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PROMISE OR PERIL:
HOW ELITE NEWSPAPERS FRAME STEM CELL RESEARCH
KIMBERLY RICE TAYLOR
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS IN MASS COMMUNICATION
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
For Joan, a strong and beautiful woman who has always loved me, believed in me, and
encouraged me to shoot for the stars. Thanks for everything, Mom.
I thank my chair, Debbie Treise, for recruiting me to this wonderful program. Who
knew I'd ever find a graduate program that could combine my disparate interests? She
pushed me to make the most of the program and helped me to accomplish more than I
thought was possible. She has been a phenomenal advocate and a pillar of strength, even
when I stumbled.
I thank Mike Weigold, for leading vibrant and engaging discussions in our public
policy class. He challenged me to push past my existing assumptions on complex issues. I
have never met anyone else so adept at playing devil's advocate.
I thank Robyn Goodman for her understanding, encouragement, and fabulous
deadpan humor. In a stressful time like graduate school, the power of laughter cannot be
I also acknowledge that I couldn't have done this without my family. My sister and
my mother, despite the fact that they are each thousands of miles away, have been
amazing sources of strength for me. I thank them for their continued love and support.
And finally, to my grandparents may they see the benefits of this promising
technology within their lifetimes.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ................................................................................................. iii
LIST OF TABLES ................................................... vii
ABSTRACT ................................................... ................. viii
1 IN T R O D U C T IO N ................................................. .............................................. .
2 LITER A TU R E R EV IEW .................................................................... ...............6...
Stem Cell Research ................... .. ............. .................................6
Foundations and Term inology.................. ....................................................6...
Sources of Pluripotent Stem C ells.................................................... ...............7...
Sources of M ultipotent Stem Cells....................................................8...
Ethical D ebate over Stem Cells ........................ ............................................8...
Stakeholders in the Stem Cell D ebate ................................................... 10
Key Events in Stem Cell Research and Policy ...................................... ................ 13
Initial Policies on Stem Cell R research ........................................... ................ 13
Election 2000 and Stem Cell R research .......................................... ................ 14
Election 2004 and Stem Cell R research .......................................... ................ 15
Stem C ell R research A broad............................................................ ............... 17
State L legislation .......................................................................................... 17
T ainted C ell L ines ................ .............. ............................................ 18
Science and the Public ... ................................................................... ... ............ 19
Scientific L iteracy .............. ...... ............. ............................................... 19
Public Perception of Science ....................... ............................................... 20
Science and the M edia ... ... .................... ................................................ 21
M edia Coverage of Science Issues ................................................... 21
M edia Coverage of Biotechnology Issues...................................... ................ 23
F ram in g ..................................................................................................... ....... .. 2 5
Fram ing Overview ... ................................................................................ 25
S o u rc e s ............................................................................................................ . 2 8
Research Questions .......................... ........... ............................... 30
3 M E T H O D S ................................................................................................................. 3 1
M ixed M methods ..................................................................................................... 31
M methodology ................................................................................ ....................... 32
N ew papers .................................................................................................... 33
Tim e Fram e .......................................................................................... . 33
Article Selection ............................................34
D ata Collection and A nalysis...........................................................................35
V alidity and R liability ....................................................................................36
4 R E S U L T S .......................................................................................... ..................... 3 7
F ram es U sed ......................................................................................................... 37
The "U uncertainty" Fram e ................................................................................. 38
The "Battle/Debate" Frame ..................... .........................................40
T he "P rom ise" F ram e ..................................................................... ...............4 1
The "Playing G od" Fram e................................................................................43
The "Excess Em bryos" Fram e..........................................................................44
The "Econom ic" Fram e ....................................................................................44
Sources Q uoted ............................................................................ ... .....................44
Scientists, Administrators and Science Policy Analysts ..................................45
Pro-Embryonic Stem Cell Groups ....................................................................46
B ush A dm inistration .........................................................................................46
R religious G roups ...........................................................................................46
Ethicists ................................................. ...................................47
Republican Pro-Embryonic Stem Cell Research ..............................................47
Anti-Embryonic Stem Cell Groups ..................................................................47
Republican Anti-Embryonic Stem Cell Research............................................48
Democratic Pro-Embryonic Stem Cell Research .............................. ...............48
C e le b ritie s ..................... ........ ...................................................... 4 8
Democratic Anti-Embryonic Stem Cell Research ............................. ...............48
O their Sources .....................................................................................................49
Definition and Characterization of Stem Cell Research..........................................49
C lo n in g .............................................. ................................................ ..................... 5 2
U united States versus Other N nations .........................................................................53
5 DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION ..................... ...................................57
Fram e A analysis ........................................................................................................57
Use of "Uncertainty" and "Battle/Debate".......................................................58
U se of O their Fram es .........................................................................................61
Stakeholder A analysis ........................................................................................62
Embryonic Stem Cells vs. Adult Stem Cells....................................................62
Cloning and Stem Cell R esearch......................................................................63
United States-Global Leader or Lagging Behind? ............................ ...............64
C o n c lu sio n s ................................................................................................................. 6 4
Lim stations and Future Research.............................................................................66
A NEWSPAPER ARTICLE CODING SHEET ............... .............. ..................... 68
B INSTRUCTIONS FOR NEWSPAPER ARTICLE CODING SHEET................... 70
R E F E R E N C E S .................................................................................................................. 7 5
BIO GR APH ICAL SK ETCH .................................................................... ................ 83
LIST OF TABLES
1 Prim ary fram es sorted by publication ................................................. ................ 37
2 Primary frames sorted by article type .................................................................38
3 Sources directly quoted w within articles ............................................... ................ 45
4 Definition and Characterization of stem cell research ........................................50
5 E thical/m oral im plication s ........................................ ....................... ................ 5 1
6 Adult vs. embryonic stem cell research. ..................................................52
7 R eferences to hum an cloning .................................... ...................... ................ 52
8 R eferences to other nations ....................................... ....................... ................ 54
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts in Mass Communication
PROMISE OR PERIL:
HOW ELITE NEWSPAPERS FRAME STEM CELL RESEARCH
Kimberly Rice Taylor
Chair: Debbie M. Treise
Major Department: Mass Communication
Stem cell research burst onto the national media scene in 1998. Subsequent
coverage has described it as a promising new field tinged with both complexity and
controversy. This study sought to understand how elite newspapers, namely The New
York Times and The Washington Post, portrayed the issues surrounding stem cell
research. A textual analysis was performed on 171 articles published from August 2000
through September 2001. An inductive analysis found that a frame of uncertainty
Human embryonic stem cell research burst onto the national print media scene in
November 1998, following an article published by Dr. James A. Thomson, a
developmental biologist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Thomson reported in
the November 6, 1998, issue of Science that he and his research team had isolated and
cloned human embryonic stem cells, making them the first scientists to do so (Thomson
Stem cells are important because they can be seen as the "utility and repair units of
the body that serve a central function in the maintenance and regeneration of organs and
tissues throughout life" (Nisbet 2004, p. 131). Scientists have long thought of stem cells
as a potential panacea in treating sickness and disease. By isolating these cells, Thomson
and his team ended the scientific community's 30-year quest for a reliable source of
human embryonic stem cells and cracked open the debate over these promising but
Prior to Thomson's publication, The New York Times and The Washington Post
published just a handful of stories each year that featured stem cell research. Early stories
on stem cell research focused primarily on stem cell transplantation and on umbilical
cord blood. Stem cell transplantation is a therapy in which stem cells can be injected into
patients, typically those suffering from leukemia, lymphoma and certain inherited blood
disorders, to boost their immune response. Stem cell transplantation can also be used in
gene therapy as a way to correct gene defects in patients suffering from certain genetic
conditions. Umbilical cord blood banking garnered attention because cord blood is rich in
stem cells and can be used in stem cell transplantation therapies. Earlier articles featured
the pros and cons of banking cord blood, namely whether or not parents should consider
this costly but perhaps life-saving medical technology to safeguard the future health of
their family (Walker 1997; Chase 1998).
Following Thomson's Science article in November 1998, media coverage of stem
cell research surged; stem cell research has been highlighted in thousands of stories in
The Washington Post and The New York Times alone. The projected promise of the
technology has no doubt contributed to its media prominence. Embryonic stem cells have
an infinite life span, making them ideal candidates for laboratory research on cellular
development. Unlike regular body cells that divide a given number of times and then die,
stem cells are immortal (Kolata 1995). This immortality makes them attractive candidates
for disease therapies. Another desirable trait of embryonic stem cells is that they have the
ability to develop into any cell in the body, a feature known as "pluripotency," making
them strong candidates for a number of disease therapies.
Despite the promises of these all-purpose cells, they are not without drawbacks and
controversy. The primary source for pluripotent stem cells is embryos, explaining why
pluripotent cells have been dubbed "embryonic stem cells" in media coverage. This
source of cells has caused quite a stir among conservative political and religious groups.
The Catholic Church is perhaps the most vocal opponent of stem cell research originating
from embryos. The Church teaches that all life, from the moment of conception, is
sacred. Thus, using fertilized embryos for research is considered morally unacceptable. It
should be noted that the Church sees no difference between naturally fertilized embryos
and those generated in a lab via artificial insemination, nor does it condone the use of
donated embryos that are left over from in vitro fertilization procedures.
Scientists have also developed a process called "somatic cell nuclear transfer" to
generate pluripotent stem cells. By definition, these pluripotent stem cells are not derived
from traditional embryos. The trouble is that the media refer to nearly all pluripotent stem
cells as "embryonic" stem cells, regardless of the cells' origin. This lack of clarity may
lead to confusion among the public. Indeed, stem cell research is a complex and multi-
faceted topic. Even individuals who are well-versed in science may struggle to make
heads or tails of this situation. The nuances in terminology can be difficult to understand,
especially since some of the terms (e.g., embryo) are already emotionally charged.
Research has shown that Americans have a bipolar attitude about science and
technology (Miller et al., 1997; Nisbet et al. 2002). Americans believe in science's
promise for new cures but at the same time feel uncomfortable with the pace of science
and often distrust it. Given this disposition, it would not be surprising if the public were
unable to come to consensus on the stem cell debate.
One way to help the public reach consensus on an issue is through media coverage
of that issue (Miller and Reichert 2001). Science stories rank among the best read in
newspapers, on par with sports stories, reflecting the public's fascination with science
(Rensberger 1997). A recent study found that close to 50% of Americans were very
interested in science discoveries and new technologies, 70% in medical discoveries, and
52% in environmental issues (Rogers 1999). Indeed, the public relies heavily on print
media for information on science, health and technology topics:
For most people, the reality of science is what they read in the press. They
understand science less through direct experience or past education than through
the filter of journalistic language and imagery. The media are their only contact
with what is going on in rapidly changing scientific and technical fields, as well as
a major source of information about the implications of these changes for their lives
(Nelkin 1995, p. 2).
The print news media are also important because they set the agenda for science
coverage in other outlets. Newspapers are "the front lines of science communication, the
places where most science stories show up first, before they appear in magazines, long
before they're in books, usually years before television documentaries cover them"
(Rensberger 1997). Thus, newspaper coverage of stem cell research plays a critical role
in shaping the evolution of this topic. Journalists must portray the issue clearly and
completely so that people can be well informed and come to their own conclusions on the
topic. Journalists' portrayal of the topic can have both an individual and a collective
impact; public opinion has been shown to influence public policy and governmental
funding of science issues.
Public opinion on any given topic can be influenced by a number of variables,
including media coverage of the topic. The way media present, or "frame," an issue can
influence readers' opinions about that issue (Iyengar 1991). Therefore, the purpose of this
study was to examine how The New York Times and The Washington Post, both
recognized as trendsetters in the media realm, have framed the issue of stem cell research.
These elite papers have the potential to influence the national media agenda, suggesting
that they are but one step away from influencing public opinion. As the dominant
newspaper in the nation's capital, The Washington Post has the ability to influence
general readers, as well as policymakers.
Stem cell research, given its potential for disease therapies, is a critical topic facing
American society. Framing studies on the elite news media can help complete the picture
of how the media might influence public opinion about stem cell research, and
subsequently stem cell research policy. This qualitative study builds on existing framing
studies of stem cell research that have taken a quantitative approach (Nisbet et al. 2003)
by providing insight into the rich, descriptive terminology used in media coverage of the
Stem Cell Research
Foundations and Terminology
For decades, scientists studying human development did so via animals. This early
research revealed a new class of cells called "stem cells," which are the body's
fundamental building block. Because they are "undifferentiated," these cells are capable
of developing into a number of cell types in the body. It should be noted that there is a
range of usefulness among stem cells. This usefulness is sometimes referred to as
"plasticity," that is a cell's ability to transform into other cell or tissue types.
"Pluripotent" stem cells can differentiate into any other cell type, making them a favorite
among scientists for developing new therapies. Most pluripotent stem cells lines have
been derived from embryos, hence the term "embryonic stem cells." "Multipotent" stem
cells also hold great promise, though are more restricted in how they can develop. These
cells have differentiated past the level of pluripotency into a specialized state (Anderson,
Gage and Weissman 2001).
Although animal pluripotent stem cells had been isolated many years prior, it
wasn't until 1998 that researchers were able to isolate and grow human pluripotent stem
cells in the laboratory. Subsequent work has shown that these cells have the capability of
developing into nearly any cell or tissue type in the body, hinting at possibilities for
Sources of Pluripotent Stem Cells
Pluripotent stem cells come namely from embryonic or fetal tissue. Embryonic
stem cells (ES cells) are retrieved from a group of cells known as the inner cell mass (part
of the blastocyst) about four to five days after an embryo's fertilization. These cells can
differentiate from their current unspecialized state into virtually any type of cell or tissue.
