Aired January 10, 2003 - 19:30:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN ANCHOR: Hello.
I'm Fionnuala Sweeney, in London. Welcome to CNN's INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS.
In this edition, attacking the clones. Should the media have done a double take before reporting on the claims of the birth of the first human clone?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stop the violence, stop the hate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stop the violence, stop the hate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stop the violence, stop the hate.
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SWEENEY: Giving them a voice. We look at whether the media are doing enough to make the anti-war camp heard.
But first, the discovery of the deadly poison ricin in a north London apartment. It's created an atmosphere of heightened alert in Britain.
So far, seven people have been arrested, six of whom are believed to be Algerian.
Both the British and the international media honed in on the story, raising the inevitable question of whether they may be related to al Qaeda.
But how important is it for the media to make this connection? And are they simply trying to put a face on an ever-elusive enemy?
For more now I'm joined by Martin Bright, home affairs editor for "The Observer," and CNN senior international correspondent Nic Robertson.
Martin, do we use this term, al Qaeda, too loosely, in your opinion?
MARTIN BRIGHT, "THE OBSERVER": I think it's always tempting to use the term al Qaeda. It's always easier for journalists to sell the story to their news desk. It's always easier to punch stories when you've got that phrase, al Qaeda.
It's becoming largely meaningless, I think, and also becoming very dangerous, because we are simply branding anybody who is arrested under terrorist legislation who comes from the Middle East or north Africa as being connected to al Qaeda, and I think it's becoming quite sinister.
SWEENEY: Isn't this the problem though, Nic, that al Qaeda has come to represent any number of different groups with perhaps different specific individual agendas, but overall what is seen to be an anti-Western agenda?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INT. CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly what's known about al Qaeda is that this is the way that they've operated before, that they do have very loose links and affiliations and have wanted to, with many different groups around the world.
So it is easy, if you will, to make those connections. And one does have to be absolutely responsible in trying to insure that the information you receive from intelligence sources or whomever, is accurate on making that connection.
And as we say here, it is a very easy way to sell a story, if you will. If you put al Qaeda in there, people will sit up and pay attention.
SWEENEY: But presumably, Martin, the intelligence sources have their own agenda too, when they're giving one the information.
BRIGHT: Yes. I mean, the problem with intelligence information is that it's almost impossible to verify. And unless you've got your own sources within terrorist organizations, it's very difficult to know whether what they're telling you has anything to do with reality.
And I think one of the things that's extremely worrying here is when we talk about loose affiliations and we talk about these organizations being allied, sometimes not allied, and sometimes having marriages of convenience, then it's quite easy to simply brand everyone as being loosely affiliated to al Qaeda, because if you ask them, they would have vaguely the same sorts of ideological baggage.
SWEENEY: And how worried are you by the amount of information that is published about individuals who are arrested in connection with allegedly al Qaeda agendas?
BRIGHT: Well, we're running, even as we're speaking, we're running into problems, of course, in terms of court cases that are forthcoming, and I think the British press has fallen over itself to publish details and speculation about the arrests around the allegations of a gas attack on the tube, and indeed these allegations about people that have been arrested in north London with the ricin, that may prove to be completely untrue, and indeed we may succeed in completely (UNINTELLIGIBLE) those trials. So I think we've got to look deeply into ourselves.
SWEENEY: Nic, is that a view that you would share? And if so, why do you think it's happening?
ROBERTSON: The police have a responsibility to round up terrorist suspects, if they will.
Journalists have a responsibly not to interfere with the law. They have a responsibly to report accurately whatever they can about these cases. But it would be very much on the mind of a journalist if you felt that what you had done or what you had reported prejudiced a trial of somebody who was guilty of something.
SWEENEY: Then again, this goes back to, I suppose, an issue that we've talked about before on this program, Martin, which is how much access to information a journalist really has. And when we talk about sources, whose actually spoon feeding who.
