California's new stem cell research agency has generated an impressive wave of negative attention in its first month.
All across the nation, the headlines are harsh.
“Fiasco” was the description on MIT's Technology Review website by its Web editor, Brad King. He recently counted 150 stories exploring negative aspects of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
Matthew J. Peterson of Local Liberty, a blog at the Center for Local Government at the Claremont Institute, said the agency was a “monster” created by “big biotech, Hollywood producers, and other wealthy interests.”
“Biopigs” are clamoring at the trough, wrote another blogger, Derek Gilbert.
Even Proposition 71 supporter California State Sen. Deborah Ortiz, D-Sacramento, complained in an op-ed piece in the San Francisco Chronicle that the “initiative falls glaringly short in providing key protections to the public's pocketbook.”
The Christian Right was largely silent with the exception of LifeNews.Com, where Editor Stephen Ertelt wrote a “we-told-you- so” piece.
Stuart Leavenworth, an associate editor of The Sacramento Bee, weighed in with perhaps the most thorough-going piece, one that was clearly labelled opinion. Some excerpts:
- “There is hope this group may end up operating more openly than the law allows and less secretly than some critics fear. But for that to happen, state officials and the public will have to exercise steady pressure, with an awareness of how much is at stake.”
- “During the meeting, I briefly chatted with (Robert) Klein, tried to arrange a longer interview, and then was dodged by him and his associates. Busy talking and typing into his wireless Blackberry, Klein came across as the consummate business guy, experienced in orchestrating deals but uncomfortable in dealing with the public spotlight.”
- “Although Klein seemed sincere in wanting to hear public comment, committee member Sherry Lansing, CEO of Paramount Pictures, rolled her eyes and yawned while members of the public addressed the board with their concerns.”
Is all this harsh reaction deserved? After all, this is a new agency trying to move very quickly without a staff, right?
Perhaps. But Proposition 71 has a passel of powerful and knowledgeable friends who have operated in the public spotlight for decades. It would have served them well to midwife the birth of CIRM and stanch the flow of negativity. One can hope that Klein and members of the oversight committee today better understand the need to preserve their credibility and the confidence of the public than they did a month ago.
Who's The Man?
Although CIRM has done a fair job of wounding itself, nobody would know unless somebody told the story. As of this week, the main minstrel is Paul Elias, biotechnology writer for The Associated Press. After the initial first meeting debacle in December, an article written last week by Elias spawned most of the negative comment and headlines around the country. Why? Because The AP has national and global distribution. TV, radio, newspapers and web sites around the world use AP -- not reports from regional California newspapers. Often AP simply picks up stories from local papers, but in this case the organization has a reporter specifically covering the agency. That means that the folks at CIRM need to focus sharply on Mr. Elias. He is the starting point for national media coverage and will also establish the initial tone for reporters coming in from outside California, such as those from the New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe and others.
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