The first possible source of such cells is surplus embryos that are a by-product of in vitro
fertilization (IVF) labs. The second potential source of ES cells is from embryos
generated in the lab by uniting donated eggs and sperm. Another source of pluripotent
stem cells is the embryonic germ (reproductive) cells that can be taken from aborted
fetuses. Under the right laboratory conditions, embryonic stem cells can reproduce
indefinitely, a trait not shared by adult stem cells.
Pluripotent stem cells can also be derived through a process called somatic cell
nuclear transfer (SCNT), also known as "therapeutic cloning." Here, genetic material
from a regular body cell (a "somatic" cell) is transplanted into an egg cell (a "germ" cell)
that has had all of its genetic information removed. This fusion creates a hybrid cell that
"can be induced to behave like a fertilized egg" (Hall 2004, p.2).
This technique is often referred to as cloning because the resulting cell is
genetically identical to the original body cell. However, it is important to note that no
embryos (i.e. a union of sperm and egg) are used in this process. Somatic cell nuclear
transfer is the technique used by the South Korean researchers whose work appeared in
the media spotlight in early 2004 and triggered a renewed call for a ban on what is known
as "reproductive cloning" (Hwang, Ryu et al. 2004). Opponents fear that these hybrid
embryos could be grown into full-fledged human beings. However, scientists argue that
the technology is not that advanced. The hybrid embryos differ from normal embryos and
can be "riddled with genetic abnormalities," giving them "little if any potential to ever
develop into a normal human being" (Hall 2004, p.2).
Sources of Multipotent Stem Cells
Multipotent stem cells are cells that the media refers to primarily as "adult" stem
cells. Adult stem cells are undifferentiated cells found in specialized tissue such as the
blood or brain and can yield specialized cell types, though in a much more limited
fashion from embryonic stem cells. Adult stem cells can typically replicate for the life of
the organism but do not share the same infinite reproducibility of embryonic stem. It
should be noted that "adult" stem cells need not be derived from adults. Stem cells
derived from cord blood (i.e. fetal umbilical cord blood) are multipotent, not pluripotent,
and thus can be termed "adult" stem cells. They do, however, have more potential than
adult stem cells derived from mature tissues.
At this point, adult stem cells are the only type of stem cells that have been used in
human disease therapies. Scientists have used stem cells derived from bone marrow in
transplantation therapies for over 40 years. Stem cells used in stem cell transplantations
are called "hematopoetic stem cells" since they are derived from the blood-forming cells
in the bone marrow.
Despite the inherent differences between embryonic and adult stem cell research,
newspaper coverage does not always discern between the two. This may serve to
complicate the public's understanding and attitudes toward the already charged
discussions about stem cell research.
Ethical Debate over Stem Cells
The debate over stem cell research hinges on "competing facts and values" that
span "the multiple arenas of science, ethics, religion, business, politics and
administration" (Fassi 2002, p. 7). The stem cell debate incorporates elements from "the
abortion debate, the cloning debate, the fetal tissue debate, the transplant debate, the gene
therapy debate, the animal rights debate and even a debate" about human longevity
(National Public Radio 2001).1 Although the topic is multifaceted, major contention
seems to circle around a number of ethical and moral dilemmas, namely when life begins
and ends, as well as when is it acceptable to compromise life. Given what is at stake, it is
not surprising that the debate has been so prolonged and so heated:
when the search for balanced reasonableness and respect for human dignity are
interpreted through multiple and competing perspectives in the development of
policy, the conflict persists and is rarely resolved (Fassi 2000, p.2)
The American Association for the Advancement of Science sums up the various
sides quite eloquently in their online briefing on stem cell research:
Opponents of ES cell research hold that human life begins as soon as an egg is
fertilized, and they consider a human embryo to be a human being. They therefore
consider any research that necessitates the destruction of a human embryo to be
morally abhorrent. Proponents of ES cell research, meanwhile, point out that in the
natural reproductive process, human eggs are often fertilized but fail to implant in
the uterus. A fertilized egg, they argue, while it may have the potential for human
life, cannot be considered equivalent to a human being until it has at least been
successfully implanted in a woman's uterus (accessed March 13, 2005,
This is much the same controversy that has swirled around the issue of abortion.
The American Life League sees the embryo as "the tiniest person," worth standing up for
and defending (Toner 2001). Opponents are concerned not only about the use of existing
embryos left over from in vitro fertilization, but also about the creation of embryos
expressly for research purposes. Pope John Paul II refers to the latter as "an evil akin to
1 This statement is excerpted from National Public Radio's "Talk of the Nation/Science Friday" program
which aired on March 2, 2001. The statement was made by Glenn McGee, assistant professor at the
University of Pennsylvania and editor in chief of the American Journal for Bioethics.
euthanasia and infanticide" (Stanley 2001). President Bush said that he recoils at the idea
of "creating life for our own convenience" (Charo 2001). Additional concerns exist that
this will only be the beginning of a "Frankenscience" that ultimately will lead to cloning
Proponents extend their arguments to include embryos generated in fertility clinics.
Many of these artificially created embryos are inviable and will never result in life. In an
effort to boost their chances of success, hopeful parents often end up with more frozen
embryos than they will have implanted. Proponents argue that these should be available
for embryonic stem cell research since most of these artificially created embryos will
otherwise be discarded.
Certain opponents of embryonic stem cell research including the Catholic Church
have argued that embryonic stem cell research should be abandoned in favor of adult
stem cell research. These opponents maintain that adult stem cells hold just as much
promise as do embryonic stem cells. Most scientists, however, disagree citing recent
scientific articles that have shown that adult stem cells lack the pluripotency of
embryonic stem cells.
In the broadest sense, the discussion about stem cell research can be reduced to the
importance of human life, whether it be the life of an unborn embryo or the life of an
adult suffering from a life-threatening disease: "The debate is crucially connected to
emotionally charged and deeply held values about the creation of, respect for, and
amelioration of human life" (Fassi 2002, p. 3).
Stakeholders in the Stem Cell Debate
As was suggested above, a number of stakeholders are involved in the conflict, and
they are all vying for their voices to be heard. Stakeholder groups that oppose embryonic
stem cell research include conservative political and religious groups. Opponents from
the Republican Party have included Trent Lott, Dick Armey, Dennis Hastert, J.C. Watts,
Sam Brownback, Jay Dickey, Dave Weldon and Tom Delay; Interest groups have
included the Christian Coalition and Family Research Council (Nisbet et al. 2003).
Among the various religious groups opposing stem cell research, Catholic interests
have been cited most frequently in media coverage (Nisbet, Brossard and Kroepsch
2003). The Catholic Church has a staunch position against any research that involves the
creation of or the taking of a human life. This rules out all forms of embryonic stem cell
research, including research using somatic-cell nuclear transfer. The United States
Conference of Catholic Bishops (2001) urged Congress to ban embryonic stem cell
research altogether, citing that the estimated promise of the technology did not outweigh
the realities behind it:
In his great novel The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky raised the question
whether it would be right to build a world without human suffering if "it was
essential and inevitable to torture to death one tiny creature" such as an innocent
child to achieve that end. Each of us must answer that ultimate question in the
depths of his or her own conscience. The claim that destructive embryo research
will achieve such a utopian end is, we believe, a hollow promise. In the meantime,
however, the killing will be quite real (USCCB 2001).
In an interesting twist, several otherwise-conservative politicians voiced their
support for stem cell research. Former senators Orrin Hatch (Utah) and Strom Thurmond
(S.C.) were both ardent pro-life Republicans, yet both believed that embryonic stem cell
research was worth investing in. Other GOP supporters featured by the media have
included Bill Frist, Connie Mack, John McCain, and Arlen Specter (Nisbet et al. 2003).
The most vocal supporters of stem cell research are scientists, patients and their
families, non-profit patient advocacy groups, and pro-industry advocacy groups. These
advocacy groups include the Coalition for Medical Research, Patient's Cure, and the
Biotechnology Industry Organization (Nisbet et al. 2003).
Celebrities have played a strong role in voicing their support for stem cell research.
For example, Former First Lady Nancy Reagan has spoken out in favor of stem cell
research citing that it may yield a cure for Alzheimer's, the disease which plagued her
late husband. She has lent her name to various fundraising events for stem cell research,
including an initiative to raise $20 million for the stem cell research via the Juvenile
Diabetes Research Foundation.
Actor Christopher Reeve died in October 2004 but not before expressing his
overwhelming support for embryonic stem cell research. He believed that embryonic
stem cell research might hold the key to potential therapies for paralyzed Americans like
himself. He maintained that embryonic stem cell research could be conducted in an
ethical and moral fashion:
"You really don't have an ethical problem because you're actually saving lives by
using cells that are going to the garbage," Reeve said. "I just don't see how that's
immoral or unethical. I really don't" (CNN.com 2002).
Michael J. Fox, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, is another celebrity who
supports stem cell research. He appeared in television ads during the 2004 election urging
voters to consider the benefits of expanding stem cell research policy: "George Bush says
we can wait. I say lives are at stake and it's time for leadership" (Associated Press 2004).
Many scientists have collectively made their voice heard through the Union of
Concerned Scientists, a left-leaning advocacy group. They issued a statement in 2001
urging President Bush to promote federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. The
union has since accused the Bush administration of "distorting scientific findings and
manipulating experts' advice to avoid information that runs counter to its political
beliefs" (Elias 2004). Over 6,000 researchers have signed on and voiced their concern
over the administration's "misuse of science," including 48 Nobel laureates, 62 National
Medal of Science recipients, and 135 members of the National Academy of Sciences.
Key Events in Stem Cell Research and Policy
Initial Policies on Stem Cell Research
The first major policy event specifically targeting stem cell research occurred
following a "crucial advance" made in 1994 at Harvard Medical School (Kolata 1995).
The scientists had refined a simple technique that could replace the existing cumbersome
method for isolating stem cells from blood. This simplified method was expected to open
the door for many new laboratories to undertake stem cell research. It also meant that
new gene therapies might not be far behind.
Congress attached an appropriations rider attached to the 1996 Departments of
Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations
Act (which included allocations for the Department of Health and Human Services and
NIH). The rider became known as the Dickey amendment after the bill's original author,
Former Representative Jay Dickey (R-Ark.),and has been retained by Congress every
year since 1996. The Dickey Amendment banned federal funding for research that
destroyed embryos, but it made no provisions related to research conducted with private
Thomson's groundbreaking research was conducted on excess embryos originally
conceived for in vitro fertilization that were donated anonymously. Since the research
focused on human embryos, it did not qualify for federal funding. Instead, Thomson's
research was financed through private funds from the Geron Corporation of Menlo Park,
Calif. The research caused quite a stir, with the scientific community heralding
Thomson's results as a "major technical achievement with great importance for human
biology" (Gearhart 1998, p. 1061).
Shortly after Thomson's research was published, President Clinton requested a
review of the issues surrounding stem cell research. In September 1999, the National
Bioethics Advisory Committee issued a report, "Ethical Issues in Human Stem Cell
Research," which suggested a legal reinterpretation of the federal funding restrictions
contained within the Dickey Amendment. The report concluded that the federal
government could fund research on human ES cells, provided that private funds were
used to derive the stem cells from embryos left over from fertility treatments. By
December 1999, NIH had released draft guidelines allowing federally funded research on
ES cells derived in the private sector and on August 25, 2000, NIH released its final
guidelines and solicited applications for its first ES cell research grants.
Election 2000 and Stem Cell Research
Stem cell research was highlighted throughout the coverage of the 2000
presidential election with Republic presidential nominee George W. Bush declaring that
he opposed federal funding for any stem cell research that destroyed human embryos.
Clinton, both through his words and policy actions, supported federal funding for
embryonic stem cell research.
Following Bush's inauguration in February, six months followed before any policy
changes were issued. The press highlighted what they called the president's continued
indecision on the issue, until ultimately on August 9, 2001, Bush announced in a prime-
time television address that he would allow federal funding of research on existing
embryonic stem cell lines. This policy meant that no new cell lines could be derived
using federal funds, thus ensuring that the government would not be responsible for any
new embryos destroyed for the sake of stem cell research.
On August 14, 2002, the National Institutes of Health released a list of 78 stem cell
lines that qualified for federal research funding according to Bush's criteria: the stem
cells must have been removed from the embryo prior to August 9, 2001, the date the
president first outlined these criteria; .the embryo used in deriving the stem cells must no
longer have been viable, i.e. it could not be grown into a human; the embryo must have
been created for reproductive purposes; the embryo must have been collected with the
informed consent of the parents; and no financial compensation was provided.
However, the list was met with immediate criticism. Initial reports indicated that
only about 16 of the 78 eligible cell lines were available for distribution, with only a
handful making it into the hands of researchers. The most recent statistics from NIH were
released in the third quarter of 2004 and stated that 22 stem cell lines were available for
study by federally funded researchers.
Election 2004 and Stem Cell Research
Although stem cell research was not one of the galvanizing issues in Election 2004,
it did play a role in several of the debates and addresses. Senator Kerry, the opposing
candidate, primarily asserted that Bush's existing policy would not be sufficient and that
Bush was not acknowledging the realities of stem cell research, while Bush maintained
that he had zeroed in on a moral way to support stem cell research.
For example, during the second presidential debate the candidates were asked about
the wisdom of funding embryonic stem cells in research, given that the only human
disease therapies to-date have arisen from adult stem cell research. Kerry responded,
acknowledging the morality behind the question but maintaining that scientists can
conduct "ethically guided embryonic stem cell research" by using embryos that are
leftover from in vitro fertilization procedures:
We have 100,000 to 200,000 embryos that are frozen in nitrogen today from
fertility clinics. These weren't taken from abortion or something like that, they're
from a fertility clinic. And they're either going to be destroyed or left frozen. And I
believe if we have the option, which scientists tell us we do, of curing Parkinson's,
curing diabetes, curing some kind of a paraplegic or quadriplegic or a spinal cord
injury, anything -- that's the nature of the human spirit. I think it is respecting life to
reach for that cure. I think it is respecting life to do it in an ethical way. And the
President's chosen a policy that makes it impossible for our scientists to do that. I
want the future, and I think we have to grab it (Office of the Press Secretary 2004).
