Real message from the LA Times: no change at CIRM will ever be good enough for us

The LA Times has an opinion piece out today by Michael Hiltzik criticizing CIRM.

It’s deja vu all over again.

The LA Times has shown itself to be very biased against CIRM over the years. Hiltzik specifically has been very hostile to the stem cell agency. I see their coverage of CIRM as unbalanced, never focusing on anything positive.

CIRM recently got the ball rolling on significant changes to its structure, particularly as relates to its grant approval process, in response to a review of CIRM by the Institute of Medicine (IOM).

In my opinion these newly invoked changes at CIRM largely eliminate any perceived conflicts of interest by having institutional members of the CIRM board not vote on any grant proposals. This change is a big deal. It’s a positive.

I’m a CIRM grantee so, yeah, perhaps I am not entirely impartial, but I’m also a stem cell scientist and patient advocate. I’m hardly what anyone would call a “rubber stamper” of CIRM actions or statements. In fact, at the latest CIRM meeting in Berkeley recently where the IOM was discussed, I got up in front of the Board and made public comments, some of which I am positive were not in line with how most of the Board members were thinking at that time.

I spoke my mind just as I’m writing my mind now. I try to call it like I see it and give a balanced view.

CIRM has done so much good and continues to transform the global stem cell field for the better.

Is it perfect?

No, but it is outstanding overall.

Call me naive, but a gutsy move by the LA Times would have been to applaud these changes at CIRM, even if they had said in their opinion even more change would be good. A headline of an LA Times piece such as “”Positive changes at CIRM; we hope more are on the way” would have knocked my socks off.

But no. In his latest article Hiltzik focuses almost entirely on the negative as he has always done in his past articles. I suspect he and the LA Times will never be satisfied with any change at CIRM. Ever.

To me that makes what the LA Times has to say about CIRM less important and less influential than ever.

Balanced coverage = credibility.

4 thoughts on “Real message from the LA Times: no change at CIRM will ever be good enough for us


  1. Some background on Michael Hiltzik and ethics:

    In 2006, Hiltzik used sock puppets to defend himself and attack critics:

    http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2006/04/20/more-sock-puppetry-1/

    Hiltzik lost his business column for a while over that deception: http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2006/05/07/hiltzik-loses-column/

    Then the LA Times gave Hiltzik his column back without explaining why Hiltzik lost it in the first place: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/readers/2008/12/business-editor.html

    Back in the early 90s, Hiltzik hacked into his colleagues’ email while in Russia: http://www.nytimes.com/1993/12/06/us/reporter-disciplined-for-reading-his-co-workers-electronic-mail.html

    Moral of the story: Anyone can give high-sounding advice on ethics. But if their personal conduct belies that message, it rings hollow.


  2. Note from Paul on comment above. I decided to let this comment by Bradley Fikes be posted regarding Michael Hiltzik because it seems well-referenced and takes a reasonable tone. These issues are well-documented including in the NY Times and Washington Post as well as other well-respected media outlets.


  3. I have had the same impression from his columns that Michael Hiltzik has been negative about CIRM from the beginning. He is definitely not unbiased. I am not from California and do not receive any funding from CIRM.


  4. As a person who worked for decades, decades and decades in the news business, let me help shed some light on the LA Times and any newspaper, for that matter. What a particular columnist writes for the most part has little or nothing to do with what the newspaper’s institutional stance is on public issues, such as CIRM’s performance or the IOM report. Columnists are paid to express their personal opinion — not the newspaper’s. Of course, they are supposed to do that with panache and vigor. The institutional position of a newspaper is what is carried in editorials on the editorial page, usually with much less panache and vigor. There is also another way to look at a newspaper’s views on a subject. The fact that the Times has not written an editorial on the agency with any sort of frequency gives you some idea about their views of its importance. Another way to look at the Times and the agency is the lack of straight news coverage of CIRM over the last 12 years. The newsroom editors obviously thought there were more compelling stories to pursue.

    But beyond the LATimes, if one wants to get a sense of how the major California newspapers think about the IOM report, one should understand that all of those that have editorialized on the subject view the IOM report with great favor and CIRM with less.

    If CIRM wants to secure hundreds of millions of dollars or billions more, it is going to have to do what is necessary — whether it likes it or not — to win not only editorial support but that of many other key players in California. The agency’s current response may be sufficient, but maybe not. Do the agency and its supporters want to take that chance?

Comments are closed.