Media Bias Leads Into Senate Debate on Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 17, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Media Bias Leads Into Senate Debate on Embryonic Stem Cell Research

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
July 17, 2006

Washington, DC ( — Monday’s debate in the Senate on embryonic stem cell research was over a year in the making, if not longer since the chamber has never before held a significant debate on the bioethics issues. Leading up to it, the media is doing its part to tilt the debate in favor of embryonic stem cell research.

In its pre-debate story on whether President Bush will veto a bill that would spend taxpayer funds on embryonic stem cell research, the Associated Press repeats two fundamental errors its made throughout the debate.

AP reporter Laurie Kellman writes, "Polls show that 70 percent of the public supports the bill, which would expand federal aid for embryonic stem cell research. The process is believed by many scientists to hold promise for curing diseases such as juvenile diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s that strike millions of people."

However, neither claim is true.

The latest polls show a majority of Americans uncomfortable with using their tax money to pay for embryonic stem cell research.

An International Communications Research poll in mid-May finds 48% of Americans oppose federal funding of stem cell research that requires destroying human embryos. Just 39% support such funding and another 12 percent had no position.

AP also wrongly reported that stem cell research can cure Alzheimer’s.

Because Alzheimer’s is not a disease involving one type of cell, one scientist says the use of embryonic stem cells is unlikely to have much effect.

"Alzheimer’s is a more global disease, with an effect on numerous kinds of cells," Steve Stice, a stem cell researcher at the University of Georgia, previously told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper. "That makes it much more difficult for a cell therapy to be effective."

Reuters weighed in on Monday with a lengthy feature piece focusing on the debate between embryonic and adult stem cell research.

The first third of its article promoted embryonic stem cell research and featured an interview with one scientist who backs the unproven research and none who oppose it. Two paragraphs in the introduction promoted adult stem cells while six promoted embryonic ones.

Reuters detailed the latest progress on stem cell research. However, two of the three examples of advances it cited focused on embryonic stem cell research even though adult stem cells have shown much more promise and embryonic stem cell research was dealt a crucial blow when South Korean scientists were found to have faked the entirety of their studies.

While Reuters failed to quote and scientists, advocates or others against embryonic stem cell research, it devoted four paragraphs of quotes to embryonic stem cell research advocate David Meyers.

Instead of interviewing anyone on the adult stem cell research side of the debate, Reuters pointed to a recent medical journal article attacking David Prentice of the Family Research Council, who is a former biology professor at Indiana State University.

Reuters did not provide Prentice a forum for responding to the attacks.

Meanwhile, United Press International continues to describe the president’s position on embryonic stem cell research in unflattering terms. In a Monday story, it said Bush’s position against using taxpayer money for more of the destructive research was "rigid."

It also said the House bill the Senate is considering "would allow limited expanded stem-cell research" even though it applies only to embryonic stem cells, not stem cell research in general.