ROBERTSON: How much of what we know about these recent arrests do we know? I suspect that there's a huge amount that we don't know. Why are the little bits of information we've been given so far by intelligence sources, why have they chosen to give us these bits of information?
We don't know, so you have to reflect on that, and you have to make a judgment on it. You do have to be careful.
SWEENEY: And, Martin, then of course that leads one then to the rivalry and pressure of working for a newspaper or a media organization and ratings with other newspapers and other media organizations in terms of what one might publish.
Do you believe that this slippage, as you've talked about, you know, how much the British press talks about and perhaps prejudices forthcoming trials, has been allowed to happen deliberately?
BRIGHT: I think that it would be very easy for the attorney general to stop this happening. It would just take one journalist, or in particular one editor, to be prosecuted for contempt of court, which could easily be done with any number of these stories, and it would stop immediately.
This has not happened. The attorney general has not moved on some of the more outlandish claims being made about some of these arrests, and we know from other cases, such as the case of David Shayler, the MI5 officer whose recently been prosecutes, that when the attorney general wants to, he move very, very quickly to shut newspapers up.
So I can only assume that in this case he's chosen not to.
SWEENEY: Martin Bright, Nic Robertson, there we have to leave it. Thank you very much.
Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, does the Clonaid crowd deserve any coverage?
SWEENEY: Welcome back to INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS.
The announcement claiming the birth of the first human clone sparked a media fury over the past few weeks. News conferences carried live on television, front page headlines, all giving the story significant coverage.
Clonaid, the group making these spectacular and as of yet unproven claims, is linked to the Raelians, a religious group that believes space aliens came to earth and began the human race through cloning.
But in the latest turn of events, the scientists and freelance journalist Dr. Michael Guillen, who was appointed by Clonaid to evaluate these claims, suspended his review this week, saying it could all be part of an elaborate hoax. Well, he joins me now, from Boston.
First of all, Dr. Guillen, why have you suspended the process? And do you consider it suspended for the time being?
DR. MICHAEL GUILLEN, SCIENCE JOURNALIST: Right, Fionnuala.
We were promised access to the alleged couple and the alleged clone. That is to say, the independent experts that I had selected were going to take DNA samples and have them analyzed and that would enable us to get to the bottom of this thing, whether it was a hoax or not, and that promise just has not materialized to this point, and I thought that to maintain my credibility, I had to suspend until and unless we're given the access we were promised initially.
And we're willing to mobilize again.
SWEENEY: You mention the word creditability. I mean, do you believe that this has done serious damage to your reputation, both as a scientist and as a journalist?
GUILLEN: I don't think so, Fionnuala, because think about it. I mean, every news organization in the world put their credibility on the line on December 27th by even paying attention to this claim. They were all there, all the media.
And I'm the one guy who proposed a fool-proof scientific test to figure out if these people were lying to us or not.
So I put it to you: Should I be faulted or penalized for trying to do that, or should I be thanked and rewarded? I'll leave everyone to answer that question for themselves, but I really do think in fairness it should be the latter.
SWEENEY: Do you feel you've been harshly treated by the media?
GUILLEN: You know, I think there has been some misinformation. Harshly -- I don't want to put a spin on that because, quite frankly, I'm a journalist and I understand that when there is a breaking story, it's very difficult to get the facts straight.
I think there have been several misconceptions, one of which is that my interest in doing a documentary on human cloning in general, not just on Clonaid's work, but there are many other players involved, has been misrepresented as somehow affecting my objectivity.
I foresaw that, by the way, Fionnuala, and that's why I stated very clearly from the get-go that I personally would not be involved in testing. I would put together a first rate, unbiased team of experts who have no dog in this fight. They would collect the DNA samples. They would keep custody of those samples, be put in envelopes with evidence tape, taken to the lab, and we would do both nuclear and mitochondrial DNA testing.
So that was, I thought, an unfair criticism of me, and I think it was just based on a misunderstanding of the facts...