Kerry closed out his remarks in the second debate by returning to oft-heard criticisms
about the Bush's approved stem cell lines:
But let me tell you, point-blank, the lines of stem cells that he's made available,
every scientist in the country will tell you, not adequate, because they're
contaminated by mouse cells, and because there aren't 60 or 70, there are only
about 11 to 20 now, and there aren't enough to be able to do the research because
they're contaminated (Office of the Press Secretary 2004).
Bush defended his stance, noting that he was the first president to ever allow
federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. He emphasized that we must heed the
potential implications of stem cell research, noting that he took the approach he did out of
a respect for ethics and morality:
But I think -- I think we've got to be very careful in balancing the ethics and the
science. And so I made the decision we wouldn't spend any more money beyond
the 70 lines, 22 of which are now in action, because science is important, but so is
ethics. So is balancing life. To destroy life to save life is one of the real ethical
dilemmas that we face.... the approach I took is one that I think is a balanced and
necessary approach, to balance science and the concerns for life ibidd).
While on the campaign trail, First Lady Laura Bush also played up Bush's support of
embryonic stem cell research. In cities across the nation she expressed her pride that her
husband was the first president to authorize federal funding for stem cell research and to
express that President Bush looks forward to future medical breakthroughs via stem cell
Stem Cell Research Abroad
In February 2004, researchers from South Korea published an article in the online
issue of the journal Science revealing that they had created about 30 human blastocysts
using the somatic-cell nuclear transplant method. The publication reactivated concerns
over stem cell research, with opponents citing that this research was one step away from
cloning humans for reproductive purposes. Dr. Leon Kass, chairman of President Bush's
Council on Bioethics, and many others called for a complete ban on cloning, regardless
of purpose, in order to sidestep any slippery slope that might occur if therapeutic cloning
were left legal.
Korea is not the only nation that appears to have permissive policies on stem cell
research regulation. Counties such as Canada, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Finland,
Sweden, China, India, Israel, Australia and New Zealand all have policies that explicitly
allow embryonic stem cell research. In nearly all cases where therapeutic cloning (i.e.
embryonic stem cell research) is allowed, reproductive cloning has been banned.
Although the U.S. federal government has restricted funding for human embryonic
stem cell research, individual states have the right to pass laws permitting human
embryonic stem cell research. This means that states can subsidize the cost for the
establishment of new human embryonic stem cell lines or research on cell lines that are
currently ineligible for federal funding. The voters of California were the first to act on
this work-around. In November 2004, voters passed Proposition 71, which provided for
the establishment of the $3 billion California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. The
initiative is expected to dole out $300 million per year for 10 years toward stem cell
research, including the creation of new embryonic stem cell lines. This dollar amount
marks a ten-fold increase over the money allocated for stem cell research by the federal
government. Since California passed Proposition 71, lawmakers in other states have
taken up the charge, with a total of Wisconsin, New York and New Jersey have
introduced similar proposals.
Tainted Cell Lines
Kerry's predictions about tainted cell lines were confirmed within three months. In
January 2005, researchers at the University of California at San Diego and the Salk
Institute for Biological Studies reported that all federally approved human embryonic
stem cell lines were tainted with a foreign molecule from mice. This could mean that any
potential stem cell therapies tested in humans could fail because the human body would
reject the stem cells as foreign (Martin, Muotri et al. 2005).
One of the paper's authors, Dr. Ajit Varki, believes that this poses a dire problem
for U.S. researchers, who depend primarily on federal funding to support their work. "If
none of these funding issues and legal issues and ethical and moral issues existed, then it
would make sense to start over," he said (Kaplan 2005, p. 1). His comment suggests that
the government should rekindle the debate over whether the existing federal policy on
funding embryonic stem cell research is sufficient or whether the United States is missing
a key opportunity.
Despite growing doubt over the efficacy of the federally approved cell lines,
President Bush reaffirmed his position in his State of the Union Address on Feb. 2, 2005:
I will work with Congress to ensure that human embryos are not created for
experimentation or grown for body parts, and that human life is never bought and
sold as a commodity. America will continue to lead the world in medical research
that is ambitious, aggressive, and always ethical (Bush 2005).
Thus, it seems unlikely under the current administration that any new policies will be
developed on the federal funding of embryonic stem cells.
Science and the Public
The term "science literacy" originally was coined by Waterman (1960) and
represents the public's understanding of science. Science literacy goes beyond the ability
to define key scientific terms; it extends to understanding how science actually works and
how science can influence our daily lives. Historically, Americans have not been able to
satisfactorily explain what it means to study something scientifically (Withey 1959;
Miller 1987). It is believed that individuals who are scientifically literate will be able to
tell "good" science from "bad" science and to weigh the competing claims in science
discussions (Bodmer 1985).
Understanding the "whys" and howss" behind science is growing increasingly
important. We live in a world of increasing technological and scientific complexity in our
daily lives. The public needs to understand science in order to cope adequately
(Waterman 1960). However, it is not enough to "know" science, for example basic facts
such as the speed of light or the density of water. The public needs a thorough
understanding of science concepts and the methodology behind scientific research.
LaFollette (1995) wrote that "effective modern citizenship demands a higher level of
'knowing about' science" (p. 235).
Additionally, the degree to which everyday Americans understand science can
affect our nation's research agenda. Over the years, it has been demonstrated that the
degree of public understanding of science largely influences government support and
policy. Some authors have argued that support of scientific programs depends less on a
program's own merits than on public attention and understanding. Thus, the public's
science literacy in turn influences scientific progress.
The National Science Board's Science and Engineering Indicators survey is seen as
the most consistent indicator of science literacy. The first survey was conducted in 1979
and it has been conducted about every two years afterward with the most recent results
reported in 2002. Less than 15% of those surveyed felt well informed about science and
technology issues, while 30% felt poorly informed (National Science Board 2002).
Public Perception of Science
Analysis of the NSB survey data revealed that the American public possesses two
competing attitude constructs (Miller et al., 1997; Nisbet et al. 2002). The first construct
shows that Americans are uncertain about science and technology, citing concerns about
the pace of change and "a sense that science and technology pose conflicts with
traditional values or belief systems" (Nisbet et al, p. 588). The second construct reflects
that Americans believe in the promise of science and technology, and believe research
can yield "useful results and products for society" and provide "future benefits" to
society (Miller et al, 1997; Nisbet et. al., p. 588). Later studies revealed the same
diagnosis, stating that an inverse relationship exists between knowledge and doubt of new
scientific technologies (Miller and Kimmel 2001).
Despite the contentious debate over stem cells, the American public seems to favor
the research, both embryonic and adult. Two polls conducted during the 2004 election
showed a majority support for embryonic stem cell research among registered voters.
Time wrote that 69% of the 1,131 adults surveyed were in favor of using discarded
embryos for stem cell research, and that 50% felt that federal money should be used
(Time 2004). A Newsweek poll looked at the topic from a more general perspective and
found that 50% of the registered voters surveyed said they were for stem cell research.
One key element that has been repeated in the discussion of embryonic stem cells is
the source of the stem cells. Advocates say that leftover embryos from fertility clinics
pose a great opportunity. A study conducted in Sweden showed that couples who were
pursuing infertility treatment were overwhelmingly (92%) in favor of donating their
excess embryos for stem cell research rather than simply discarding them. Although the
culture and values are obviously different in Sweden than in the United States, this seems
like an encouraging result for those in support of embryonic stem cell research. A similar
study could be conducted here in the United States to gauge whether support would be as
Science and the Media
Media Coverage of Science Issues
The public can learn about science from a number of sources including science
classes, science museums, and interpersonal sources, but the most impressive source is
the media (Nelkin 1995; Nisbet et al. 2002). Newspapers cover more science stories than
any other form of media communication (Rensberger 1997). Not surprisingly then,
newspapers have been shown to be the public's primary source of science, technology
and health information, if not their "sole source of information and continuing education
about science" (Rensberger 1997, p. 8). Nelkin (1995) elegantly describes the importance
of print media in communicating science to the public:
Science writers, in effect, are brokers, framing social reality for their readers and
shaping the public consciousness about science-related events. Their selection of
news about science and technology sets the agenda for public policy. Their
representation of science news lays the foundation for personal attitudes and public
actions. They are often our only source of information about the scientific and
technical choices that significantly affect our work, our health, and our lives (p.
The media can help the public become aware of pressing social issues via its
agenda-setting role. Although many scholars have written about agenda setting, its roots
trace back to the oft-cited 1973 paper by McCombs and Shaw. The authors introduced
the idea that the media's decision to cover an issue affects the public's perception of the
salience of that issue (McCombs and Shaw 1973). The media no doubt helped the public
become aware of stem cell research. Since the majority of Americans would never so
much as pick up an issue of Science, they would have had no way of knowing about
Thomson's breakthrough had it not been featured by the mass media.
It is clear that the media serve a crucial role in telling the public which science
issues are important to think about. However, the extent to which the media influence the
public's opinions about specific scientific topics is less definite. Researchers have found
an inverse correlation between newspaper use and reservations about science (Nisbet et
al. 2002). That is, individuals who read the newspaper are more likely to feel favorably
about scientific issues. Most daily newspapers and all elite newspapers already include a
certain amount of science-focused coverage. In fact, newspapers carry more science news
than more than any other mass communication media (Rensberger 1997). However,
researchers have differing opinions on the extent of media effects on public opinion.
Regardless of the extent to which newspapers sway people's opinions about science
topics, it is clear that newspapers remain the public's dominant source for science
information. Thus, it is worthwhile to examine media coverage of science topics in order
to fully understand what information the public is receiving about particular scientific
Media Coverage of Biotechnology Issues
Media scholars have looked at how the print media have framed a number of
scientific topics including environmental issues, genetically modified foods, nuclear
energy, etc. However, this study will focus solely on the framing of stem cell research.
Much of the elite print media's initial coverage of stem cell research attentively focused
on the potential risks of stem cell research, namely the destruction of human embryos.
Stem cell research is certainly not the first risky scientific topic covered by the press, nor
is risk a new concept to our society:
Risks to health, safety and the environment abound in the world and people cope as
best they can. But before action can be taken to control, reduce or eliminate risks,
decisions must be made about which risks are important and which risks can be
safely ignored (Covello and Johnson 1987, p. vii).
Risk has been a common element in media coverage of other biotechnology issues,
as has uncertainty (Bartels 2002; Priest 2001). Priest makes three assumptions regarding
media coverage of scientific debates: "Scientific futures are uncertain, the public has a
legitimate stake in defining public policy for science, and this role is better filled by an
educated than an ignorant citizenry" (Priest 2001, 100-101).
In the genetically modified food debate, the media helped influence the public's
general acceptance of genetically modified foods through its coverage of the issue.
Although the media did include elements of the public's skepticism over genetically
modified foods, the media gave greater attention to positive messages from stakeholders
in favor of genetically modified foods:
By overrepresenting the large-institution point of view and the ostensibly
monolithic character of U.S. public opinion, media accounts probably helped to
suppress the visibility of what dissent existed (Priest 2001, p. 61).
Another key element in the media's coverage of genetic technology has been its
comparison of international policies. Journalists have focused on U.S policy versus those
of other nations like Italy, Israel, India, and Great Britain (Ten Eyck and Williment
2003). The concern has been that if other countries develop more permissive regulatory
policies, then scientists may emigrate from the United States to pursue their work in those
countries. Journalists have echoed this concern in their coverage of stem cell research,
citing that current U.S. policies may lead to a potential "brain drain" to nations such as
the United Kingdom, Sweden, India or Singapore (Brush 2005: Regaldo, McGinley and
Lueck 2001; and USA Today 2003). This "brain drain" facet only complicates the stem
cell debate in the eyes of readers.
In multifaceted debates such as this, the media can help the public come to
decisions by providing information about an issue. Information may include context and
background on the issue, as well as viewpoints of various stakeholders. In the instance of
stem cell research, involved groups have included the scientific community, federal
government, political groups, patient advocacy groups, and religious groups.
The most revealing look at how print media have portrayed stem cell research was
conducted by Nisbet, Brossard and Kroepsch (2003). This study relied on the mass media
theories of agenda building and frame building (i.e. agenda setting and framing) to study
how the media have influenced the debate over stem cell research. Using quantitative
methodology, the authors found that the stem cell debate relied on "familiar storytelling
themes and dramatic elements that helped push is to the top of the media agenda during
the summer of 2001" (p. 44). Coverage focused mainly on the competing interests
inherent in the debate, namely tradition versus progress:
If on one side of the debate was the image of a mad scientist experimenting on
human embryos, on the other side was a notion of a religious zealot impeding
scientific and social progress (Nisbet et al. 2003, p. 44).
With competing viewpoints clamoring to be heard, the important questions to be asked
are, "Whose voice rises above all others?" and, "How will this affect public opinion and
policymaking?" The frequency with which stakeholders are quoted and which voices
dominate are a key element in framing.
Sociologist Erving Goffman is credited with coining the term "framing" (Goffman,
1974). It is important to note that the concept of framing has not always been clear in the
literature. Indeed, Entman's well-known paper refers to framing as a "scattered
conceptualization" (Entman 1993, p. 51). In a more recent publication, Scheufele (1999)
noted that "the term framing has been used repeatedly to label similar but distinctly
different approaches" (p. 103). Hertog and McLeod note that although framing analysis
has been accepted as a useful research tool for several decades, it is far from being an
exact science. A "wide array of theoretical approaches and methods" are utilized and the
field has yet to settle on "a core theory or even a basic set of propositions, nor has a
widely accepted methodological approach emerged" (Hertog and McLeod 2001, p. 139).
