Are News Stories About Cloning Being Distorted? p.58

By: M.L. STEIN Was it right to name the sheep after Dolly Parton's breasts?

WHEN THE CLONING story broke, the press knew a "religious explosion" would follow, assuring massive coverage, a religion professor said.
"The religious yuck factor was so big that the press had to deal with it and, in my judgment, dealt with it appropriately," added Ted Peters, who teaches at the Center for Theology and Natural Sciences at the University of California, Berkeley.
Speaking on a recent San Francisco panel about media coverage of cloning, Peters, an ordained minister, recalled that the Church of Scotland sent out a press release denouncing human cloning 12 hours after the Feb. 22, 1997 announcement of the cloning of a sheep named Dolly. Soon, other religious groups followed, "with similar condemnations," he added.
The discussion, organized by Freedom Forum's Pacific Coast Center, operated on two levels: The moral, religious and ethical views about cloning expressed by clergymen and academics, and the media coverage of cloning developments.
"The smarmy, adolescent way in which they named the cloned sheep after Dolly Parton's breasts was offensive and awful," exclaimed Leah Zoloth-Dorfman, associate professor of Jewish studies and social ethics at San Francisco State University.
"What it does is exclude women. It makes women's role invisible. It makes male scientists and spokesmen thereof the people that organize and control any efforts at reproduction, and the women become the housing units for the cloned entities."

But overall, Zoloth-Dorfman allowed, "journalists got it right away ? that it was about the deepest yearning of the human soul, the deepest darkness, the deepest fear." Still, she advised the press to "proceed with caution" in following the cloning story.
William C. Spohn, presidential professor of ethics and the common good at the Catholic school Santa Clara University, noted the Vatican's opposition to cloning but argued that important societal factors also figure in the dispute.
"Is it simply the right of certain adults, mostly wealthy, to have a child of their own genetic makeup?" he asked, "Or are there other frameworks that we should look at? Should we ask the question from the viewpoint of the child? What would it be like to be a clone who was created so you could provide bone marrow for a sibling that was seriously ill?"
Father Victor Sokolov of the Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral in San Francisco had misgivings about human cloning, declaring that although "God is good, perfect and sinless," human beings are none of the above. So what, he asked, will result from this human creation?
For reporters, the religious implications of human cloning are less important than informing and educating readers so they can make decisions in their own lives, said San Francisco Examiner medical writer Lisa Krieger.
One of her objectives is to find people who embody a trend or predicament and "get inside their heads and explore within their souls what they are wrestling with ? to give the reader something to relate to and perhaps compare against their own blueprint what's right and what's not," she said.
"I get real nervous about recommending reproductive choices for people because I don't know their situations."

Krieger's approach is to put out as much information as possible for readers and trust them to "do the right thing."
Another journalist, Elgy Gillespie, a U.S. correspondent for the Irish Times in Dublin, suggested that covering human cloning will be one of the most complex tasks facing the media.
"I'm not sure what level of disinformation about cloning I can aspire to, but, speaking as an X-Files fan, if they're going to clone David Duchovny, I hope they send me one," Gillespie quipped.
Gillespie termed cloning a "mixed bag of blessings" and predicted that journalists will have to watch the real possibility that the reproductive process will be caught up in market forces "and be abused the way everything else becomes abused by market forces."
Peters, too, advised the media to look into the finances of cloning, especially the possible involvement of biotechnology companies striving to develop rejection-proof organs.
"Lawyers, particularly legislative lawyers, are dealing with the cloning issue right now," observed Robert M. Smith, a San Francisco attorney and former New York Times newsman in Washington.
The legal wrangling over cloning in state legislatures, along with other facets of its development, "needs thoughtful, consistent, persistent, analytic coverage" up front in newspapers, Smith asserted. Editors, he said, generally deem science a "soft story except for dramatic events like Dolly. Science stories are pushed aside by the reported hanky-panky in the White House, although, ironically, people seem bored by such stories."

Krieger agreed with Smith, saying that editors are inclined to use an "air pump" on stories. "There's tremendous pressure to sex something up," she explained. "You begin to internalize it and you want to present the story in a sexy way so it can compete against kidnappings, assassinations and landslides. There seems to be a perception of a diminishing attention span of Americans."
That perception, Krieger contended, leads to more emphasis on entertainment, less on science. "Stories that get read have a knock-your-socks quality to them." The essence of a science story, Krieger said, lies in details and nuances, "and I worry about readers getting to paragraph 18 and losing them."
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