Journalist’s authentification role raises question of partiality

Boston Globe, Dec. 28, 2002
By Stephen Smith, Globe Staff

The reporter chosen to verify a company’s assertion that it has cloned a human was selected because of his previous favorable coverage, says the founder of a religious sect who provided the inspiration for the cloning experiments.

Michael Guillen, formerly a veteran ABC News science correspondent, now confronts two weighty responsibilities as he attempts to authenticate yesterday’s announcement by Clonaid: He holds in his hands both the reputation of an emerging field of science and his own standing as a journalist.

Rael, namesake of the Raelian faith, said in an interview last night that Clonaid CEO Brigitte Boisselier picked Guillen, who has been working as a freelance journalist since leaving ABC’s ”Good Morning America” about a year ago. ”I know he is very good friends with Dr. Boisselier. I think they communicated from the beginning,” Rael said. ”He was the first to make a positive interview about the project. I think that’s why she gave him priority.”

Guillen, who lives in the Boston area, appeared at a Hollywood, Fla., news conference with Clonaid officials. Guillen said he has chosen ”world-class, independent experts” whom he did not identify to draw DNA from the mother and the newborn and test them for a match.

Precedents exist for reporters to gain access to scientific pursuits to verify and chronicle that work, said Bob Giles, curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. Among the most luminous examples is the reporting of William Leonard Laurence during World War II. The New York Times journalist was selected by the US government – and given broad access – to track the development of the atomic bomb and won a Pulitzer Prize in the process. However, the military controlled what he could see and when the articles would appear.

For Guillen, Giles said, one of the tests of his impartiality will be the extent to which his review of the Clonaid research is public.

”It always raises ethical questions when a journalist works under the auspices of an organization such as this group that is claiming a very controversial medical development,” Giles said.

Those concerns were amplified, Giles said, by the presence of Guillen as a participant in the news conference.

”He has crossed a line of independence by appearing to be part of the team that is making the announcement,” said Giles.

According to his resume and the ABC News Web site, Guillen holds a doctorate in theoretical physics, mathematics, and astronomy from Cornell. He also was an instructor at Harvard. He joined ABC in 1988.

Industry sources said yesterday that Guillen’s departure from the network was amicable and that since leaving, he has reported for CNN and produced a pilot cable program.


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Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday December 28, 2002.
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