Researchers should take care to describe where their methods and approaches fit
within framing's four-cell typology: "media versus audience frames and frames as
independent versus dependent variables" (Scheufele 1999, p. 108). This study is
concerned with media frames as a dependent variable, namely how journalists use frames
and what frames dominate coverage of stem cell research.
It should also be noted that "framing" and "frame theory" are not equitable in the
eyes of many researchers, and that a distinction can be made between the two terms
(Roefs 1998). This study is concerned primarily with the use of framing as a research
tool. Although the exploration of frame theory is valid, this study will not venture into
According to Goffman (1974), framing explains how readers use existing mental
frameworks and expectations to make sense of everyday social situations. This "sense-
making" element is critical, as frames can help shape a reader's thoughts about a given
issue. This concept is echoed by Bridges and Nelson (2000), who wrote, "the way an
issue is presented the frame especially through the media, can affect public
perceptions of the issue" (p. 100). Reese (2001) further characterized frames by stating
that they are "organizing principles that are socially shared and persistent over time, that
work symbolically to meaningfully structure the social world" (p. 140).
Salience is a key element in framing. Entman (1993) is widely respected for his
contributions regarding salience in framing research:
To frame is to select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more
salient in a communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem
definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment
recommendation for the item described (p. 56).
Frames reduce issues to the familiar, and they can help the public to understand
new and otherwise complex issues by capitalizing on widely accepted dogmas and shared
perspectives. This can be especially useful in coverage of biotechnology issues, where
readers may get bogged down in technical language. By reducing the story to
recognizable elements, journalists can help readers to understand the issue. Hertog and
McLeod (2001) characterized the "importance of frames and framing in social process,
especially in defining and channeling social controversy" (p. 139).
Framing methods can be distilled to such basic elements as the language that
journalists use to describe events (Edelman 1988). Indeed, "the use of baby versus fetus
signals a very different approach to the topic of abortion" (Hertog and McLeod 2001).
We are a culture that relies heavily on language. Yet complex scientific issues pose a
great challenge to the public, who often cannot comprehend the associated terminology.
Framing can help bring the reader onto a common playing field:
All communication is dependent upon shared meaning among communicators. The
speaker and the audience must approach words, icons, ideas, gestures, and so on in
an identical fashion in order to communicate. The greater the difference in their
individual understanding of symbols, the less able they are to communicate (Hertog
and McLeod 2001, p. 141).
However, this quest to establish shared meaning can cause a story to change from a
catchy tune to a broken record. Journalists tend to revert to familiar stories and themes
when framing science stories (Bennett 2001). Nisbet et al. (2003) described this scenario
in greater detail:
When an event or new issue taps familiar themes from previous dramatic stories,
journalists turn to these previously used story lines to recast actors and events in
familiar relationships around the emerging issue (p. 43).
For example, the stem cell debate has been framed in similar ways to the debates over
abortion and in vitro fertilization, since all three have been framed as hinging on the
moral question of when life begins. Framing of the stem cell debate also has echoed the
debate over genetic engineering, where voices have questioned whether scientists are
"playing God" (Charo 2001).
The framing of news stories also is influenced by the journalist's choice of sources.
In fact, source selection can be seen as "one of the most important dimensions of
framing" (Zoch and VanSlyke Turk 1998, p. 762). Shoemaker and Reese further iterate
Sources have a tremendous effect on mass media content, because journalists can't
include in their news reports what they don't know... (sources) may also influence
the news in subtle ways by providing the context within which all other information
is evaluated.., and by monopolizing the journalists' time so that they don't have an
opportunity to seek out sources with alternative views (Shoemaker and Reese,
1991, p. 150).
Although journalists strive for neutrality in their work, studies have shown that
journalists tend to favor certain types of sources. In some cases, journalists will forgo
sources whose opinions on an issue contrast with their own (Powers and Fico 1991).
Research has overwhelmingly shown that journalists favor certain "elite" sources,
including police, government officials and scientists.
Journalists often tap elite sources because they are easily identifiable and
accessible, tend to be articulate, can provide a large amount of information with little
effort (on both the source's and journalist's part), and are typically seen by readers as
valid and reliable (Zoch and VanSlyke Turk 1998). In scientific debates, the extent to
which readers trust sources is critical: "reputation is the crucial currency in scientific
debate" (Durant 1993, p. 136). The concept of source validity is also important because if
readers trust a source then they may believe what a source says to be true. In short, what
sources say about an issue can elicit attitude and belief changes among readers (Slater
and Rouner 1996). Specifically, direct quotes can have a strong influence on reader
opinion about an issue. Gibson and Zillman have reported that readers exposed to a given
opinion via a direct quote were likely to echo that opinion and that readers give greater
weight to information contained in direct quotes than in paraphrased quotes (Gibson and
Zillman 1993; Gibson and Zillman 1998). This evidence makes it important to examine
direct quotes within framing studies such as this one.
After considering these facts, it is then not surprising that journalists favor elite
sources, as the practice can provide them with a way to easily inform and potentially
influence readers. Hovland's work from the 1950s supports journalists' inclination to use
elite sources by demonstrating that that the main elements influencing source credibility
among readers trace to the source's trustworthiness and expertise (Hovland and Weiss
However, journalists' reliance on elite sources, especially those in government,
medicine, and law, can present a top-heavy view of society. This practice can give
"scientists a great deal of control over representations of uncertainty" (Dunwoody 1999,
p. 63). Also, by opting to quote expert sources rather than do their own background
research and investigative reporting, journalists may be depriving readers of key
information on a topic. (Ericson, Baranek, and Chan 1989; Wilkie 1996).
Journalists' use of elite sources can influence the framing and agenda setting of
specific issues (Gans 1979; Nisbet et al. 2003). For example, Andsager and Smiley
(1998) stated that "(t)he news media tend to rely on frames that the most influential
policy actors provide, which will often render large institutions the most influential
policy actors" (p. 183). Journalists' reliance on elite sources can have a strong influence
on policy because "when the resonance process is complete, one frame comes to
dominate debate, and decision makers set public policy to conform to it" (Miller and
Reichert 2001, p. 113).
One primary research question was asked: how have the elite newspapers covered
embryonic stem cell research? According to Creswell (1998), beginning with a single
problem for the researcher to explore is a critical directive of qualitative research. From
there, sub-questions can evolve.
Secondary questions looked at sublevels of this main question: with what frequency
are key stakeholders cited; to what degree are issues regarding embryonic stem cells and
adult stem cells differentiated; how frequently is the process of human cloning cited
alongside stem cell research, and is it differentiated as a separate issue or lumped
together; and how frequently are stem cell policies of other nations mentioned or
compared to U.S. policy?
Two broad approaches to academic research traditionally are recognized -
qualitative and quantitative. The two methodologies differ in many ways, but "the issue
goes deeper than 'to count or not to count"' (Trumbo 2004, p. 418). Quantitative research
operates mainly from the standpoint of taking an existing theory or hypothesis and testing
it. Although quantitative research methods are used in the bulk of published academic
research, qualitative research is no less valuable:
"Qualitative research shares good company with the most rigorous quantitative
research, and it should not be viewed as an easy substitute for a 'statistical' or
quantitative study" (Creswell 1998).
Qualitative research is "a process of making large claims from small matters"
(Carey 1975). Qualitative researchers seek to "preserve and analyze" content, "rather
than subject it to mathematical or other formal transformations" (Lindlof and Taylor
2002, p. 18). In effect, qualitative research takes a macro view, describing the nuances
and fine details of an issue in an attempt to understand fully what is going on. Qualitative
textual analysis seeks to elucidate the meaning behind media messages and can reveal
subtle thematic shifts (Newman 1998). In short, "quantitative researchers work with a
few variables and many cases, whereas qualitative researchers work with a few cases and
many variables" (Creswell 1998).
Qualitative and quantitative methodologies have long existed as two distinct
methodologies, although neither one is recognized as "better" than the other (Newman
1998). Despite their inherent differences, the two approaches can be quite complementary
(Carpenter 1998). In designing studies, researchers should not adopt an "either-or"
mindset. Because each approach offers its own advantages to the researcher, a
combinatorial approach can be quite useful and can be more useful than either approach
would be on its own (Carpenter 1998). Perhaps not surprisingly, a third genre dubbed
"mixed methods" is gaining increased acceptance, and researchers in a variety of social
sciences are touting the benefits of this relatively new approach (Todd et al 2004;
Tashakkorie and Teddlie 2003).
Following this trend and seeking to draw on the advantages of the two traditional
methodologies, this study relied on a mixed-method design. From a quantitative
standpoint, the study sought to understand the frequency with which journalists used key
terms and concepts. In an attempt to paint a more detailed picture, qualitative methods
were employed to explore and further characterize elite print media coverage of
embryonic stem cell research. This component of the study followed Creswell's
guidelines: 1) begin with a research question that seeks to explore what is going on; 2)
focus on a topic that needs to be explored; and 3) present a "detailed view" of the topic
This study examined the way in which issues surrounding stem cell research have
been portrayed in two elite newspapers, The New York Times and The Washington Post.
The study focused on a critical time span in the history of stem cell research,
encompassing the first major policy decisions for this nascent field.
Newspapers were selected over other media because they are the public's dominant
source for science knowledge (Blum and Knudson 1997). The New York Times and The
Washington Post were examined since they both are clarion trendsetters in the national
media scene (Nelkin 1995). Additionally, they are regarded as key publications for
national policymakers (Gans 1979). The issue of stem cell research is one that has
national and even international importance, so The New York Times was selected for its
reputation, breadth and overall depth of readership. Additionally, The New York Times is
well known for providing ample coverage of science and technology issues via its weekly
"Science Times" section. The Washington Post was selected for its reputation and
prestige, as well as for its attention to political and legislative issues. As the predominant
paper in Washington, D.C., policymakers are apt to read it and to be influenced in how
they respond to current issues.
The coverage time frame was August 25, 2000, through September 19, 2001. The
start date coincided with the Clinton administration's reevaluation of the ban on federal
funding for embryonic stem cell research. The study end date extended one month past
the Bush administration's August 19, 2001, announcement that it would permit federal
funding of embryonic stem cell research conducted on stem cell lines already in
existence. This month-long period following the announcement allowed inclusion of
articles that discussed the controversy over the limited number of existing ES cell lines,
their relative viability and the subsequent determination that adult stem cells might not
hold the promise once believed.
The Lexis-Nexis Academic online database was used to identify articles via a
"guided news search." First, "general news" was selected under the "news category"
drop-down menu. Second, "major papers" was selected under the "news source" drop-
down menu, and The New York Times and The Washington Post were selected via the
"source list" to limit results to those two papers. Third, the database was screened by
entering the term "stem cell" (with quotation marks) in the search term box and selecting
"headline, lead paragraph(s), terms" from the drop-down menu.
News stories, feature stories, and opinions/editorials were all included in this study
because the researcher felt these types of articles would be most likely to include detailed
coverage of stem cell research issues. General letters to the editor were not included.
Also, the researcher excluded the printed text of George W. Bush's televised speech from
August 10, 2001, which ran in both The Washington Post and The New York Times, on
the premise that it was originally a speech and not a written piece. Articles of fewer than
500 words were excluded, because the researcher felt these articles typically are straight
research briefs that lack further explanation or context. The researcher also excluded
pieces that exceeded 500 words but that were merely an assemblage of several short
briefs (e.g. The Washington Post's "Findings," "Today in Congress," and "Washington in
The researcher opted to use stories of greater than 500 words because she felt that
these pieces devote adequate space to cover the critical elements of this murky topic and,
thus, ample room to employ frames. These selection criteria echo those used in other
framing studies (Schmid 2004).
Data Collection and Analysis
Individual articles were the unit of analysis. Each was coded using a standard
coding worksheet and set of coding guidelines (Appendices A and B). In addition to
gathering basic identifying information about each article (headline, byline, date, section
and page, etc.), the coding sheet examined a number of other items: (1) utilization of key
terminology; (2) sources of direct quotations; (3) definition and characterization of stem
cell research; (4) presentation of ethical issues surrounding stem cell research; (5)
delineation of differences between adult and embryonic stem cells; (6) references to
human cloning; and (7) references to other nations, namely their stances on stem cell
research or the threat that the United State might be left behind. Data from the coding
sheets was entered into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to streamline analysis.
To answer the primary research question and determine the frames used, the
researcher read through all articles that met the selection criteria. By looking at specific
articles individually, the researcher was then able to employ an inductive approach to
elucidate general trends among the articles. Variables that influenced frame evolution
included terminology, sources, overall tone, and placement of various attributes within
the story. The researcher has both formal educational training and professional
experience in scientific fields. As such, she understands the technical aspects of the stem
cell issue and has followed it in the popular press since its inception.
In order to answer the secondary research questions, the researcher tallied all
related data fields and calculated basic percentages. Comparisons were made between
articles that ran in The New York Times and The Washington Post to elucidate any
Validity and Reliability
Validity typically represents the "truth value" of observations, and whether or not
researchers have presented factual, confirmable and reliable data (Lindlof and Taylor
2002). Validity refers to the congruence between what a given data set measures and
what it intends to measure (Newman 1998). Reliability is a related term and has to do
with the "consistency of observation" and whether the coding sheet, in this case, will
generate the same results each time it is applied to the same article (Lindlof and Taylor
2002, p. 238).
One way to establish reliability and validity in qualitative research is to utilize a co-
coder (Lindlof and Taylor 2002). A second coder was trained and familiarized with the
coding sheet and coded a random sample of 20% of the articles which were selected
using a random number generator. This coder had completed all coursework for a
master's degree in mass communication, having studied both framing theory and
qualitative research. Both coders analyzed the data independently and, following coding,
they compared frames. The coders agreed on the dominant frames and, in the case of
discrepancies, discussed the issue until a conclusion was made. An intercoder reliability
of 86.67% was established using a basic intercoder reliability formula: total stories minus
irreconcilable frames, divided by total stories.
