Fox News' stem cell expert: Ralph Reed

When it's time for a fair and balanced discussion of the issue, the network turns to the former Christian Coalition head.


Alex Koppelman
March 9, 2009 9:15PM (UTC)

At this point, it seems like Fox News has just gone ahead and dropped that whole pretense of being "fair and balanced." Not that you can blame them, really -- when it was the network's job to defend an increasingly unpopular President Bush, their ratings were plummeting, and now that their viewers have someone to hate in President Obama, it makes sense to turn into the anti-Obama channel.

Still, it was at least a little surprising to see that, of all the people Fox could have had on to talk about the president's move to overturn his predecessor's ban on federal funding for stem cell research, they turned to former Christian Coalition Executive Director Ralph Reed.

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Naturally, Reed -- who was on by himself -- opposes Obama's move.

"First of all, the president knows that there is not a ban on embryonic stem cell research," Reed said. "In fact, if you look at the Bush policy, it was principled, it was balanced, and it's really been vindicated by events. George W. Bush was the first president to actually fund embryonic stem cell research, he did it with 22 existing stem cell lines ...  What he said was that he was not going to federally fund the creation and destruction of additional human embryos for the purpose of harvesting cells from those embryos."

In this, Reed is technically right. In a more real sense, however, he's completely wrong. What Bush's restrictions did was ensure that most embryonic stem cell research was completely impractical. Most institutions doing this kind of research receive federal funding for other projects; as a result, they had to come up with separate facilities to ensure that there were no federal dollars going to embroynic stem cell work.

"It's been very inhibiting," Gordon C. Weir, a professor of medicine who works at the Joslin Diabetes Center, told the Harvard Crimson. "You have to go through a lot of hoops in order to find the space to be able to do the work." The Crimson also reported that Weir's stem cell research had to take place in one specific room that was renovated without using federal money, and noted that under Bush's ban, "stem cell researchers must be exceedingly careful to ensure that nothing funded by the NIH contributes in any way to embryonic stem cell research, forcing researchers to purchase duplicate sets of expensive equipment and laboratory supplies."

This red tape set up an interesting sort of Catch-22 for people like Reed to exploit. On Fox, he noted, "The real progress has been made in adult stem cells, it's been made in cells harvested from amniotic fluid and cord blood. There's not a single person in America who's had a disease cured by embryonic stem cells."

Well, yeah. Considering the Bush administration's restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, why should that be surprising?

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Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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