Networks Say Former Editor Tried to Sell Clone 'Exclusive'

New York Times/January 5, 2003
By David Carr

Most of the world first heard of Clonaid, a company owned by a religious sect whose theology is based on alien cloning, when it announced on Dec. 27 that it had produced the first human clone.

But many news organizations were already familiar with the company's effort: Michael A. Guillen, a former science editor at ABC News who said at the news conference that he would independently test the company's claims, had approached several broadcasters months before to offer exclusive coverage of the cloning, according to several industry executives.

Dr. Guillen's independence from the religious group, the Raëlians, has been questioned since it became known that he was seeking to sell a documentary on the cloning effort for more than $100,000.

His most ambitious proposal, for a reality-based program on the cloning effort, was made to Fox Entertainment several months ago, an executive at the company said. He said Dr. Guillen offered to produce the program and to be its host on the air. The program, Fox was told, would begin before the births of the clones and continue beyond, according to the executive.

Fox, which is not known for squeamishness - the network has produced "When Animals Attack" and "Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire?" - declined, in large part because the project seemed "loaded with ethical questions" as an entertainment program, the executive said.

Joe Earley, a Fox spokesman, said only, "We were pitched the project, but we thought it was more appropriate for our news department and we referred it to them." Fox News declined to make an offer, the executive said.

Dr. Guillen approached other news divisions and cable companies as well, including ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN and HBO, media executives said. An executive at one network said the offer, which would have given his network little editorial control and would have meant significant payments to Dr. Guillen, was "not the way we do things." The executive said the proposed exclusive documentary about the process of creating the first human clone was offered for a price in the "low six figures."

An executive from CNN said the company listened to Dr. Guillen, but declined to make an offer. "We told him, and we did it very politely because we are interested in the bigger story, that we didn't want to pay for the story, we wanted to cover it," said the executive, who insisted on anonymity because he expected Dr. Guillen to be an important source in the future.

Dr. Guillen did not return calls seeking comment. But a friend who is familiar with his business dealings said the overtures to the networks and cable companies were nothing more than a freelance journalist's using his knowledge of an event and its sources to market his work.

"Terms of a documentary which would follow a cloned child in the future had been discussed, but no arrangement with a distributor or with Clonaid had been finalized," the friend said.

"There is nothing sinister in any of this," the friend added. "As long as you are not taking any money directly from the subject, there is no conflict. Broadcasters pay for productions all the time."

Although American news organizations rarely pay for news, they commonly buy documentary programs from various production companies.

In May, Dr. Guillen approached The New York Times, offering an exclusive article about a couple who were trying to have a child through cloning. Dr. Guillen said he was the only reporter allowed to follow the couple, patients of Dr. Panos Zavos, a fertility specialist in Lexington , Ky. , who is leading a competing team of cloning scientists.

In his proposal, Dr. Guillen wrote: "During the better part of the past five years, I've cultivated close relationships with all the major human cloning scientists worldwide. In fact, I know more about what's going on than any of the individual players; that's because they all confide in me."

The Times declined the offer, saying it preferred to do its own reporting on the subject.

In August, Dr. Guillen interviewed the couple on CNN's "Connie Chung Tonight."

Dr. Guillen is a science journalist with a doctorate in theoretical physics, mathematics and astronomy from Cornell University . He produced reports for "Good Morning America," "20/20" and other ABC News programs.

Second Cloned Baby Announced

The company that claims to have created the first human clone announced yesterday that a second cloned baby was born Friday night to a lesbian couple in the Netherlands . But as with its earlier claim, it provided no evidence.

Dr. Brigitte Boisselier, chief executive of the company, Clonaid, said in an interview that the baby, a girl, was born at 10 p.m. local time. She would not say where, but said that the embryo had been fertilized and implanted in the mother outside the Netherlands . The baby is a clone of the 32-year Dutch woman who gave birth, Dr. Boisselier said.

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