NY Times, CNN reported Bush signed "fetal farming" ban, failed to note there is no such thing as "fetal farming"

››› ››› JOE BROWN

In their coverage of President Bush's recent veto of embryonic stem cell legislation, The New York Times and CNN reported that Bush also signed a bill that day banning "fetal farming" -- creating embryos or fetuses specifically for use as a source of cells or tissue. But neither noted that "fetal farming" is neither being carried out, nor is it "under serious scientific consideration," as National Public Radio's Julie Rovner reported.

In their coverage of President Bush's July 19 veto of legislation that would have expanded federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, The New York Times and CNN reported that Bush also signed a bill that day banning "fetal farming" -- creating embryos or fetuses specifically for use as sources of cells or tissue. But neither the Times nor CNN noted that "fetal farming" is a nonexistent practice -- it is neither being carried out, nor is it "under serious scientific consideration," as National Public Radio health policy correspondent Julie Rovner reported on the July 19 broadcast of Morning Edition. While the Chicago Tribune also reported Bush's expected signing of the "fetal farming" bill without noting the strictly hypothetical nature of the practice, a separate article by the same reporter noted that "fetal farming" is not actually taking place.

Rovner reported that the "Fetus Farming Prohibition Act of 2006" -- proposed by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) and co-sponsored by Sens. Sam Brownback (R-KS), Richard Burr (R-NC), and Jeff Sessions (R-AL) -- was motivated by "politics," as opposed to any purported need to ban an actual scientific practice. According to Rovner, "Republican leaders knew" that Bush would veto the embryonic stem cell bill, "[s]o they came up with two other bills he could sign, allowing him to claim to be pro-stem cell research." The first bill -- proposed by Santorum and passed by the Senate -- encouraged research using stem cells not derived from human embryos. But a motion to suspend the House rules and pass the bill failed to achieve the two-thirds majority required in a July 18 vote. (On a Monday or Tuesday, a motion may be filed to suspend the rules of the House and pass a bill without amendments, allowing only 40 minutes of debate. This type of motion requires a two-thirds majority to pass and is typically used only for swift consideration of non-controversial legislation.) The second bill banned "fetal farming" and was signed by Bush July 19.

The Times and CNN reported Bush's signing of the "fetal farming" ban without noting the strictly hypothetical nature of "fetal farming." A July 20 New York Times article by staff writer Sheryl Gay Stolberg reported that Bush had "signed a 'fetal farming' measure, barring trafficking in embryos and fetuses with the intent of harvesting body parts." The article did not note, however, that "fetal farming" is not actually being carried out, nor is it being seriously considered by the scientific community:

The bill Mr. Bush vetoed would have allowed taxpayer-financed research on lines derived from embryos slated for destruction by fertility clinics. Mr. Bush also signed a ''fetal farming'' measure, barring trafficking in embryos and fetuses with the intent of harvesting body parts.

''These boys and girls are not spare parts,'' the president said in a speech that was interrupted repeatedly by hoots of applause, and twice by standing ovations. ''They remind us of what is lost when embryos are destroyed in the name of research.''

Similarly, a July 20 CNN.com article reported that Bush had "signed the 'fetal farming' legislation," which would "ban the commercial production of human fetal tissue":

Opponents argue that other alternatives, such as adult stem cells, are available. Two companion bills -- one to promote alternative means of developing stem-cell lines from sources such as placental blood and another to ban the commercial production of human fetal tissue, also known as "fetal farming" -- passed the Senate in 100-0 votes.

On Tuesday evening, the House approved the "fetal farming" bill 425-0 but didn't pass the measure promoting alternative stem-cell sources when backers failed to achieve the two-thirds majority that House rules required. The vote on the alternative-sources bill was 273-154.

Bush signed the "fetal farming" legislation and urged Congress to fund alternative research.

Additionally, a July 19 Chicago Tribune article by correspondent Jill Zuckman reported Bush's expected signing of the "fetal farming" ban, but failed to note that "fetal farming" is not actually being conducted. However, in a subsequent July 20 article reporting Bush's signing of the "fetal farming" ban, Zuckman noted that "scientists say ["fetal farming"] is not happening."

From the Chicago Tribune's July 19 article:

The Senate also passed a bill to promote research that does not include creation or destruction of embryos, something already allowed under current law. And it passed a bill to prohibit "fetal farming," or growing embryos for the sole purpose of harvesting tissue. The votes were 100-0 in both cases.

The House passed the fetal farming bill Tuesday night but did not get the necessary two-thirds vote for the other measure. Bush is expected to sign the fetal farming bill as early as Wednesday. Another House vote is possible on the bill to promote research that doesn't include creation or destruction of embryos.

From the Chicago Tribune's July 20 article:

At the White House, Bush issued his veto in private, without cameras present. He also signed a bill into law to prohibit "fetal farming," growing fetuses for the sole purpose of harvesting tissue, which is something that scientists say is not happening.

From the July 19 broadcast of NPR's Morning Edition:

ROVNER: But politics is playing a major role in this debate. Republican leaders knew President Bush would veto the bill expanding funding of embryonic stem cell research, putting him at odds with most of the public. So, they came up with two other bills he could sign, allowing him to claim to be pro-stem cell research.

Kansas Republican Senator Sam Brownback is sponsor of one of those bills. It would ban so-called fetus farming, in which embryos are gestated in women or animals before being harvested for their stem cells or other tissues. He says his measure represents an important step even if the practice isn't under serious scientific consideration.

BROWNBACK: Somebody was saying, well, we weren't going to do it anyway, but that's what they said about human cloning when we started out on this debate; so you're going to ban "fetal farming."

ROVNER: But the other supposedly noncontroversial bill failed to pass when it reached the House last night. It would encourage research into alternative ways to find stem-cells that show as much promise as those derived from human embryos. The attack on the bill was launched by sponsors of the bill facing the veto. Colorado Democrat Diana DeGette insisted she has substantive concerns about the bill, but she also admitted the effort was partly to deprive the president of some political cover.

REP. DIANA DeGETTE (D-CO): No one will be fooled by this fig leaf. The tens of millions of people who suffer from diseases like Parkinson's, diabetes, paralysis, cancer, they know that this research holds hope and they know that 72 percent of Americans support this.

ROVNER: This snag is apparently a temporary one. The House, later today, is expected to bring the bill up for a second vote it will likely win. And any attempt to override the promised veto will almost certainly fail.

Posted In
Environment & Science, Stem Cell Research, Government
Network/Outlet
The New York Times, CNN
Stories/Interests
Sam Brownback, 2008 Elections
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