Denver newscasts misled on stem cell bill, failed to report DeGette's sponsorship

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

Denver television stations reporting on a bill that would ease restrictions on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research uncritically reported misleading criticisms of the measure. Three reports stated that the bill would require "destruction" of "human embryos" without noting that it would limit research to embryos that otherwise would have been "discarded." Additionally, some reports did not state that Democratic U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette of Denver was the primary House sponsor.

Reporting on the passage of Senate Bill 5, which would ease current restrictions on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, several Denver television newscasts uncritically reported opponents' misleading criticisms of the bill. For example, KUSA's 9News at 5 p.m., KDVR Fox 31's News at Nine O'Clock, and KCNC's CBS4 News at 6 p.m. repeated the dubious criticism that the bill would require the "destruction" of "human embryos." However, all three newscasts failed to mention that the bill's provisions apply only to research cells that "have been donated from in vitro fertilization clinics, were created for the purposes of fertility treatment ... were in excess of the clinical need of the individuals seeking such treatment ... would never be implanted in a woman and would otherwise be discarded" -- requirements Colorado Media Matters has detailed (here and here). Furthermore, three newscasts neglected to note that U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), a longtime advocate for stem cell research, served as the bill's primary House sponsor.

During its report, CBS4 uncritically repeated President Bush's warning that if SB 5 "were to become law, American taxpayers would for the first time in our history be compelled to support the deliberate destruction of human embryos." Fox 31 similarly reported that "the commander in chief is among many critics who is against research requiring the destruction of human embryos." Additionally, 9News dubiously reported, "Republicans say the research requires the destruction of millions of human embryos." But none of the reports noted, as KMGH's 7News at 10 p.m. did, that the cells in question "would have come to clinics from in vitro clinics and they would only be taken from embryos that would otherwise be discarded."

Similarly, the Associated Press noted that DeGette's bill "would permit funding for research on embryonic stem cells ... as long as they were donated from in-vitro fertilization clinics [and] would 'otherwise be discarded.' " The AP further quoted Republican co-sponsor Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE) as affirming, "No stem cell would ever be taken from an embryo that was not destined to be destroyed in any event."

Additionally, 9News, Fox 31, and 7News did not mention, as CBS4 did, that "Colorado Congresswoman Diana DeGette is the bill's leading advocate." A June 7 AP article posted on The Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News websites also reported that DeGette has been "the bill's leading advocate":

The House vote to send the measure to President Bush was 247-176, 35 short of the level needed to override a second veto in as many years on the issue.

"For many, embryonic stem cell research is the most promising source of potential treatments and cures" for debilitating disease, said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., the bill's leading advocate.

"Unfortunately, because of the stubbornness of one man -- President Bush -- these people continue to suffer as they wait," she added.

Furthermore, while reporting on "Republican" criticism of SB 5, Fox 31 and 9News did not note that, in addition to having a Republican co-sponsor, the bill passed on a 247-176 House vote, with a significant number of Republicans voting in favor. 9News co-anchor Bob Kendrick misleadingly reported that "Republicans" were opposed to the bill; similarly, Fox 31 co-anchor Deborah Takahara stated, "Democrats may not win the war on stem cell research." However, as a June 7 Reuters article reported, "Thirty-seven of Bush's fellow Republicans joined 210 Democrats in voting for the bill, which backers say holds hope and potential cures for millions of people suffering from debilitating diseases, such cancer, Parkinson's and diabetes."

From the June 7 broadcast of KUSA's 9News at 5 p.m.:

KENDRICK: Despite an almost-certain presidential veto, Congress approved a bill to ease federal funding restrictions for stem cell research. That tops our look at "America Today." Final vote: 247 to 176, divided along party lines. Democrats have emphasized the potential of embryonic stem cell research and the promise of treatment for diseases like Alzheimer's. Republicans say the research requires the destruction of millions of human embryos. Polls show the public generally supports stem cell research. President Bush vetoed a similar bill last year.

From the June 7 broadcast of KDVR Fox 31's News at Nine O'Clock:

TAKAHARA: They have won the battle on Capitol Hill, but Democrats may not win the war on stem cell research. A bill destined for veto from President Bush. It would ease restrictions on federal funding for embryonic research, but the commander in chief is among many critics who is against research requiring the destruction of human embryos.

From the June 7 broadcast of KCNC's CBS4 News at 6 p.m.:

JIM BENEMANN (co-anchor): Congress passed a bill today that would ease the restrictions on federal money for embryonic stem cell research. The vote total, though, in the House is 35 shy of overriding a likely presidential veto. President Bush said later on, quote, "If this bill were to become law, American taxpayers would for the first time in our history be compelled to support the deliberate destruction of human embryos." Colorado Congresswoman Diana DeGette is the bill's leading advocate and says the research will save lives.

From the June 7 broadcast of KMGH's 7News at 10 p.m.:

MIKE LANDESS (co-anchor): Tonight, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is urging President Bush to sign a new bill on stem cell research. He won't sign it into law. The bill passed the House by a 2 to 47 -- that's 247, pardon me, to 146 vote. The cells would have to come to clinics from in vitro clinics and they would only be taken from embryos that would otherwise be discarded. Democrats are thrilled with the passage of the bill. Republican leaders have mixed feelings.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH): All of us here support stem cell research, but stem cell research that does not destroy human life.

LANDESS: President Bush has promised to veto this bill and Republican lawmakers say they have the votes to uphold such a veto.

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