Using the aforementioned criteria, 98 articles were retrieved from The New York
Times and 73 articles were retrieved from The Washington Post. The researcher identified
a number of frames that permeated the elite print media's coverage of stem cell research.
The researcher dubbed these the "battle/debate," "economic," "excess embryos,"
"playing God," "promise," and "uncertainty" frames. Any other frames were coded under
an "other" category. It should be noted that several frames were closely related. For
example, "uncertainty" and "battle/debate" both hinged on the unknown outcomes of the
stem cell research discussion, though the latter frame took a stronger stance using
suggestive terms connoting aggressive moves by shareholder groups to resolve the
uncertainty. However, each story had a tipping point that ultimately pushed it into one
category or another.
Table 1. Primary frames sorted by publication
The Washington Post, The New York Times, Total articles
n=73 (%) n= 98 (%) n=171 (%)
Uncertainty 31 (42.5) 38 (38.8) 69(40.4)
Battle/Debate 22(30.1) 33 (33.7) 55 (32.2)
Promise 7 (9.6) 15 (15.3) 22 (12.9)
Playing God 3(4.1) 2(2.0) 5(2.9)
Economic 3 (4.1) 1(1.0) 4(2.3)
Excess embryos 1(1.4) 1(1.0) 2(1.2)
Other 6 (8.2) 8 (8.2) 14 (8.2)
Table 2. Primary frames sorted by article type
News, n=134 (%) Feature, n=3 (%) Editorial/Opinion, n=34 (%)
Uncertainty 58(43.3) 0(0.0) 11(32.4)
Battle/Debate 42(31.3) 0(0.0) 13(38.2)
Promise 15 (11.2) 0(0.0) 7(20.6)
Playing God 4(3.0) 0(0.0) 1 (2.9)
Economic 4(3.0) 0(0.0) 0(0.0)
Excess embryos2 (1.5) 0(0.0) 0(0.0)
Other 9 (6.7) 3 (100.0) 2 (5.9)
The "Uncertainty" Frame
The most widely used frame was the "uncertainty" frame, appearing in 42.5% of
The Washington Post articles, 38.8% of The New York Times articles and 40.4% of
overall articles. Webster's dictionary lists such synonyms for uncertainty as doubt,
dubiety, skepticism, and mistrust. Certainly all of these nuances permeated the
newspapers' coverage of stem cell research as the debate over this new technology
The uncertainty frame dominated early coverage within the study's time frame and
centered on the difficulty in sorting out the moral and ethical concerns over stem cell
research. Journalists using this frame cited conservative groups opposed to stem cell
research. Quotations from these groups argued for preserving the sanctity of human life
and protesting the destruction or creation of human embryos for research purposes. In
part, this is because many members of these groups believe that life begins at conception.
Since the derivation of stem cells requires the destruction of an embryo, opponents equate
this with the taking of a human life. However supporters were quoted contesting that:
when it comes to biology, words like "destruction," "creation," "embryo" and even
"life" and "death" are ambiguous. Scientists understand this ambiguity to be a
reflection of the complexity of living things. Meanwhile, both advocates and
opponents of stem cell research are using that ambiguity to their best advantage
Quotes from supporters also countered that frozen embryos are little more than
"microscopic balls of cells." Quotes from supporters acknowledged that the cells
represent potential for human life but with the caveat that many other factors are required
to turn the potential life into reality. Supporters were cited arguing that without
implantation in a mother's womb, the embryos never stand a chance at maturing into a
true human life. Supporters also believe that the true beginnings of life don't come with
Besides, it is not so clear that an individual life begins at fertilization. The
beginnings of the nervous system do not appear until 14 days after fertilization. The
early embryo can split, leading to the birth of twins, so that individuality, it could
be argued, begins some days after fertilization (Wade 2001 la).
Adding to the confusion inherent in the uncertainty frame were journalists'
repeated citations of conservative Republicans crossing party lines. Senators Orrin Hatch
and Strom Thurmond both support embryonic stem cell research. As such, journalists
have pegged them as running counter to their party ideals, acting in opposition to their
well-documented anti-abortion views and thus aligning themselves with liberal groups in
support of stem cell research.
Later coverage featuring the uncertainty frame highlighted concern over Bush's
decision. Frank Bruni, of The New York Times wrote, "his speech was like a Rorschach"
leaving Bush "future wiggle room" (Bruni 2001). Authors expressed repeated skepticism
on whether the 64 existing cell lines would provide enough latitude to maximize the
potential of stem cell research. While the president and his staff argued that the 60-odd
cell lines were "sufficient" to do important science, proponents of stem cell research were
quotes as saying Bush's "vision is shown to be too narrow." Supporters of embryonic
stem cell research felt that by restricting funding to a set number of cell lines, Bush's
policies would inevitably hold back scientists from making progress and that the United
States would lag behind other nations.
On the other side of the fence, conservative groups were also unhappy with Bush's
decision. They felt that Bush had strayed too far from his party's pro-life values, and
called for Bush to reconsider and issue a complete ban on all embryonic stem cell
The "Battle/Debate" Frame
The "battle/debate" frame was the second most prevalent frame, appearing in
30.1% of The Washington Post articles, 33.7% of The New York Times articles and 32.2%
of overall articles Although this frame held certain similarities to the "uncertainty" frame,
the "battle/debate" frame relied on stronger, aggressive-sounding terminology. Initial use
of this frame showed journalists pitting the supporters against the opponents in an all-out
battle to draw support to their side of the cause:
Sensing an opening during Bush's period of indecision, several members of
Congress have written bills, scheduled hearings, demanded White House meetings
and taken to the airwaves to reassert themselves in the battle over cells smaller than
the head of a pin (Connolly 2001b).
Other key phrases that writers used included "spark debate," "eye to eye," "fired back,"
"straddle the line," "legislators feuded," "political parties are maneuvering," "two
agendas collide," "fertile battleground," "skirmishes" and "fight is not over."
Another key element in the "battle/debate" frame was journalists' repeated mention
of how President Bush's "divided administration" was grappling with the "agony,"
"conundrum," and "quandary" of the "national debate." This led some writers to suggest
that Bush's "credibility.. .is open to question." Some writers saw Bush's consideration of
whether to allow federal funding for embryonic stem cell research as a "political litmus
test." During his campaign, Bush vowed to protect the sanctity of human life and
reinforce pro-life values. Therefore, conservatives wondered why Bush was taking so
long to declare what they hoped would be a moratorium on embryonic stem cell research.
This "cat and mouse" game led to skepticism on part of the elite print media and perhaps
the public. Journalists speculated about the delay, suggesting that it was simply "spin, an
effort to justify a decision already made" (Cohen 2001a).
Other journalists expressed that Bush was struggling with how best to appease his
various supporters. Some sources quoted in this frame felt Bush was struggling to
maintain political advantage and avoid political fallout, and therefore opted for a plan that
would offend the least number of people and would help safeguard his political standing
for his future re-election campaign. For example, one source described Bush's decision it
as "a cop-out, but that's his new presidency, going the middle of the road" (Fountain
2001). Another contributor felt Bush "defused a political time bomb that could have
caused deep fissures in the relationships with conservatives and moderates in his own
party" (Berke 2001).
The "Promise" Frame
Journalists also used an alternate frame, the "promise" frame, which emphasized
the promise of stem cell research. Writers using this frame relied heavily on sources from
within the scientific and academic communities. The quotes from scientists and ethicists
expressed that although there are strong moral and ethical considerations, the ends of
stem cell research justify the means. Journalists repeatedly quoted these sources as
believing that legions of ailing Americans one day could benefit from the potential
therapies generated from stem cell research. Writers reiterated this point through the use
of common-ground stories, namely from politicians and such well-known individuals as
Nancy Reagan, Christopher Reeve and Michael J. Fox. These quotes humanized the issue
by offering personal examples of families touched by devastating diseases.
Journalists using this frame incorporated a number of specific phrases into their
coverage: "promise of miracle cures"; "nascent but promising field"; "fountain of youth";
"magical power"; "limitless potential"; "dazzling array (of new treatments)"; "stem-cell
revolution"; "so versatile"; "potential to cure disease and relieve suffering"; and
"breakthrough therapies and cures." Rather than imply that the tissue necessary for this
research was obtained from a controversial source (i.e. a fetus), writers used such phrases
as: "microscopic ball of cells"; "activated embryo"; and blastocystt."
Articles using the "promise" frame often broached the subject of when life begins
but did not center on the issue. No doubt, the question over when human life truly begins
is laced with uncertainty. Rather than dwell on the uncertainty behind this age-old
question, writers using the "promise" frame touched only briefly on questions about life's
origin. The writers maintained that our inability to answer these questions definitively
should not stand in the way of the research possibilities. One Washington Post article
cited that "the idea that an embryo has a soul is a matter of religious faith, not science,"
and implied that this question should not stand in the way of federal funding (Silver
2001). Writers using this frame maintained that a key distinction exists between the
origin of a human being, an embryological question, and the origin of a human person, a
philosophical question (Irving 1999). Indeed, "no court has ever suggested that they
(embryos) have human rights and it would be unethical to protect them at a sick person's
expense" (Weiss 2001a).
The "Playing God" Frame
Certain elements of uncertainty crept into the "playing God" frame, as well.
However, writers using this frame stepped beyond the basic waffling of whether we
should move forward with embryonic stem cell research, instead arguing that we must be
sure not overstep our ethical boundaries and "play God."
This frame, perhaps not surprisingly, was more prevalent in articles citing
conservative groups and opponents of stem cell research. Groups cited in the articles
included: abortion rights opponents, conservative Republican members of Congress, the
Catholic Church and other religious groups. Articles also cited opponents who argued
that "a tragic coarsening of consciences" makes it "permissible to kill so long as we
intend to bring good from it." These groups were quoted as believing that our stem cell
research policies should reiterate the basic principle of medicine, "to do no harm."
Journalists cited opponents of stem cell research as maintaining that it is morally
and ethically wrong to use human embryonic tissue for research. Writers who employed
the "playing God" described stem cells as "nascent" and "innocent" human life that must
be protected, adding that the sacrifice of these "unborn embryos" and "tiny human
beings" only "devalues and violates human life." For example, Family Research Council
president Kenneth Connor wrote that "no commercial gain or scientific benefit can justify
the slaughter of the innocent" (Connor 2001).
A few articles using this frame (mainly editorials) incorporated an element of fear
through the use of specific terminology. For example, one Washington Post editorial
referenced the human experimentation conducted at Auschwitz and then suggested that
stem cell research could lead to scientists "playing God," using cloning "to provide spare
human parts." Another article using this frame warned of "fetal farming," suggesting that
the overwhelming demand for embryos would result in for-profit businesses to breed new
embryos for research.
The "Excess Embryos" Frame
The "excess embryos" frame was in many ways complementary to the "promise"
frame. Journalists centered the "excess embryos" frame on the overproduction of
embryos for infertility treatments. They cited fertility experts who express that many
embryos generated for IVF are defective and can never be viable for reproductive
purposes. Authors also noted that couples undergoing IVF typically end up with more
embryos than are needed. This frame emphasizes that stem cell research would be able to
utilize these embryos, saving them from certain destruction and unnecessary waste. This
frame's terminology centered on embryos, describing them in a number of ways:
"excess," "surplus," "spare," "leftover," "not needed," "in excess of clinical need," or
"would otherwise be thrown away. "
The "Economic" Frame
The "economic" frame played up the potential financial payoffs that will result
from advances in stem cell research. Key terminology used in this frame included "slew
of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists ready to swing [the door] wide open,"
"commercial potential," "long-term growth," "economically attractive," "business
issues," and "investors."
An important attribute in determining frames is the sources that are quoted within
articles. The researcher wanted to know with what frequency the elite newspapers quoted
key players in the stem cell research debate and relied on Nisbet et al 2003 to characterize
Table 3. Sources directly quoted within articles
Post, n=73 (%)
Scientists, administrators, and 49 (19.3)
science policy analysts
Pro-ES cell research groups 40 (15.7)
Bush administration 36 (14.2)
Religious groups 23 (9.1)
Ethicists 20 (7.9)
Republican pro-ES cell 19 (7.5)
Anti-ES cell research groups 16 (6.3)
Republican anti-ES cell 18 (7.1)
Democratic pro-ES cell 18 (7.1)
Celebrities 0 (0.0)
Democratic anti-ES cell 1 (0.4)
Other 14 (5.5)
Total sources 254
The New York
Times, n=98 (%)
Scientists, Administrators and Science Policy Analysts
The most oft-cited source group was that of scientists, administrators and science
policy analysts, making up 19.3% of independent sources quoted in The Washington
Post, 84.7% in The New York Times, and 19.6% of the total sources quoted in both
papers. Group members included stem cell research scientists like James Thomson. The
group also included administrators and science policy analysts affiliated with universities,
hospitals, the American Association of Medical Colleges, the American Association for
the Advancement of Science, the National Institutes of Health and the National Academy
of Sciences. Scientists were included regardless of whether they held a medical degree or
a doctorate of philosophy, and whether they worked in academia or for the National
Institutes of Health. Scientists working in any commercial ventures were lumped into the
"Pro-ES stem cell research groups," as they stood to benefit financially from any
advancement in stem cell technology. Most of the time, these scientists were academic
researchers who had spun off a for-profit company that they themselves headed.
