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August 12, 2004

Embryonic Advertisement

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I'm not sure my blood pressure could take the viewing habits required of the good folks at the Media Research Center. That's my conclusion, anyway, after a half-hour of uncharacteristic television watching tonight.

Appropriately enough, the segment of ABC's Primetime Thursday that aired directly before Reagan daughter Patti Davis's report on a teenage activist for embryonic stem-cell research was called "The Joy of Selling." ABC ought to have run a disclaimer before Davis's segment admitting that it was an unpaid advertisement, not to be mistaken for reportage.

The segment profiled Tessa Wick, a thirteen year old daughter of Hollywood producers, who was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at age eight. Sadly, somebody is leading Tessa to false hope:

"Nobody can tell you, tell a kid to their face, 'I don't care about you enough to help you,' " she said. "The science did their part, now it's [President Bush's] part to take a chance on it and he hasn't."

In fact, the scientists have not yet accomplished anything definitive, something that stands as a huge silence in the report: viewers would have no sense of how "potentially" (Dr. Gary Small's word) it is that "a stem cell could be developed that produces normal pancreatic cells, and those could be injected into somebody like Tessa who has juvenile diabetes, and in a sense she could grow a new pancreas." Even more resoundingly absent from the report is any mention of the fact that there's an alternative, thus far more promising, way of procuring and using the technology: adult stem cells.

President Bush, it merits mentioning, could represent the entirety of the opposition movement, as far as Primetime makes its viewers aware, so the segment is sort of a bias twofer — support embryonic stem-cell funding, don't vote for Bush. The online text version does acknowledge that private funds can still back the research, although it reads like an afterthought, and I didn't catch the factoid on the televised version. What did come through loud and clear was the mother's response to President Bush's stem cell speech a few years ago (emphasis added):

"We sat in front of the television as a family and sobbed," Fisher said. "Every single one of us, as we watched him talk about taking years off our child's life."

Increasingly, I've noticed a recurring discussion in the comments sections of some of the posts on this blog, about the appropriateness of equivalence between liberals and conservatives. While it is of course true that, for any given person on the Left, one can find an individual on the Right to stand as an antipodal representative, and vice versa, at this point in time, any sense of proportion — and of perception — belies assertions of broad balance. Primetime, if its handling of the stem-cell issue is any indication, is certainly no more "neutral" than Rush Limbaugh, and Rush's biases are headlined, rather than hidden. (Going by this segment, I'd actually place Rush a bit higher on the fair and balanced scale.)

Moreover, watching the flashy, polished presentation of the news shows, one gets a sense of the degree of production behind them. There are crews and professionals working together to make the shows happen. There's money. Power. And when those who wield it decide that they want some policy or other, well friend, let's just say that one shouldn't consider himself informed based solely on the "news" that they provide.

Posted by Justin Katz at August 12, 2004 11:53 PM
News Media
Comments

As a Type 1 diabetic myself (for 25 years or so), I am sympathetic to the situations of people like Ms. Wick and her family. But I also think a lot of their wailing about "taking years off our child's life" is hysterical and completely lacking in perspective. The researcher Doug Melton, at Harvard, has said similar types of things regarding his son's diabetes - in fact Melton changed his whole research program to focus on stem cell research. That's a laudatory move - many people go into research or medicine precisely because of personal motivations like that. But this idea that everyone with a disease is somehow owed a cure to it is ridiculous. (Let alone the unfair political bashing of Bush's policy, which was the first time that the federal government was allowed to fund human embryonic stem cell research, to the tune of $25 million this year.) They should be grateful they live in America, where access to insulin, pumps, and easy-to-use glucose meters, etc., makes taking care of one's diabetes easier than ever.

Science, and medicine, have been so successful that people just expect that that is the way of the world - if you have a disease or ailment, science and technology will produce a cure for you. The lack of understanding of how science works, and the lack of both historical and geographic perspective, make for a toxic mix. There is every possibility that the kinds of cheap emotional ploys exhibited by Primetime will result in a backlash against science when it can't come up with the magical cures fast enough.

Increasingly, I've noticed a recurring discussion in the comments sections of some of the posts on this blog, about the appropriateness of equivalence between liberals and conservatives.

Hmm, that's probably mostly due to Mark and me babbling on off-topic on several posts... ; )

Posted by: Mike S. at August 13, 2004 9:55 AM

But I also think a lot of their wailing about "taking years off our child's life" is hysterical and completely lacking in perspective.
----- I am in complete agreement. The word 'demagogue' comes to mind. It's a problem ('tragedy' is a better word) looking for someone to point the finger at. If only the government ...

Hmm, that's probably mostly due to Mark and me babbling on off-topic on several posts... ; )
------ But I'm so good at babbling off-topic (so my wife tells me :)

Posted by: Mark Miller at August 13, 2004 10:36 AM

We're still waiting for all of those miracle cures that were supposed to come out of the "rainforest".
Hollywood even made a movie about it.

Posted by: Craig at August 13, 2004 2:30 PM