Journalist in Cloning Controversy Speaks Out

CNN : Connie Chung Tonight, Jan. 8, 2003
http://www.cnn.com/
Aired January 8, 2003 – 20:00 ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

CONNIE CHUNG, HOST: Tonight: The man who was supposed to confirm claims of the first human clone explains why he now says it might be a hoax.

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ANNOUNCER: An alien sect continues to say their human clone is for real.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. BRIGITTE BOISSELIER, CLONAID: She’s alive. She’s perfectly healthy. And the mother is also very healthy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Now the one journalist in the middle of the cloning controversy steps forward. Is it all an elaborate hoax?
[…removed non-pertinent material…]

This is CONNIE CHUNG TONIGHT. Live from the CNN Broadcast Center in New York: Connie Chung.

CHUNG: Good evening.

Tonight: the man at the center of the latest cloning controversy.

It all started with a stunning announcement from a religious group that believes aliens used cloning to create the human race.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. BRIGITTE BOISSELIER, CLONAID: I’m very, very pleased to announce that the first baby clone is born.

MICHAEL GUILLEN, FREELANCE SCIENCE JOURNALIST: Dr. Boisselier has invited me to put her claim to the test. And I have accepted on behalf of the world’s press on two conditions: that the invitation be given with no strings attached whatsoever; and, No. 2, that the test be conducted by a group of independent world-class experts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHUNG: That was former ABC News science editor not given the access that we were promised to take the required DNA tests. And, therefore, I have to say tonight, there is the possibility that this was a hoax. And until and unless we are given access, there is nothing more that I can say than that.

CHUNG: Well, as soon as they blocked any DNA testing, didn’t that just say it all?

GUILLEN: I think it speaks for itself.

I mean, was there a very plainspoken understanding. I challenged Dr. Boisselier’s claim that she had cloned…

CHUNG: By the way, she is not a medical dollar.

GUILLEN: No she’s not. She is a chemist. She has got two Ph.D.s in chemistry.

So, let’s just say Clonaid made the claim that they had cloned a human baby, no evidence whatsoever, unsubstantiated claim. And I did what I thought was the right thing to do. Instead of sitting impassively and wondering, is this true, is this not true, why not put it to the test?

CHUNG: Well, but you could have done that and not become part of the story. You literally were standing there at the news conference and became part of the story. You used to be a journalist. And if you believe that you still have any measure of credibility, you would not have done anything like that.

GUILLEN: If I look back, Connie, that’s the one regret that I had, that, when I was there covering the news conference for the other journalists, I was sitting with the other journalists covering the news conference.

And when Boisselier mentioned my name as the person was going to put her claims to the test, I stood up and I was going to make a statement that, yes, in fact, I had challenged her claim, that I was going to put together an independent panel to review her claim. And, as I said that, all of the reporters in the room shouted at me: “Go to the podium. Go to the podium,” because that’s where all of the microphones were.

What I should have done was to stand my ground and just stand there and say, no, if you have a question for me, talk to me after the press conference. But instead, I was goaded to go to the podium. And it appeared to the viewers at home that I was basically entering stage right and that I was part of the press conference. And I regret that. That was a mistake.

CHUNG: But you had to have spoken to them before this news conference. So, you knew what was going to happen and you knew that you were going to assemble this group of scientific experts.

GUILLEN: Yes. Oh, yes. But I’m just saying, the visual image…

CHUNG: Well, then, doesn’t that sound like you were in cahoots with them prior to the news conference?

GUILLEN: No. I don’t think so. I wasn’t the only reporter who knew that this announcement was going to be made.

CHUNG: Yes, but how did this deal come about?

GUILLEN: Just like any reporter who has access, I was told that she would be making this announcement and that there would be no evidence attached to the claim.

And I basically said to her, I propose to you to challenge your tests, to challenge your claim. Allow me to put together a team of independent experts, so we can put the claim to the test. It was as simple as that, Connie. There was no behind-the-scenes chicanery. It was just quite straightforward.

CHUNG: All right. Well, then, why were you so secretive about these individual scientists? You wouldn’t reveal who they were going to be, when it was going to be done, or whatever.

GUILLEN: Oh, I see what you’re saying. No, simply because we were told that we couldn’t reveal the identity of this alleged mother and alleged clone. And so I couldn’t reveal…

CHUNG: And you don’t know the identity, correct?

GUILLEN: No. I haven’t had any access to them at all, so that I couldn’t reveal…

CHUNG: All right.

GUILLEN: I was just trying to answer your question.

CHUNG: Yes.

GUILLEN: So I couldn’t reveal the identity of the scientists that I put together, because every reporter in the world would follow them to the location.

But what I had said to the reporters is, when the time comes, I will reveal all the scientists that I have assembled, and you can judge for yourself. You can interrogate them. And can ask them all the questions. And you will see that we have put together an air- tight protocol for conducting the tests. There is nothing to hide.

CHUNG: Well, you know, don’t you think that this group is a little kooky? How could you really even conceive that they might be legitimate? Because I think the conventional wisdom is that…

GUILLEN: When I first looked into the human cloning story, it was right after Ian Wilmut announced that he had cloned the sheep. Remember that? That was back in February of 1997.

CHUNG: Sure. Sure.

GUILLEN: And I realized, at that point, that the technique was so simple, that it was going to invite people in the world to try to apply that to the human…

CHUNG: I know what you’re going to say, because you will go through the process and say that there are certain reasons why you think

(CROSSTALK)

GUILLEN: No, no, I was just answering your question, Connie. I was just simply saying to you that, when I did an Internet right after Wilmut announced cloning of the sheep, I discovered this group, the Raelians. And I had the very same reaction that the world did on December 27. I said, Oh, my God, these people can’t be real.