SWEENEY: But did you actually foresee the controversy that this would cause?
GUILLEN: But I have no hard feelings. I invite criticism.
SWEENEY: Did you foresee the controversy that this would cause, and the images of you standing there on the podium as well, attending news conferences, standing with members of Clonaid, sort of, certainly didn't do much for your reputation as an impartial journalist trying to get to the truth.
GUILLEN: I think you put your finger on it.
If I look back, Fionnuala, I think I to have one regret. I'd do everything else in a New York minute, because it was the right think to do, as I said, to try to get at the truth. But that was the one thing I would do differently.
I was there covering the press conference, like all the other reporters who were crammed in that room. And when my name was mentioned inevitably as the person who was going to be assembling the independent team to put the claim to the test, I stood up to make a statement to my colleagues, and at that point, they all shouted at me, go to the podium, go to the podium, because that's when all the microphones had been placed.
What I should have done is, I should have stood my ground, Fionnuala, and said no, this is not my press conference. If you have questions for me, then I will answer them afterwards. But instead, I allowed myself to get swept up in the moment, to be goaded to go to the podium. I take full responsibility for that. That was a mistake.
SWEENEY: Dr. Michael Guillen, thank you very much.
Well, the cloning story has turned the spotlight on the media, and to what extent were the press themselves misled, and in turn the public?
I'm joined now boy Jim Ruttenberg media reporter for the "New York Times," and here in the studio, David Concar, deputy editor of the science and technology weekly magazine, the "New Scientist."
First of all, Jim, what's you're assessment about how the media handled this issue over the last couple of weeks?
JIM RUTTENBERG, "NEW YORK TIMES": Well, they certainly covered the heck out of it, and it provided some stunning copy in the beginning. I think it sure did fizzle and die later, but it was a heavily covered front page story on a lot of newspapers, very heavily covered on the domestic cable networks. It was a fantastic story that has since ratter fizzled.
SWEENEY: David Concar, let me ask you, do you believe the media has handled this issue, the whole cloning story over the last couple of weeks, in an informed, educated way?
DAVID CONCAR, DEPUTY EDITOR, "NEW SCIENTIST": It's a very hard thing to comment on, because it was a huge story when it first blew up. I mean, it had to be a big story.
I mean, here you've got this very weird sect making this extraordinary claim. If this claim -- if any of their claims are true, then it is a honkingly big story, and everyone will want to know about it, watch it on their TV screens, and read about it.
So the question is, the press has to cover this. It has to go quite big on it. So, did it get it right?
And I think what's interesting, if you look at the press reports from day one, they were -- they served this story up, rightly, with dollops of skepticism from the word go. I mean, the "British Daily Mail," day one headline was "Baby Clone Or Big Con"? That was the headline, so that's not even in the fine print of the story.
So I think it's unfair to say that they were misled. I don't think they were misled. I think they were caught in a difficult position. This was a story they had to go very big on, but it was also a story they sort of didn't really believe that much.
SWEENEY: Jim, does this really say that anybody who has any kind of story at all, or a big scoop, can call a news conference and the world's media will jump to attention? And there's a greater question of whether there could or should indeed be any kind of criteria laid down for covering a scientific story of this nature?
RUTTENBERG: Well, again, I don't know if we need a criteria.
I think that, again, the science reporters were themselves quite careful. I think, yes, unfortunately, probably any group can make some major claim and get a lot of coverage in the beginning, when it's a claim of this sort of importance.
But criteria, not necessarily. I think just let's all remind ourselves to be very careful and keep the skepticism high, on any such claim.
SWEENEY: And, David, what are the lessons that can be learned by the media for covering the next Clonaid-type story?
CONCAR: Well, it was interesting about the skepticism. There was almost a stampede to question this story, right from the word go.
I think what happened in that stampede is we almost lost sight of the real reasons to be skeptical. I mean, good reasons to be skeptical were mixed in and thrown in with bad reasons.
