Politico uncritically cited anonymous White House aides touting Bush "vindication" on stem cells, air traffic improvements

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The Politico's Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei wrote that unnamed "Bush advisers are considering ways to call attention to scientists' announcement, which the White House believes was lost in Thanksgiving week, about discoveries that could lead to the creation of stem cells without embryos -- a vindication, in the view of Bush's aides, of his reservations about approving broader federal funding of embryonic stem cell research." But Allen and VandeHei did not note that the senior author of the paper that announced that discovery, James Thomson, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that the research "[f]ar from vindicat[es] the current U.S. policy of withholding federal funds."

In a December 3 Politico article, chief political writer Mike Allen and executive editor Jim VandeHei reported that President Bush is "laying the groundwork for a 2008 strategy aimed at assisting GOP candidates early on and improving his image at home and overseas." Allen and VandeHei wrote that unnamed "Bush advisers are considering ways to call attention to scientists' announcement, which the White House believes was lost in Thanksgiving week, about discoveries that could lead to the creation of stem cells without embryos -- a vindication, in the view of Bush's aides, of his reservations about approving broader federal funding of embryonic stem cell research." However, Allen and VandeHei did not note that the senior author of the paper that announced that discovery, James A. Thomson, wrote in a December 3 Washington Post op-ed with Alan I. Leshner, the executive publisher of the journal Science, that the research "[f]ar from vindicat[es] the current U.S. policy of withholding federal funds." Nor did Allen and VandeHei identify any of the Bush aides quoted, writing only that the aides are "intimately involved in crafting next year's [White House] strategy," and that they "asked for anonymity to discuss internal planning."

Additionally, Allen and VandeHei reported that the "White House is increasingly focusing on modest initiatives such as the marginal improvements to the air-traffic system announced before the Thanksgiving travel rush." The article then quoted an unnamed White House "official," saying that "[t]he [news] coverage of that was good, both before and after the holiday, and it actually helped make things better." However, according to a November 27 New York Times article, statistics from the Federal Aviation Administration show that "air traffic delays were worse on the three main travel days of this Thanksgiving holiday period compared with a year ago, according to preliminary Federal Aviation Administration statistics." Moreover, the Times reported, "Though President Bush ordered military air space opened to relieve flight congestion, its use appears to have been light."

The November 27 New York Times article in its entirety:

Air traffic delays were worse on the three main travel days of this Thanksgiving holiday period compared with a year ago, according to preliminary Federal Aviation Administration statistics. Delays on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving affected 3,124 flights, an increase of 65.9 percent; on Wednesday, 2,678 flights, up 21 percent; and on Sunday, 2,442 flights, up 14.1 percent. Delays were down slightly on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Weather was the major cause of delays, and the figures do not include mechanical breakdowns. Though President Bush ordered military air space opened to relieve flight congestion, its use appears to have been light. About 60 planes used the military space from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, the F.A.A. said. The agency did not have figures for later in the day.

In their Post op-ed, Thomson and Leshner wrote that while "[b]eing able to reprogram skin cells into multipurpose stem cells without harming embryos launches an exciting new line of research," the research is still at "square one" and "[f]ar from vindicat[es]" the Bush administration's policy against funding embryonic stem cell research.

From Thomson and Leshner's December 3 op-ed:

A new way to trick skin cells into acting like embryos changes both everything and nothing at all. Being able to reprogram skin cells into multipurpose stem cells without harming embryos launches an exciting new line of research. It's important to remember, though, that we're at square one, uncertain at this early stage whether souped-up skin cells hold the same promise as their embryonic cousins do.

Far from vindicating the current U.S. policy of withholding federal funds from many of those working to develop potentially lifesaving embryonic stem cells, recent papers in the journals Science and Cell described a breakthrough achieved despite political restrictions. In fact, work by both the U.S. and Japanese teams that reprogrammed skin cells depended entirely on previous embryonic stem cell research.

Thomson and Leshner further asserted that Bush's policy on embryonic stem cell research has created a "stigma" that "surely has discouraged some talented young Americans from pursuing stem cell research." After stating that they hoped Congress would overturn Bush's veto on the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, Thomson and Leshner concluded, "Further delays in pursuing the clearly viable option of embryonic stem cells will result in an irretrievable loss of time."

Media Matters for America has previously noted other news outlets characterizing recent research on stem cells as a victory for the Bush administration without noting Thomson's caveat that it would be "premature to abandon research with stem cells taken from human embryos":

  • On the November 25 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, Fox News Washington managing editor Brit Hume and Weekly Standard executive editor Bill Kristol asserted that the scientific technique, if it performed as claimed, would end the debate over embryonic stem cell research.
  • In a November 21 New York Times "News Analysis" examining the political significance of the recent scientific announcement, Sheryl Gay Stolberg wrote: "The findings have put people on both sides of the stem cell divide on nearly equal political footing." She wrote that Bush "has steadfastly maintained that scientists would come up with an alternative method of developing embryonic stem cells, one that did not involve killing embryos," adding, "[N]ow that scientists in Japan and Wisconsin have apparently achieved what Mr. Bush envisioned, the White House is saying, 'I told you so.' "

From the December 3 Politico article:

On the domestic side, Bush plans to mark the upcoming seventh anniversary of the creation of his Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and plans to make more trips to highlight successful efforts to make federal social service funds available to religious charities.

Bush advisers are considering ways to call attention to scientists' announcement, which the White House believes was lost in Thanksgiving week, about discoveries that could lead to the creation of stem cells without embryos -- a vindication, in the view of Bush's aides, of his reservations about approving broader federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

Sobered by legislative losses on issues such as immigration, the White House is increasingly focusing on modest initiatives such as the marginal improvements to the air-traffic system announced before the Thanksgiving travel rush.

"The [news] coverage of that was good, both before and after the holiday, and it actually helped make things better," the official said.

Once, Republicans derided such limited initiatives as "Clintonian," because President Bill Clinton racked up a huge number of them.

But now, the White House brags about them as points on the board.

Officials, while acknowledging a key part of their legislative strategy will be fighting objectionable measures such as tax increases, said they retain a slim hope that Congress will reconsider changes that Bush has requested for a renewed version of the No Child Left Behind education act.

"There is a possibility that leaders in Congress may realize that they need to demonstrate that they can get some things done," the officials said. "They may have a greater impetus to try to do that next year than they've shown this year."

Democrats say the president shouldn't count on it.

Rather than running on the majority's slim achievements, the party is considering an election message that boils down to: We need more Democrats to fight the Republicans.

Posted In
Environment & Science, Stem Cell Research
Network/Outlet
The Politico
Person
Jim VandeHei, John F. Harris
Stories/Interests
Propaganda/Noise Machine
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