Reporter caught in the wreckage of Clonaid story

USA Today, Jan. 8, 2003
Peter Johnson, USA TODAY

Michael Guillen has been fascinated by cloning ever since 1997, when Dolly the sheep was cloned and he covered the story as a science editor for ABC’s Good Morning America.

”He was extremely enthusiastic and did some very strong reporting,” GMA producer Shelly Ross says. ”He was determined to stay in the forefront of the story.”

On Dec. 27, when the Montreal-based Clonaid claimed that a 7-pound cloned baby had been born, Guillen, now a freelance reporter, announced that he would oversee independent DNA tests on the baby to prove — or disprove — the claim.

But Monday, after Clonaid continued to refuse to offer the baby for tests, Guillen withdrew from the project, saying it might be ”an elaborate hoax.” Tuesday, Clonaid said the parents wouldn’t allow testing unless they are assured that the baby wouldn’t be taken from them — a concern because a Florida lawyer has filed such a lawsuit.

Now the story could tarnish Guillen, a former Harvard professor who left ABC last fall after 14 years.

After ducking reporters for two weeks, Guillen is trying to salvage his reputation. He talks to Charles Gibson on GMA this morning and CNN’s Connie Chung tonight.

Guillen, who declines to give his age, says Clonaid’s refusal to agree to testing has rightly drawn criticism. ”I’m tearing my hair out in frustration. I stuck my neck out, and they knew it. I’m like Joe Friday in Dragnet. ‘Just the facts, ma’am.’ All I want are some samples (from the baby) so we can find the truth.”

But Guillen, son of a Pentecostal minister, wants to believe the group’s claim: His initial skepticism of Clonaid officials in 1997 vanished after their science credentials checked out. ”It would be unwise to dismiss these people offhand.”

Clonaid was founded by a religious sect called Raelians. Founder Claude Vorilhon, 56, a former pop singer and French auto racing journalist, says extraterrestrials created humans and gave him the name Rael, meaning messenger.

London’s Daily Mail calls him ”a master of media manipulation” and describes the movement’s beliefs as ”a mix of Sixties-style free love and conviction that science holds the keys to humanity’s problems.”

Sunday, The New York Times reported that Guillen tried months ago to sell exclusive coverage of Clonaid’s first baby to the major broadcast networks.

”That’s what freelance reporters do every day of the week,” Guillen says. ”I have to earn a living. What’s wrong with that?”

Guillen says that after Dolly was cloned, he knew it would be only a matter of time before someone cloned a human. Shortly after the Dolly announcement, he did a quick Internet search on the subject and ”out popped the Raelians. I said, ‘This can’t be real.’ ”

On Dec. 27, Guillen says, ”I watched the world have the same reaction to them (the Raelians) that I had six years earlier.”

The British Broadcasting Corporation reported the next day that the news was ”greeted with a mixture of astonishment, revulsion and deep skepticism.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday January 8, 2003.
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