So the best reason to be skeptical, there wasn't any evidence, not just not any DNA evidence. There wasn't any evidence this child has even been born.
So that's a very good reason to be skeptical. A very bad reason, or a much weaker reason to be skeptical is the fact that these people wear (UNINTELLIGIBLE) spacesuits and don't have any orthodox science credentials. Because the fact is that, like it or not, a religious sect of this sort is probably better placed than an orthodox mainstream science lab, as far as getting hold of the human eggs and the willing female volunteers that you need in abundance to do this kind of science.
So I think there are good reasons to be skeptical, bad reasons to be skeptical, and I think we saw examples of both in this coverage. For the future, I think this story, I think Jim's right. This story is fizzling out. I think that's sort of sad, because I think there are loose ends. I mean, what really lies behind these claims? We don't know. Is sort of begins to look increasingly like just a strung out publicity stunt, but it would be good to have that confirmed. It would be good to see some thorough investigation going on on this religious sect, if only to tie up the loose ends and to give the public, you know, some sort of conclusion and closure on it.
SWEENEY: And on that issue of the public, Jim, where does this leave the public? Because the media serves the public, and these people, presumably were after publicity. Doesn't it leave them rather confused?
RUTTENBERG: It might leave the public confused, but I think the coverage has been rather thorough in kind of spelling out exactly how this went down, where the flaws were, where there is no evidence.
And, in a way, was the public really so horribly mis-served in this? There was a very robust debate about the ethics of human cloning. We know other people are trying to do the same -- really clone a human.
So, we had a very robust debate that, you know, it only had it's very beginning, and we could have a lot more of.
So, I'm not saying they did quite a public service, but I think there is some positive out of this.
SWEENEY: All right, Jim Ruttenberg, Dave Concar, thank you very much indeed.
And still ahead on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, are the media giving the anti-war camp a big enough plat form? That when we come back.
SWEENEY: Welcome back.
Chief U.N. Weapons Inspector Hans Blix voiced further concerns on Thursday over Iraq's declaration of its weapons program.
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HANS BLIX, U.N. CHIEF WEAPONS INSPECTOR: The declaration didn't provide us any new evidence. They didn't answer the questions that were put already in 1991, '99, by the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Report, and that the Iraqis could have looked at those questions and answered more, answered better.
So, we are not satisfied.
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SWEENEY: But while the press continued to cover each development in this standoff between Iraq and the United States in absolute minutiae, are they giving an equal voice to the anti-war camp?
I'm joined now, here in the studio, by Jasmin Alibhai-Brown, columnist with Britain's "Independence" newspaper, and Therese Raphael, editorial page editor of "The Wall Street Journal."
Jasmin, let me ask you, are you saying that the anti-war movement isn't getting Jasmin coverage, or do you believe that it's just not organized enough?
ALIBHAI-BROWN: No, I don't think it's getting enough coverage at all. I don't think we're getting a sense at all of the movement, movements, in the United States, or the kind of enormous swell here and in the rest of Europe.
I scan the papers every day to read, you know, about this demonstration of that, or what the people in these democracies are actually feeling about the war, those who are not committed to it. We don't -- we're not given the sense of how widespread the anti-war movements are.
SWEENEY: But is it widespread?
Let me quote to you a piece from an article you wrote in September, after a huge anti-war rally in London. You wrote, "Politics is back again, and with a fury and a passion that our miserable politicians have no hope of placating with their battery of lies."
Now that was in September, but to me, and it's obviously a personal point of view, four months on, it doesn't feel that there is that -- as though there is that huge movement -- the momentum is still the same.
ALIBHAI-BROWN: The momentum is there, it's not being covered. This is what I'm saying.
SWEENEY: And do you think that's deliberate?
ALIBHAI-BROWN: I have to say that some of it must be.
