Michael Kinsley: Why Aren't Media Beating Up Bush Over Stem Cells?

March 20th, 2007 4:36 PM

What do you do when you're a liberal columnist and there's a pet issue of yours the media aren't being biased about (stem cells) because they haven't covered it, because, well, they're too busy being biased about other stories (Alberto Gonzales, Iraq)?

If you're Slate founding editor and former "Crossfire" host Michael Kinsley, you hack out a blog post about it.

Mucking around Time's "Swampland" political blog, Kinsley expressed frustration at a new development in the stem cell funding issue he thinks has gone underreported in the mainstream media:

Elias Zerhouni, the head of the National Institutes of Health, testified to a Senate committee that he favors a lifting of Bush's limit on stem cell research. It leaves us fighting disease (and foreign competition) "with one hand tied behind our back," Zerhouni said. Clearly prepared to say what he said, Zerhouni offered a vivid metaphor: he called stem cells the "software of life."

This story did not seem to make the paper editions of either the New York Times or the Washington Post. (The Wall Street Journal had a very short blurb on page one and no longer story.) All the papers had it on-line, of course. But isn't this a pretty big deal?

Of course, there's no change in administration policy that merits media coverage here. It's just an official within the Bush administration who is expressing his personal sentiments on federal funding that happen to depart from the White House's policy. To Kinsley, however, that departure from the Bush line is an earth-shattering event worthy of intense media focus. In other words, Kinsley is frustrated the media aren't re-opening the liberal attack points on Bush on stem cell research.

Moreover, Kinsley does remind the reader he has a personal stake in the issue, yet he scoffs at the notion that scientists that favor federal funding for the destruction of embryos for research have anything but selfish motives (such as, I dunno, receiving more money from the taxpayer to conduct in research, rather than having to justify their research budgets to private investors):

I should add that I have an interest here: a malady (Parkinson's) for which stem cells are especially promising. One of the most ridiculous things sometimes suggested by the other side in this dispute is that advocates of embryonic stem cell research are motivated more by a desire to slaughter embryos than by hope for what might come from the research. Let me assure them that the interest in the research is pretty intense and definitely sincere.

Yet what Kinsley left out, of course, is that adult stem cells have shown promise, especially for some Parkinson's patients, of which he is one, or that embryonic cells can develop genetic mutations over time which make them likely to cause tumor formation.

Perhaps for Kinsley, the inconvenient truth about stem cell research is outweighed by his desire for the media to harangue the Bush administration on an issue in which he decidedly has a stake, both as a patient and as a left-wing activist.