Pro-Embryonic Stem Cell Groups
Pro-embryonic stem cell groups were the second most-cited groups, comprising
15.7% of independent sources quoted in The Washington Post, 80.6% in The New York
Times, and 17.7% of the total sources quoted in both papers. Sources in this category
included any groups who stand to profit, either financially or through potential medical
cures, from advances in embryonic stem cell research. Groups included the Coalition to
Advance Medical Research, Biotechnology Industry Organization, Wisconsin Alumni
Research Foundation (including managing director Carl Gulbrandsen), Juvenile Diabetes
Research Foundation, Parkinson's Foundation, biotechnology companies (like Geron) or
their officers, and financial analysts who favor embryonic stem cell research.
The next source group was the Bush administration, which accounted for 14.2% of
independent sources quoted in The Washington Post, 54.1% in The New York Times, and
13.2% of the total sources quoted in both papers. This group included George W. Bush
himself; advisors, aides or spokespeople for George W. Bush; cabinet members like
Tommy Thompson, director of the agency of Health and Human Services; and Karl
Rove, top political adviser.
Religious groups were the next category, making up 9.1% of independent sources
quoted in The Washington Post, 38.8% in The New York Times, and 9.1% of the total
sources quoted in both papers. Members of this group included the Catholic Church,
Pope John Paul II, the Vatican, National Council of Catholic Bishops (including Richard
Doerflinger), and conservative Protestant groups.
The next most-frequent category was ethicists. This group made up 7.9 % of
independent sources quoted in The Washington Post, 39.8% in The New York Times, and
8.8% of the total sources quoted in both papers and included R. Alta Charo, Leon Kass,
and James Childress. The category also included any other ethicists, including those
identified as sitting on advisory boards for biotechnology companies (as opposed to
including them in the pro-embryonic stem cell groups category with other biotechnology
Republican Pro-Embryonic Stem Cell Research
Sources from the Republican pro-embryonic stem cell research category comprised
7.5% of independent sources quoted in The Washington Post, 36.7% in The New York
Times, and 5.2% of the total sources quoted in both papers. This category included Arlen
Specter, Orrin Hatch, Strom Thurmond, Bill Frist, Connie Mack, John McCain, Jim
Ramstad, Nancy Johnson, and Susan Collins, as well as any state-level GOP supporters
opposed to ES cell research.
Anti-Embryonic Stem Cell Groups
Another source category was called anti-embryonic stem cell groups, which
accounted for 6.3% of independent sources quoted in The Washington Post, 30.6% in The
New York Times, and 6.8% of the total sources quoted in both papers. Group members
included the National Right to Life League, American Life League, and Family Research
Council organizations, as well as their officers and representatives.
Republican Anti-Embryonic Stem Cell Research
The Republican anti-embryonic stem cell research source category accounted for
7.1% of independent sources quoted in The Washington Post, 17.3% in The New York
Times, and 5.2% of the total sources quoted in both papers. Sources included
Congressional members Trent Lott, Dick Armey, Dennis Hastert, J.C. Watts, Sam
Brownback, Jay Dickey, Dave Weldon, and Tom Delay. The category also included any
state-level congressional members who were mentioned in coverage.
Democratic Pro-Embryonic Stem Cell Research
Democratic pro-embryonic stem cell research sources made up 7.1% of
independent sources quoted in The Washington Post, 16.3% in The New York Times, and
5.0% of the total sources quoted in both papers. This group included Tom Daschle, Tom
Harkin, John Kerry, Ted Kennedy, Nita Lowey, Richard Gephardt, Henry Waxman,
Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Jim McDermott, as well as any state-level Democratic
Another category was celebrities, although members of this group made up only
3.1% of sources within New York Times articles and 0.4% of the total sources quoted in
both papers. "Celebrities" were not quoted in any Washington Post articles. Well-known
public figures who support ES cell research including Michael J. Fox, Nancy Reagan and
Christopher Reeve are included in this group.
Democratic Anti-Embryonic Stem Cell Research
Nisbet et al (2003) also named a Democratic anti-embryonic stem cell research
group, which they listed as including Ronnie Shows, Nick Rahall, Bart Stupak, Jim
Barcia, Dale Kildee, Christopher John, Solomon Ortiz, Mike McIntyre, David Phelps,
and Ike Skelton. However, only one Democratic opponent appeared among all articles
examined, within a single Washington Post article (0.4% of quotes within Washington
Post articles and 0.1% of quotes within all articles).
Several sources could not be classified into the above categories and were tallied in
an "other" category. These sources included political advisers whose stance on ES-cell
research was not articulated, any members of the Clinton administration, and literary or
historical figures like Aldous Huxley and Thomas Jefferson (the latter were mainly
quoted in editorials). These "other" sources totaled 5.5% of independent sources quoted
in The Washington Post, 25.5% in The New York Times, and 5.8% of the overall sources
in both papers.
Definition and Characterization of Stem Cell Research
The researcher also was interested in how stem cell research was defined and
explained, including how the ethical issues surrounding stem cell research were
characterized. The researcher believes that if people are to understand the central issues
of the debate, then they must have at least a basic appreciation for the technology and
Specifically, the researcher looked first at whether each article attempted to define
stem cell research in any way. For example, some articles gave a basic explanation like
"stem cells are the basic building blocks of the body" with no further explanation
anywhere in the article. Other articles gave a more technical, in-depth descriptions that
included details on the sources of stem cells, how they are isolated and grown, and their
potential usefulness. For example:
hematopoietic stem cells are the source in the bone marrow from which a constant
stream of red and white blood cells is produced throughout a person's life. Like
embryonic stem cells, they can renew themselves indefinitely, but their potential is
restricted to making just the cells of the blood system (Wade 2001a).
Just over half (50.7%) of the articles in The Washington Post gave a basic
definition of stem cell research, 11% percent gave an in-depth definition, and 38.0%
offered no definition at all. In The New York Times, 37.8% of the articles gave a basic
definition, 22.4% percent gave an in-depth definition, and 40.0% offered no definition at
Table 4. Definition and characterization of stem cell research
The Washington Post, The New York Times, Total articles,
n=73 (%) n=98 (%) n=171 (%)
Basic 37 (50.7) 37 (37.8) 74 (43.2)
In-depth 8(11.0) 22 (22.4) 30 (17.5)
None 28 (38.0) 39 (40.0) 67 (39.2)
On a secondary level, the researcher looked at whether the articles highlighted any
of the ethical/moral implications of stem cell research. More specifically, the researcher
looked at whether the article touched on two key points: (1) that embryos must be
"destroyed," "sacrificed," or "killed" in order to extract embryonic stem cells; and (2)
that in vitro fertility treatments are result in "discarded," "excess," or "spare" embryos
that are "not needed," "in excess of clinical need," or "would otherwise be thrown away."
A majority of articles in both papers highlighted the ethical implications, with The
Washington Post ringing in at 68.5% and The New York Times at 66.3%. Specifically,
71.2% of Washington Post articles and 67.3% of New York Times articles mentioned
embryo destruction, while 60.2% of Washington Post articles and 55.1% of New York
Times articles referred to surplus IVF embryos.
Table 5. Ethical/moral implications
The Washington Post, The New York Times, Total articles,
n=73 (%) n=98 (%) n=171 (%)
Overall implications 50(68.49) 65(66.3) 115 (67.3)
Embryo destruction 52(71.2) 66(67.3) 118 (69.0)
IVF surplus embryos 44 (60.2) 54 (55.1) 99 (57.9)
Finally, on a tertiary level, the researcher looked at whether articles made specific
reference to "adult" or "embryonic" stem cells (as opposed to simply using the generic
term "stem cells") and whether articles made a direct comparison of these two main cell
types, detailing their respective uses, strengths and weaknesses. Secretary of Health and
Human Services Tommy Thompson was quoted in one Washington Post article about this
issue: "There has never been the research done comparing adult [umbilical] cord blood
and embryonic stem cells to determine what are the qualities, what are the abilities of
these stem cells" (Weiss 2001c). Other articles made explicit comparisons: "While
considered inferior by many scientists, adults [sic] cells may turn out to be as useful as
those obtained from embryos without posing the problem of having to destroy embryos to
get them, [ethicists] argued" (Connolly 2001a).
The most detailed delineation between adult and embryonic stem cells came from a
New York Times reporter who crafted a 3,555-word piece titled "Teaching the body to
heal itself; Work on cells' signals fosters talk of a new medicine."
Embryonic stem cells are created in the very early embryo; from them, all the
bodies' tissues and organs are generated. Once the body is formed, the embryonic
stem cells disappear, leaving behind a few descendants to keep the body in good
repair through its lifetime. These descendants, often called adult stem cells,
apparently lack the embryonic stem cell's power of generating any and all of the
body's tissues. Nor can they renew themselves indefinitely, as can embryonic stem
cells grown in glassware (Wade 2000).
In all, 35.6% of Washington Post articles mentioned used the term "adult stem
cells," 72.6% used the term "embryonic stem cells," and 28.8% made a direct comparison
between the two. The numbers were similar among New York Times articles with 34.7%
using the term "adult stem cells," 81.6% using the term "embryonic stem cells," and
24.5% comparing the two.
Table 6. Adult versus embryonic stem cell research
The Washington Post, The New York Times, Total articles,
n=73 (%) n=98 (%) n=171 (%)
Adult stem cells 26(35.6) 34(34.7) 60(35.1)
Embryonic stem 53 (72.6) 80 (81.6) 133 (77.8)
Adult vs. 21(28.8) 24 (24.5) 45 (26.3)
The researcher wanted to know how frequently "cloning" was cited. The researcher
felt it was important to examine whether articles this issue since the use of the term
"cloning" can cause confusion among some readers, who may not realize the differences
inherent between "reproductive cloning" and "therapeutic cloning." Just under a quarter
of the articles mentioned cloning (21.9% of Washington Post articles, 24.5% of New York
Times articles, and 23.4% of all articles).
Table 7. References to human cloning
The Washington Post, The New York Times, Total articles,
n=73 (%) n=98 (%) n=171 (%)
16 (21.9) 24 (21.9) 40 (23.4)
Some articles cited specific concern over "reproductive cloning," i.e. creating exact
replicas of existing humans, noting that the majority of scientists oppose such technology.
Other articles featured concerns, but in a more general sense. For example, one New York
Times editorial opposed "cloning" because it "threatens to destroy what is genuinely
unique about each human being" (Wolfe 2001). Some reporters also quoted Bush as
being opposed to "cloning" in its generic sense, while others clarified that this meant
Bush opposed "human cloning for any purpose, including research, and he urged
researchers to explore the potential of stem cells derived from adults" (Wolfe 2001;
Additional articles took great care to explain the differences between
"reproductive" and "therapeutic" cloning. For example, therapeutic cloning is when "an
embryo would be created from a patient's cells to make life-saving tissue" (McNeil
2001). Some went into even further detail on therapeutic cloning:
The purpose of such cloning is not to create a baby but to use a patient's own cells
to create embryos from which stem cells can be obtained. Such cells would grow
into tissue matching that of the patient, so the patient's immune system would not
reject transplants (Pollack 2001).
United States versus Other Nations
Finally, the researcher wanted to know how frequently articles mentioned stances taken
by other nations or alluded to the threat of the United States being left behind. The
researcher felt it was important to look for discussion of a possible "brain drain," because
such an event could mean that the United States would fall behind other nations and lose
its hard-earned reputation as a scientific bellwether. In total, 8.2% of Washington Post
articles, 11.2% of New York Times articles and 9.9% of all articles from both papers
touched on this point. The majority of articles that gave at least a cursory description of
international stem cell policies did so at or near the end of articles.
Table 8. References to other nations
The Washington Post, The New York Times, Total articles,
n=73 (%) n=98 (%) n=171 (%)
6 (8.2) 11 (11.2) 17 (9.9)
Certain articles merely noted what was going on in other nations, allowing readers
to draw their own conclusions as to what this might mean for the United States:
Among nations, only Britain has set up a legal mechanism that allows the creation
of new embryos for research, with strict rules governing the kinds of experiments
that are eligible. To date, none have been used to create stem cells (Weiss 2001b).
Other articles commented that "Sweden's political climate is benign" for stem cell
research and that India has "no religious, cultural, political or social barriers to this
Some editorials lauded stances taken by other nations. For example, Jim Clark,
founder of Silicon Graphics, Netscape, Healtheon (now WebMD) and myCFO, penned a
New York Times editorial presenting his reasons for withholding the remaining $60
million of his outstanding $150 million pledge to Stanford University to create a center
for biomedical engineering and science at Stanford. He noted that the United Kingdom
has chosen to regulate nonreproductive cloning, a move which he deemed "more
rational" than the United States' policy to ban it outright (Clark 2001).
Still other articles cited that the United States' policy may put it at a disadvantage.
For example, one of America's top stem cell researchers, Roger Pedersen, was fleeing to
England in order to escape an "unfriendly climate" in the United States and to "maximize
[his] potential." One news article's lead reiterated this point:
An unexpected new order of powers has emerged, at least in the field of human
embryonic stem cell research. The roster, say scientists who back the research, is
evidence of the inventiveness of the newcomers but also shows how much the usual
powerhouses of biomedical research in the United States and Europe have been
held back by political and ethical debate (Wade 2001b).
However, this article also includes the caveat that some nations aren't maximizing
their potential either. For example, "British biologists developed the technique for
growing embryonic stem cells from mouse embryos, the underpinning of the methods
that other have used with human cells," but they have yet to derive human embryonic
One Washington Post article offered the most in-depth look at the international
ramifications. The headline proclaimed "India plans to fill void in stem cell research;
Scientists say restrictions in U.S. may give them advantage in development" (Lakshmi
2001). The author elaborated, stating that India had not established policies governing
stem cell research, which left the door wide open for interested researchers. The author
quoted one source saying that Bush's announcement of the limited U.S. policy "opened
'a new pot of gold' for India science and business." The author cited that public debate in
India had been minimal, in part because "most Indians are not aware of the research or its
controversial nature" but also because of the nation's differing values; "Our society is
liberal in areas of scientific work. We will not face any opposition," said one Indian
The author closed the article with the caveat that although India allows scientists
greater latitude, the nation is not likely to surpass other leading scientific nations; "The
work here is still in its infancy" and "futuristic experiments.., are a low priority in a
country in which millions of people have no access to basic health care," the author
wrote. The author of a Washington Post editorial also reassured that despite the positions
of other nations, the United States does not risk being left behind: "If the United States
doesn't lead, the rest of the world is not going to do much either" (Cohen 2001b).