I remember being on the BBC immediately after the demonstration, which I attended, and I was shocked, because the figure they were giving was so obviously wrong, and understating the real numbers, that I on air had to say I'm sorry, there were at least 400,000 people on this demonstration. I cause there, you know.
And they did the same with the demonstration in Florence. They said there were 120,000 people when all the other people, you know, other testimony, seemed to indicate it was 400,000.
Some of this must be deliberate. It's almost as if the censorship that comes when war starts in this case seems to have started before a war has started.
SWEENEY: Therese Raphael, is there censorship of these anti-war movements and demonstrations?
THERESE RAPHAEL, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": I certainly disagree with the idea that there is censorship. I mean, I've met a lot of journalists that will make a story out of something that's not a story, and, you know, to get a big headline.
I certainly haven't met a lot of journalists that'll walk on by when a story exists.
SWEENEY: Are is there some kind of unconscious self-censorship that we're talking about?
RAPHAEL: Certainly not from what I've seen in Europe. I mean, it seems to me that the press has actually been quite assiduous in reporting the opposition to war.
I mean, every time a member of parliament stands up and says, challenges Blair to provide more evidence to make his case, it immediately gets reported. You can't open a paper without the public opinion polls registering the disapproval with the war, and I think what we need to do is draw a distinction between public opinion and the anti-war movement.
From my perspective, the story of the anti-war movement is actually movement that hasn't, perhaps hasn't yet, but hasn't really gotten off the ground. And may be I could use as a basis for comparison the kind of demonstrations we saw in the 1980's over the deployment of the American Pershing missiles.
There you had 440,000 in Hyde Park and 550,000 in the Hague.
ALIBHAI-BROWN: But we had -- we were -- 400,000 people actually demonstrates at that demonstration I wrote about.
I have a sister-in-law who lives in America, and I have to say, she's the most unpolitical human being I've probably ever met. She just sent us these photographs the other day of a demonstration she'd been on in Florida. These ladies who lunch apparently, in California, undressed themselves and lay down and made the word peace, because they didn't know any other way of saying that they to objected to this war.
Now why aren't we getting these in our newspapers to the extent are getting the other side of the story? It seems to me there is a kind of deep self-censorship going on since especially September 11.
SWEENEY: But yet at the same time, on another subject we're covering on this particular program is the issue of cloning, that an organization can call a news conference and the world's media jumps.
How organized is the anti-war movement? Or is it to disparate and made up of, you know, ladies who lunch in California, as you say, or disaffected people in Britain, and that there isn't a unifying force bringing them together to organize themselves more?
ALIBHAI-BROWN: You don't have to have the same opinions to have great reservations about this war, and I go to a lot -- I've been to about 18 public meetings in the last two months, in the House of Commons, in universities, in, actually with ladies who lunch.
Some of these are publicized. The media never turns up.
SWEENEY: Therese, why is that?
RAPHAEL: I mean, I can't say why the media doesn't turn up to each and every event.
I think journalists ask themselves a question: is this politically significant? What is the story here? To what extent do we need to inform readers about it? And how much play does it get vis-…-vis other stories?
SWEENEY: Are you saying it's not worth covering in many journalists minds?
RAPHAEL: Well, I think some of them are. The London -- the bigger the protest, obviously the big are the story. Not every university debate and, you know, rally is going to be worth a front page story in even "The Guardian" or, you know, any big paper.
But people at large, I think, may think, well, the case against Saddam Hussein hasn't been made. We're not prepared to support this war, but we're willing to entertain the possibility that George Bush and Tony Blair believe they are doing the right thing. And we're willing to wait and see whether this is.
And I think that's why there are not more people out in the streets, and there might -- we can site the 400,000 or the 120,000 here, but this is nothing compared to the 1980's, when you had 1 million marching.
SWEENEY: I'm afraid there we'll have to leave it.
Jasmin, thank you very much indeed, and also Therese.
And that is all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. I'm Fionnuala Sweeney, in London. Thank for joining us.
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