-Cloning Measure Article

Filed in Politics, Science, Social IssuesTags: Clone The Truth, Cloning, Media Bias, Missouri, Sanctity of Life, Stem Cells

About a week ago, I wrote about this Post-Dispatch article, written by Matt Franck. I discussed the perceived bias in the article with respect to Amendment 2 and the efforts of supporters of the HJR11 anti-cloning measure the article discussed.

As I try to do whenever I discuss someone's writing, I emailed the author to let him know of my blog post, and to allow (and to solicit) a response. To my pleasant surprise, Mr. Franck responded to my email. In the interest of fairness, based upon his response, I would like to re-visit the question of bias in his reporting of the Amendment 2 issue.

Mr. Franck responds:

My ability to respond to your email in detail is limited by time. But let me reply in brief. The stated aim of lawmakers who support HJR11 and its Senate counterparts is to essentially negate Amendment 2. Yes, I understand that the proposal doesn't mention the amendment. But the fact remains, it would make SCNT illegal -- something specifically protected under Amendment 2, and a procedure at the heart of the push to pass the ballot measure.

Here, I agree with Mr. Franck that part of the underlying intent of HJR11 was to overturn parts of Amendment 2; however, the further intent of HJR11 was to expose the intentional deception and hypocrisy of Amendment 2 and that of its supporters and their $30 million propaganda campaign.

The Coalition for Lifesaving Cures states "Fact #3" on their "Fact Sheet" that "Amendment 2 clearly and strictly bans any attempt to clone a human being.":

Amendment 2 bans human cloning and makes any attempt to clone a human being a felony crime. Opponents of stem cell research claim that making stem cells in a lab dish is the same thing as "human cloning." Medical experts and most other people disagree with that view and understand that "human cloning" means creating a duplicate human being – not making stem cells in a lab dish.

The truth of the matter - as exposed by Amendment 2 supporters' objections to HJR11 - is that, currently, (embryonic) stem cells cannot be made "in a lab dish"; they must be harvested from an embryo. To date, stem cells must be harvested from embryos resulting from natural or in vitro conception. The comment about "making stem cells in a lab dish" is in reference to embryos produced via Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT) - or, in other words: cloning.

The issue centers around the correct identification of the entity produced by SCNT. Biologically and genetically, that entity is an embryo, genetically identical to the donor of the somatic cell from whom the clone was produced. In fact, for the purposes of harvesting stem cells from the entity resulting from SCNT, that entity must prove to be a viable embryo that undergoes self-directed development from the initial single-celled zygote into a 5-7 day-old embryo at the blastocyst stage.

The Coalition continues to divert this issue by intentionally mis-identifying this entity as a "clump of cells", a "ball of cells", or other similar terms. Doing so provides a means to avoid the reality that SCNT produces a cloned embryo. Thus, they are able to ignore the biological and genetic reality, and claim some arbitrary "birth of a cloned human" as the "cloning" that is "strictly" banned.

The media coverage - for whatever reason - has tended to favor the Coalition's position with respect to terminology. It is the reason that many of us make a concerted effort to find and correct this misinformation wherever it is propagated in the news media. Thus, in response to Mr. Franck's article, I wrote in my email to him:

Second, you state:

"Opponents of Amendment 2 had wanted lawmakers to send a ballot measure
to voters in November 2008. The proposed amendment would have asked the
public to ban all forms of human cloning, including when the research is
used solely to produce embryonic stem cells. Voters specifically
protected that form of research by passing Amendment 2 last year."

This statement is inaccurate. The result of of human cloning is NEVER
"solely...embryonic stem cells". This research - somatic cell nuclear
transfer - ALWAYS results in the production of a living embryo of the
same species as that of the gamete and somatic cell from which the
embryo was produced. Should SCNT of a human egg and somatic cell nucleus
ever succeed, the result will be a human embryo. Any stem cells
resulting from this process will and must come from the destruction of
that embryo. They cannot be produced apart from the embryo using SCNT.

On that point, Mr. Franck responds in his email:

On your second point -- yes, I know and agree that SCNT produces an embryo [which] is then harvested for stem cells. I think you misread my use of the word solely. I did not mean to imply that all that is produced are stem cells.

I appreciate Mr. Franck clarifying this point in his response. He goes on to address the question of his personal bias in regard to the Amendment 2 issue:

There are limits to the territory that I can cover in a 350-word story. In lengthier stories -- of which I have written several -- I deal with these issues more thoroughly. Even so, I stand by my story.

...For three years, I have strived to cover this issue with detachment and fairness. And I believe that if you ask around, I have a good track record in this regard.

While I certainly infer a bias in the end result of the article in question, I want to be fair in asserting the source of that bias. To that end, I did my best to research Mr. Franck's past articles. He was kind enough to send me the copy of a rather lengthy piece he wrote, and of which I found a copy at the Center for Genetics and Society website. I also found recent Post-Dispatch articles here and here, as well as a copy of an article reposted here.

After reading this broader sample of Mr. Franck's writing on the Amendment 2 issue, I believe that he is correct in his assertion that he has made every effort to deal with the issue with detachment and fairness. While I disagree with repeated use of incorrect and/or potentially misleading terminology (such as referring to an embryo as a "ball of cells" or "clump of cells" or "cluster of cells"), an overall reading of his articles lends me to believe that he has attempted to present each side of the issue fairly.

I believe any overt bias inferred from these articles - and in particular, the article I originally critiqued - results from the limited scope of a shorter article and, more importantly, the editorial bias of the Post-Dispatch.

Finally, I would like to thank Mr. Franck for taking the time to respond to my email. Not many reporters would take the time to do so - especially to respond to someone being critical of that reporter's work.