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION
It will come as no surprise to anyone who reads the newspaper on a regular basis
that the issue of stem cell research has been and continues to be a pivotal and hotly
contested topic. The technology's touted promise means that it could shift the way we
treat disease, moving us into an era of "regenerative medicine." Of course, we also know
that not everyone endorses this new technology. The way in which the elite media have
covered the debate can give us an interesting glimpse into the evolution of this pressing
public policy issue.
Frame use shifted over time. In many earlier articles, journalists utilized the
"promise" frame, likely as a direct result of the newly available federal funds for stem
cell research. Journalists then shifted to using the "battle/debate" and "uncertainty" as a
conservative, pro-life Republican president prepared to take office. Journalists
highlighted Bush's extended debate over whether or not to allow federal funding, which
equated to prolonged reliance of the "battle/debate" and "uncertainty" frames. It was at
this point that coverage began to use the "playing God" frame, as opponents of ES cell
research voiced their opposition of ES cell research funding. Newspaper coverage
following Bush's decision was also dominated by the "uncertainty" frame. In numerous
articles, writers debated whether Bush's allowances would be enough. Concerns were
mentioned about whether adult stem cells held the same promise as ES cells. Others
writers questioned if the 64 existing cell lines eligible for federal funding would prove
viable and readily available to scientists.
Use of "Uncertainty" and "Battle/Debate"
As described in the results section, authors favored "uncertainty" as a primary
frame, evidenced by the fact that this frame appeared most frequently (40.4% of all
articles.) Journalists relied most heavily on the "uncertainty" frame in hard news
coverage (43.3% of all news stories), indicating that stem cell research can be seen as an
emergent science. Susanna Hornig Priest described emergent science as "science whose
truth has not yet been settled by consensus, either scientific or public" (Priest 1999, p.
97). She stated that emergent science is almost always dubbed newsworthy. The repeated
appearance of stem cell research on the front pages certainly confirms this.
As was mentioned in the results section, the "uncertainty" frame evolved over time.
In later coverage, journalists included quotes from pro-ES cell groups that questioned
whether Bush's policy would allow scientists enough leeway. The quotes expressed
doubt over whether the 60-odd cell lines that Bush approved would provide scientists
enough latitude. Perhaps journalists opted for those quotes because they were hearing
many voices argue that "sufficient" is not the same as "excellent." After all, is
"sufficient" performance enough to truly succeed in a cutting-edge field? In this country,
we strive for superlative, not average, performance, both in our independent lives and at a
national level. The latter is especially true when it comes to science and technology. A
glance back at the "space race" reminds us of this.
The "uncertainty" frame related closely to the "battle/debate" frame, which was the
second most prevalent frame and accounted for 32.2% of all articles. As is the case in
many battles, it was unclear which side might emerge victorious in the stem cell debate.
Ultimately, journalists portrayed Bush as choosing a middle ground where the warring
parties could meet. It could be said that Bush's compassionate conservatism had morphed
into a new breed, that of calculated conservatism. Coverage reflected that Bush's
announcement to supply federal funds for limited embryonic stem cell research quelled
the debate temporarily as both sides sought to understand what Bush's policy would
mean for their cause. However in the long run, coverage focused on the fact that Bush's
policy only intensified the uncertainty and renewed the battle. Journalists featured
stakeholders on both sides who continued to push for revised policies and thus prolonged
It is perhaps not surprising that journalists writing about stem cell research tended
to rely most heavily on frames of "uncertainty" and "battle/debate." Indeed, studies show
that the rate of scientific uncertainty in the media is increasing (Friedman, Dunwoody,
and Rogers 1999). Friedman has argued that experts on each side of an issue introduce
elements of uncertainty in an effort to sway public opinion. However rather than skirt
murky issues, the Association for Health Care Journalists' code of ethics urges science
writers to "clearly define and communicate areas of doubt and uncertainty." This seems
the best tact when covering stem cell research, since the subtle nuances must be
understood fully before one can form a truly educated opinion on the issue.
It is likely that the writers of the various articles wanted to show readers that two
distinct sides of the issue existed. So often, we hear that media writers are taught to write
"fair and balanced" coverage. By citing ideologies on both sides of the stem cell debate,
writers fulfilled this media ideal, at least to a certain extent. While it is important that the
media provide balanced, accurate and complete information on a subject, declaring
support or opposition for complex issues can help clarify ongoing debate and bring
potential resolution. Hertog and McLeod (2001) refer to this as the resolution phase.
However, it should be noted that although articles featured both sides of the debate,
coverage was by no means equal; certain themes and voices appeared repeatedly. For
example, one voice that seemed to appear more frequently than all other conservative
sources was that of Richard Doerflinger. Like other religious leaders, he clamored that
we should not move forward with this technology since we cannot be certain we are not
destroying nascent human lives. This is not the first time this tact has been used in public
debate. Many of the central arguments that conservatives were quoted using in this debate
hearken to those used to protest abortion. Hertog and McLeod (2001) suggest that frames
are often recycled from one media topic to another. Indeed, "controversies over science
and technology persist, and the same issues keep reoccurring in changing forms" (Nelkin
On a basic level, journalistic coverage suggests that many conservatives view stem
cell research as a "pro-life" issue. However, certain otherwise "pro-life" conservatives
have come out in support of embryonic stem cell research and have been featured
prominently in the media. In fact, journalists quoted these sources as saying that
supporting embryonic stem cell research is indeed in-line with "pro-life" fundamentals,
as the technology could ultimately result in disease therapies benefiting millions of
Americans. The idea that one could sit on either side of the fence on the stem cell issue
and still be "pro-life" is perhaps not as surprising as it may sound. In fact, it can be a
useful tool in public debate: "social groups may exhibit different ideologies and yet apply
the same frame to a particular topic (Hertog and McLeod 2001, p. 144).
Overwhelmingly, though, the elite media's coverage of stem cell research tended to be
positive. Staff writers took care to highlight both sides of the debate, although they
tended to feature sources in favor of embryonic stem cell research more frequently than
those who opposed it. Journalists might touch on the controversies over stem cell
research, but the language they used tended to play up the promise more than the
potential pitfalls. It is difficult to say whether this pattern can be seen as "good" or "bad."
In some ways, journalists' proclivity to play up the positive could be seen as critical to
advancing public discussion of the issue and resulting policy.
Use of Other Frames
Authors used a number of other frames, including the "playing God" and "promise"
frames, both of which included quotations from polar sources. In "playing God" stories,
writers favored conservative sources such as the Catholic Church and abortion rights
opponents while in "promise" stories, writers quoted more liberal sources such as
academics and patient advocacy groups. As was mentioned in the results section,
journalists using the "promise" frame often relied on personal testimonials, which may
help build rapport with readers since just about everyone has a family member or friend
who might benefit from the potential therapies expected to emerge from in stem cell
research. Writers using the "promise" frame tended to discuss the arguments behind
when life begins, whereas those using the "playing God" frame often skirted the issue
and simply maintained that all life, no matter how microscopic, was sacred. It is possible
that writers using the "promise" frame were attempting to downplay the moral elements
of the technology by dealing head on with the issue of when life truly begins: if the
controversy could be abated then perhaps support for the issue would intensify.
Stakeholders in support of embryonic stem cell research were quoted by
journalists with greater frequency than stakeholders who oppose embryonic stem cell
research (82 anti-ES sources vs. 208 pro-ES sources among 171 total articles). This may,
in part, be due to the fact that public opinion research polls showed that a majority of
Americans actually supported stem cell research. The media articles may simply have
been reflecting the dominant opinion on the topic.
Scientists and science policy analysts made up a large chunk of all sources quoted
by writers (132 science sources among 171 total articles). This is perhaps not surprising.
Firstly, stem cell research is an "emergent science," as described by Priest. This means
that a majority of the American public does not understand the subtle nuances of the
technology or terminology. Thus, it behooves reporters to rely on scientific sources to
help fill in the blanks and explain the burgeoning new field to novice readers. Secondly,
the literature shows that journalists tend to favor "elite" sources like scientists when
Journalists relied on certain other stakeholders repeatedly throughout coverage. For
example, Richard Doerflinger of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops was
quoted a number of times, perhaps because his group has been very vocal in its
opposition to embryonic stem cell research. In fact, the Catholic Church was cited
more frequently than any other religious group in its opposition to embryonic stem
cell research. Also cited frequently were Arlen Specter, Orrin Hatch and Strom
Thurmond. These otherwise-conservative Republicans were lobbying in support of
embryonic stem cell research, an apparent affront to party lines. This multi-layered
controversy made them attractive sources for journalists.
Embryonic Stem Cells vs. Adult Stem Cells
Oftentimes, journalists used the generic term "stem cell research" in news articles,
which can be seen as exceedingly problematic. This umbrella term does not give the
reader critical contextual information about the source of the stem cells. Stakeholders on
both sides of the stem cell issue have been frustrated by the media's use of this all-
inclusive term. Many conservative groups, for example, support adult stem cell research
but oppose embryonic stem cell research. Does this mean they are for "stem cell"
research or against it? It all depends on what kind of stem cell research one is talking
about. Meanwhile, pro-research groups often believe that one must be pro-ES cell
research in order to be considered in favor of "stem cell" research.
No apparent difference existed between how each newspaper delineated adult
stem cell research from embryonic stem cell research. It is somewhat surprising that the
delineation rate was so low. As described in the background section, large differences
exist between embryonic and adult stem cells, namely in source and potential for
research. This lack of delineation could lead to greater confusion of the issues among
Cloning and Stem Cell Research
The Washington Post referenced human cloning in 21.9% of its articles (16 of 73
articles) while The New York Times referenced it in 24.5% of its articles (24 of 98
articles). In most articles that cited human cloning, journalists made a brief attempt to
differentiate it from stem cell research. However, this could have been done in a much
more exacting manner in a greater number of articles. By specifying that stem cell
research and human cloning are entirely separate, journalists could have staved off some
of the controversy over stem cell research funding. For example, many supporters of stem
cell research argue that the process of creating stem cells (sometimes known as
therapeutic cloning) is not the same thing as creating human beings (also known as
reproductive cloning). However, if no clear distinction between these technologies is
made, readers may assume that all stem cell research means that scientists are acting out
science-fiction fantasies and reproducing human beings.
United States-Global Leader or Lagging Behind?
Writers for The Washington Post referenced other nations in 8.2% of articles (6 of
73 articles) while New York Times writers referenced them in 11.22% of articles (11 of 98
articles). Overall, it did not seem that writers from either paper were overly concerned
with how the efforts in the United States might stack up to those of other countries. This
is somewhat disturbing, for a number of reasons:
"Other countries around the world will pay a great deal of attention to what the
United States does in its domestic law. If an international consensus on the
regulation of certain biotechnologies is ever to take shape, it is unlikely to come
about in the absence of American action at the domestic level" (Fukuyama 2002,
So by not acting decisively, the United States may slow scientific progress across
the globe. Of course, other outcomes are possible. For many years, the United States has
prided itself on being at the cutting edge of scientific research. Some supporters of stem
cell research fear that if our policies lag behind those of other nations then the United
States will simple get left behind as other nations forge ahead.
Along these lines, some scientists and analysts fear that a conservative stem cell
research policy could lead to a "brain drain," where talented stem cell researchers would
leave the United States for foreign shores where they could conduct their researcher
unfettered by restrictive policies.
Although this study may appear dated to some readers (the dataset stretches back
nearly five years), it is anything but old news. At the time this analysis was completed
(Summer 2005), stem cell research continued to be a dominant topic in the current news.
The initial debates over stem cell research and Bush's policy were truncated by the events
of September 11th. Rightfully so, the nation found it had more important issues to
consider than federal policies governing the funding of embryonic stem cell research.
However given time, the media agenda has evolved to again include stem cell research as
a prominent feature.
Overall, the topic of stem cell research framing in the elite newspapers carries great
importance. As mentioned earlier, stem cell research has the potential to transform the
medical field entirely. Despite the previously discussed ethical risks surrounding the
advance of stem cell research, it is equally important to consider what will occur if we do
no move forward in this area. This idea has been echoed by Chris MacDonald, an ethicist
at Dalhousie University, who said, "In the field of biotechnology, nothing short of
inaction can guarantee that we won't make decisions that end up seeming, in retrospect,
to have been mistakes" (MacDonald 2001). Overbearing policy will greatly hinder
scientific progress, preventing therapies and cures for a vast array of medical conditions
and diseases from ever being realized. In the meantime, scientists in other countries will
be hard at work making these specific discoveries.
In her 2002 study of stem cell policies in the U.S., United Kingdom, France and
Canada, Zimmerman found this:
"The United States is in the curious position of having been in the forefront of
human embryonic stem cell research, yet now having the most restrictive
regulatory regime of the four countries surveyed" (Zimmerman 2002, p. 78).
At first blush, this seems benign. The discoveries can always be applied within the
U.S. However, it likely would take longer for potential therapies to be implemented;
therapies developed outside the U.S. often trigger greater skepticism and a longer review
process by the FDA. In all, it is important to study the specific framing of this issue as it
has the power to influence the subsequent public policy decisions made in this country.
