Raelian story deserved Big Foot-caliber coverage

Pioneer Press/January 1, 2003
By Joe Soucheray

The newspapers of America owe an apology to anybody who has ever seen Big Foot tromp through the woods. We also owe apologies to people who claim to have seen images of the Blessed Virgin that show up on the sides of mailboxes and UFOs. Normally, we in the ink-stained wretch business tend to ignore the Big Foot stories and the miraculous image stories and the UFO stories, but I guess we have entered a whole new phase of journalism. We have entered the cloning phase.

And by newspapers, I'm talking about real newspapers, the kind that land with a thud on your doorstep, not the ones in the little wire baskets by the cash register in the grocery store.

We - along with everybody else who used to be considered a legitimate newspaper - reported the other day about a sect of fruitcakes who claim to have cloned a baby. It was reported as a straight news story. Oh, there was a sentence here and there in most versions of the story wondering about proof but, basically, the story had all the trappings of a real story, including a photograph of the lead fruitcake spokeswoman, Brigitte Boisselier.

Now, according to the story this Boisselier is a doctor, or a chemist, or whatever. She called a press conference to announce that her group, Clonaid, successfully cloned a baby girl, Eve.

Clonaid, I went on to read, is operated by the Raelians, whose leader, Rael, claims that he met with space creatures in the 1970s and they convinced him that humans were created by genetic engineering 25,000 years ago.


Rael, who is somebody named Claude Vorilhon, a former French journalist, apparently made Boisselier a bishop in his sect, and she was in charge of the cloning deal.

It gets better, or worse.

To mollify critics, Boisselier said she would turn over the process of actually proving her claim to yet another journalist, Michael Guillen, who appears to be of the Geraldo Rivera school of scientific reporting. Among his other reporting during his days at ABC, this Guillen did stories on things like moving objects merely by thinking about them. He is probably big on that bending-the-spoon trick and he sounds like a guy who checks his horoscope every day.

When I read the story I thought, "We have too many journalists involved here, not to mention too many French people.''

What the Raelians are up to sounds like a version of the "red barn" con, which used to show up on the television series "The Rockford Files.'' That's when you get a group of conspirators together, each of whom has a role, and they pull off a magnificently elaborate scam in order to defraud somebody of as much money as possible. I haven't quite figured out who the Raelians are scamming, but I'm betting they're scamming somebody, maybe some senile old rich guy who has vowed to give them his fortune if they can produce a cloned baby and somehow thus give him eternal life.

And if that is true, that it turns out to be nothing more than an elaborate hoax, it is doubly troubling that anybody printed it.

We deserve every ounce of criticism we're going to get for this one. This story should not have been printed. When Boisselier called a press conference nobody should have gone. She has no credibility. The Raelians have no credibility. Rael met with little green men? They have offered no scientific or medical writings. They have produced no proof of their claims. They have not produced the mother of the child. They have not produced the child.

I know that many people worry that the media leans to the left. I would be more worried that the media has cracked up.

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