But then, as I started looking into the story some more, just like any reporter would, I began discovering that, once you get past that UFO stuff and the alien stuff, there is a group…

CHUNG: How can you get past the UFO stuff and the alien stuff?

GUILLEN: Listen, people are entitled to believe…

CHUNG: You’re a scientist.

GUILLEN: Of course I am.

CHUNG: You have been a legitimate journalist for many, many years. And I’m sure you pride yourself on that.

GUILLEN: Yes, ma’am.

CHUNG: But now, you know, Michael, I’m really wondering if the public, they hear a report from you, if they’re going to believe you, if your credibility is intact, because you did put aliens, or whatever, when you got past that.

GUILLEN: Right. Well, everyone will have to decide for themselves. And I think there is room for disagreement as to whether I should have stuck my neck out or not. I think I did the right thing and I would do it again. I just want to get to the truth.

CHUNG: You do? You believe you did the right thing?

GUILLEN: Oh, absolutely. Of course.

The alternative was for all of us to just sit impassively and speculate, is she telling the truth or not? And this is an announcement with very grave consequences, ethically and morally. And so we are bound, responsible, to find out if this is a hoax or if she’s telling the truth.

CHUNG: Sure, but you can do that as a journalist without becoming part of the story. And that’s what happened to you. You became part of the story.

GUILLEN: Well, I suppose that, in sticking my neck out to assemble this independent team, I did attract attention. It was inevitable. That wasn’t my purpose. My purpose, again, was simply to put her claim to the test.

And as far as their beliefs are concerned, as I say look past it, I meant by that that people are entitled to believe whatever they want. I’m a devout Christian, so I find their beliefs — I can’t identify with their beliefs whatsoever.

But, as an investigative reporter, what I found was that these were people when who were hell-bent on cloning, no matter what anybody said. And the technique for cloning is well-known. It’s out there. And plus, a year ago, the National Academy of Sciences held a meeting on human cloning. And they invited Boisselier, Zavos and Antinori. So, even the National Academy of Sciences recognized that the Raelians, that Clonaid, were a major contender that were to be taken not lightly.

CHUNG: I will buy that, in other words, the National Academy of Sciences, but other than that…

GUILLEN: Listen, I’ll grant you this. As I say, Connie, there is room for reasonable people to disagree whether I should have stuck my neck out to test.

But I just want to remind people that I was motivated simply for searching out the truth. It was the most natural thing for me to do, because I’m a scientist. I’m a journalist. I had been following the cloning story for six years. I heard this claim that was unsubstantiated. I challenged the claim.

She accepted my conditions. You heard them on the air, no strings attached, and that the testing be done not by me and Boisselier, because people may say, well, he’s been close to the story. He’s interested in doing a documentary.

CHUNG: Which we had heard you were selling for $100,000.

GUILLEN: Correct. Right. And that’s not true.

CHUNG: So, there appears to be a conflict of interests.

GUILLEN: Right, but there isn’t.

CHUNG: Some quid pro quo.

GUILLEN: Yes, ma’am.

But what I’m trying to suggest to you, Connie, is that there is no conflict of interests, because I was very careful to arrange for the independent experts to be the ones to collect the samples and to analyze them. I would have nothing to do with it whatsoever. So, there is no conflict of interests.

So, I would do it again. The only regret, as I said, is that I was goaded to go to the podium. I shouldn’t. I should have stood my ground. And for that, it was an error of judgment. And I think that’s the one thing — well, I know that’s the one thing I’d change. Otherwise, I would do the same thing again. It was the right thing to do.

CHUNG: Earlier, you said — you cast some doubt. You thought maybe there is no baby. Maybe this is a hoax. But, then again, you said that you had some privileged information that might lead you to believe that indeed there was a cloned baby.

It’s time to come clean. If you have privileged information, you need to tell it, not only for your own sake, but for the sake of everyone who wants to know the truth.

GUILLEN: You’re a newswoman. You know that, in the course of collecting information on a story, there is a time and a place to do that.

And what I have said all along is that, when the time comes, when I feel that there is absolutely no hope of getting access to the couple, then I will reveal the experts to my fellow journalists. They’ll be able to interrogate them, ask them any questions, and you will see…

CHUNG: But it’s not the experts. It’s not the experts.

GUILLEN: And also the information, Connie.

But you know we accumulate evidence as journalists and we don’t necessarily go right to press. Journalists in newspapers, they will collect information and they wait for the right time to publish.

CHUNG: But would you say, at this moment…

GUILLEN: Yes, ma’am?

CHUNG: … you are 90 percent convinced that there is no baby?

GUILLEN: Again, I don’t mean to be stubborn, but I’m a scientist. I don’t like to speculate about believing, disbelieving, do I have a hunch or don’t I have a hunch. I trade in evidence. It’s just the facts that I’m after. And all I’ve ever…

CHUNG: And there is no evidence.

GUILLEN: Right. And there is no evidence.

And all I’ve ever wanted from day one — and that’s why I would do this all over again — I’m quite proud of what I did — is that I wanted to test the claim. This is an unsubstantiated claim. All I wanted to do is to test the DNA and lay it to rest. Is this a hoax or is this the truth?

CHUNG: All right, I hear you.

Thank you, Michael…

GUILLEN: You’re welcome.

CHUNG: … so much for being with us.

GUILLEN: Thank you, Connie. God bless you.

CHUNG: By the way, I want you to listen to this.

A new CNN/”USA Today”/Gallup poll found that 86 percent of 1,000 Americans polled think the government should make it illegal for people to have a baby through cloning. Interesting.

GUILLEN: I’m not surprised, yes.
[…removed non-pertinent material…]

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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday January 9, 2003.
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