The bottom line is that the uncertainty surrounding stem cell research has made it
challenging to establish lasting policies. The trouble is that science progresses at a rate far
faster than the policies that should guide it. In the words of Bertrand Russell, "The central
problem of our age is how to act decisively in the absence of certainty." Perhaps the
media, by conveying the central elements of the debate, can help to resolve this
promising but controversial issue.
Limitations and Future Research
This study attempted a comprehensive look at how elite papers have framed stem
cell research. However, the study was not without its limitations. While the study looked
in-depth at what key terms were used and what sources were quotes, it did not consider
the placement of these various attributes within the story. For example, journalism
schools teach journalists to follow the inverted pyramid format, placing the most critical
elements of a story near the top and the less important elements later on. Thus, a source
quoted in the first three paragraphs would carry more weight than a quote buried at the
end. In relation to sources, the study looked only at sources given direct quotes within
articles. A complete picture would include an examination of paraphrased quotes, as well
as shareholder groups that were mentioned but not quoted. Therefore, future studies
might seek to identify which sources were paraphrased versus directly quoted, as well as
the placement of key attributes within individual stories.
Another limitation revolved around the examination of "cloning" in coverage. If a
story mentioned cloning in any way, the researcher noted this. However, the researcher
did not delineate between quotes from conservatives afraid of potential "baby factories"
and supporters who lobbied for therapeutic cloning. Future studies would do better to
establish clearer measurement tools for this question.
Another limitation of this study was that it merely took a snapshot of existing
coverage and lacked the ability to confirm any possible effects of this coverage. A reader-
effects study would be useful here. Subjects could be asked to read various articles
featuring stem cell research, completing pre- and post-test analyses that would gauge
their knowledge, attitudes and beliefs on selected stem-cell issues.
The details of this study aside, the topic no doubt lends itself to further exploration.
Examining articles of 100 to 500 words could be insightful since many Americans tend to
get their news from shorter stories. However, these same stories would offer less space
for detailing this complex issue. It would be interesting to see if authors were able to
distill critical elements into a succinct synopsis. It also might be useful to study the
framing of elite newspapers in other regions of the U.S. (Chicago, Los Angeles, etc.),
rather than just the East Coast. Because the papers examined in this study tended to frame
the topic in a more progressive and liberal manner, a study of newspapers in more
traditionally conservative climates like the Midwest and the South could yield different
results. And finally, in countries such as England and Sweden, the governments already
have tackled the thorny issues surrounding stem cell research and have introduced
regulatory measures and legislation. An alternate perspective could be achieved by
studying elite newspapers in other countries.
NEWSPAPER ARTICLE CODING SHEET
5. Author's name and affiliation:
Staff Guest/Freelance Wire Syndicate
6. Part of series? (0) No (1) Yes
7. Word count:
8. Section and page:
9. Geographic level: Local State National Int'l.
10. Type of item: News Feature Opinion Other
11. Graphic elementss? List caption and/or description:
13. Main topic of story:
14. Secondary topic(s):
15. Key terms) used in the article:
16. Sources used in story for direct quotation(s):
CA CA __
17. Does the article define stem cell research at all?: (0) No (1) Yes
18. If yes was selected in the previous question, was the research defined (1) on a basic
level; or (2) on a more detailed level?
19. Does the article outline potential implications (e.g. moral or ethical)?: (0) No (1) Yes
20. Does the article mention the destruction of embryos in any way?: (0) No (1) Yes
21. Does the article mention discarded or excess embryos from in vitro fertility
treatments?: (0) No (1) Yes
22. Does the article refer to the potential of stem cell research to yield treatment for
specific diseasess? (0) No (1) Yes
If yes, list which ones:
23. Does the article use the term "human cloning" or allude to this procedure? (0) No
24. Does the article use the term "adult stem cells" or "stem cells derived from adult
cells"? (0) No (1) Yes
25. Does the article use the term "embryonic stem cells" or "stem cells derived from
human embryos"? (0) No (1) Yes
26. Does the article delineate between embryonic and adult stem cells research? (0) No
27. Does the article mention stances taken by other nations and/or mention the threat that
the U.S. may be left behind? (0) No (1) Yes
INSTRUCTIONS FOR NEWSPAPER ARTICLE CODING SHEET
1. Record the name of the newspaper. You may use the abbreviations NYT for The
New York Times and WP for The Washington Post.
2. List the date of the article in standard format: MM/DD/YYYY.
3. List the day of the week on which the article ran using the following abbreviations:
Sunday (U); Monday (M); Tuesday (T); Wednesday (W); Thursday (R); Friday (F);
and Saturday (A).
4. List the headline, exactly as it appears. Be sure to include any unique capitalization
5. List the author's name, as listed in the byline. Identify the author's affiliation (staff,
guest/freelance, wire, or syndicate). If no affiliation is listed, assume that the writer
is a staff writer.
6. Circle (0) No or (1) Yes to indicate whether this article was part of a series. If yes,
then indicate which part of the series and then list the series editor's name.
7. List the word count, if available.
8. List the section and page number where the article ran. List the section letter (i.e.
A, B, C, etc.) and/or the section name (Financial, World, etc.), depending on what
is available. Examples: A-1; Financial-1.
9. Circle whether this was a local, state, national or international piece. The scope
should be determined by looking at the main focus of the piece, as well as the
sources quoted within the piece. A local piece will include sources primarily from
the local area (mayor, citizens, etc.) and will emphasize the effect of the story at the
city or county level. A state piece may include quotes from the governor, members
of the state house or senate, or other state-level officials. Both national and
international pieces will likely include quotes from the president and/or his cabinet,
as well as members of the House and Senate. International pieces will likely
include sources from other countries (e.g. scientists) or may simply discuss the
implications of stem cell research on an international level.
10. Circle whether this was a news, feature, opinion, or other type of piece.
11. Note graphic elements using the following abbreviations: (0) none; (1) photograph;
(2) graph; (3) illustration; (4) pull quote; or (5) other (explain). List caption and/or
12. Often, the lead is the first paragraph, although it can be "delayed" and appear later
as a "nut graph" within the first several paragraphs. Just record the paragraph that
best captures the who, what, when, where, why and how of the story.
13. After reading the entire story, identify the main topic of story. Examples include a
new scientific discovery or a discussion of possible public policy decisions.
14. Identify secondary topic(s), if applicable. For example, articles with a main topic of
scientific discovery may have economic impact as a secondary topic.
15. Identify key terms that are used in the article. Look for words that connote any
additional meaning or are emotionally charged. For example, the words
blastocystt" and "embryo" can both describe the same life stage but carry very
different connotations. Along with blastocystt," note any other scientific terms like
"hematopoetic." Along with "embryo," note any other charged words like "pro-
life" or "anti-life." Other key terms might include the predicted outcomes of the
technology, i.e. the "promise" or "peril" of stem cell research.
16. Identify the number of unique sources used in direct quotations using the following
allegiance, which are drawn from Nisbet et al 2003:
* GOP Opponents Trent Lott, Dick Armey, Dennis Hastert, J.C. Watts, Sam
Brownback, Jay Dickey, Dave Weldon, Tom Delay, and other GOP members. May
also include state-level as opposed to national-level senators or representatives.
* GOP supporters Arlen Specter, Orrin Hatch, Strom Thurmond, Bill Frist,
Connie Mack, John McCain, Jim Ramstad, Nancy Johnson, Susan Collins and
other GOP supporters. May also include state-level as opposed to national-level
senators or representatives.
* Democratic opponents Ronnie Shows, Nick Rahall, Bart Stupak, Jim Barcia,
Dale Kildee, Christopher John, Solomon Ortiz, Mike McIntyre, David Phelps, or
Ike Skelton. May also include state-level as opposed to national-level senators or
* Democratic supporters Tom Daschle, Tom Harkin, John Kerry, Ted Kennedy,
Nita Lowey, Richard Gephardt, Henry Waxman, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Jim
McDermott and other Democratic supporters. May also include state-level as
opposed to national-level senators or representatives.
* President and his cabinet George W. Bush himself; advisors, aides or
spokespeople for George W. Bush; cabinet members like Tommy Thompson,
director of the agency of Health and Human Services; and Karl Rove, top political
* Pro-embryonic stem cell research groups or individuals Groups who stand to
profit, either financially or through potential medical cures. This category includes
the Coalition to Advance Medical Research, Biotechnology Industry Organization,
Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (including managing director Carl
Gulbrandsen), Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Parkinson's Foundation,
biotechnology companies (like Geron) or their officers, and financial analysts who
favor embryonicstem cell research.
* Celebrities Well-known public figures who support ES cell research including
Michael J. Fox, Nancy Reagan and Christopher Reeve.
* Scientists and analysts James Thomson and other scientists. Also includes
administrators and science policy analysts who are affiliated with universities,
hospitals, the American Association of Medical Colleges, the American
Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Institutes of Health or
the National Academy of Sciences. Scientists should be included regardless of
whether they hold an M.D. or Ph.D. or whether they work in academia or for the
National Institutes of Health.
* Religious groups Catholic Church, Pope, Vatican, National Council of Catholic
Bishops (including Richard Doerflinger), and conservative Protestant groups.
* Anti-embryonic stem cell research groups National Right to Life League,
American Life League, or Family Research Council.
* Ethicists R. Alta Charo, Leon Kass, James Childress, or other bioethicists. Any
ethicists who sit on advisory boards for biotechnology companies should be
counted in this category, as opposed to being counted inthe pro-embryonic stem
* Other Political advisers whose stance on ES-cell research is not articulated.
Members of the Clinton administration. Also may include literary or historical
figures like Aldous Huxley, Thomas Jefferson, or figures from history or works of
Simply put a hatch mark for each new source that is introduced. For example, if
Tommy Thompson, director of Health and Human Services, is quoted more than
once in an article (either directly quoted or paraphrased), include only one hatch
mark in the "Bush administration" box.
If multiple sources of equal rank are quoted directly, give each source a hatch mark.
For example, if Senators Strom Thurmond, Connie Mack and Arlen Specter are all
quoted within the same article, place three hatch marks in the box where marked
"Republican pro-ES cell research."
Any statement attributed to a person or group and nestled between quotation marks
should be counted as a direct quote regardless of length. For example, direct quotes
limited to brief phrases of two to five words still should be considered direct
17. List whether the article defines stem cell research in any way. The article may use
technical language and take a paragraph or more to explain the technology, or the
article may include just a short, lay-language definition that is one sentence or less.
In either of these scenarios, circle (1) Yes.
18. If the answer to the previous question was yes, then categorize the definition of
stem cell research. If the explanation was brief and on a basic level, circle (1)
Basic. For example, if the article states that "stem cells are the basic building
blocks of the body" and gives no further explanation, circle (1) Basic. If the article
offers a more detailed, in-depth description of how stem cells are harvested, cloned,
grown, etc. then circle (2) Detailed. For example:
hematopoietic stem cells are the source in the bone marrow from which a constant
stream of red and white blood cells is produced throughout a person's life. Like
embryonic stem cells, they can renew themselves indefinitely, but their potential is
restricted to making just the cells of the blood system (Wade 2001).
19. Determine whether the article outlines the ethical or moral implications in any way
(use the following two questions to help you make this determination). Circle (0)
No or (1) Yes.
20. Note whether the article mentions that embryos must be destroyed in order to
extract embryonic stem cells. Other terminology may include: sacrificing, killing,
or taking a human life. Circle (0) No or (1) Yes.
21. Note whether the article mentions that embryos leftover from in vitro fertility
treatments are often discarded. Other terminology may refer to these embryos in a
number of ways: excess, surplus, spare, not needed, in excess of clinical need, or
would otherwise be thrown away. Circle (0) No or (1) Yes.
22. Indicate whether the article refers to the potential of stem cell research to yield
treatment for specific diseasess. Circle (0) No or (1) Yes. If yes, then indicate
23. Does the article mention "human cloning" or allude to this procedure? (0) No (1)
24. Does the article use the term "adult stem cells" or "stem cells derived from adult
cells"? Circle (0) No or (1) Yes.
25. Does the article use the term "embryonic stem cells" or "stem cells derived from
human embryos"? Circle (0) No or (1) Yes.
26. Indicate whether the article delineates between embryonic and adult stem cell
research in any way. For example, does it clarify how the cells differ in origin or in
application? Circle (0) No or (1) Yes.
27. Indicate whether the article mentions policy or stances on stem cell research taken
by other nations and/or the threat that the U.S. may be left behind. Circle (0) No or
After reading through the article, determine what primary frame was used. Often this can
be reduced to a short catch-phrase (e.g., horse race) although you may use longer phrases
or descriptive words if necessary.
In order to determine the frame used, you will need to take into account the main topic of
the story and key terminology. Also consider which sources are quoted and where in the
story the sources are featured. Some stories may feature a secondary frame. If so, please
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As a young girl I spent countless hours exploring science: catching crayfish in the
creek near my house, questioning why orb spiders weave patterns into their webs, and
chasing lightning bugs on warm summer nights. I have always been fascinated with what
makes life tick -- the howss" and "whys" behind the smallest things.
This curiosity led me to a number of different pursuits. I majored in biology at
Smith College in Northampton, Mass. I worked in genetic research at the University of
Colorado at Boulder and at the University of Florida. Over the years, I realized that my
gift is not in doing science, but in learning about science and sharing its wonders with
others. I revel in the challenge of taking highly technical, complex scientific information
and presenting it in a way that people like my grandparents will actually understand. I
enjoy removing the jargon and mumbo-jumbo to show people the real "wow" of science.
This passion led me to pursue a master's degree in science/health communication. I
now stand at a new crossroads, unsure of where things might lead. No doubt, I wish to
continue along the same veins, sharing science with those who might not otherwise taste
its richness. However, I am undecided about which direction to pursue. I am confident
that my educational and life experiences, along with the loving support of my friends and
family, will help lead me to the next stage of my career.