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Portland Tribune gets it wrong with article about OHSU's bid for a Bioterror lab

i submitted the following "letter to the editor" to the Portland Tribune today. F*CK CORPORATE MEDIA!
I take issue with Mary Bellotti's Sept. 5 article, "OHSU loses hefty bid for biolab". First, the article creates the impression that OHSU is "unlikely" to recieve a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to build a Level 4 lab. But according to The Scientist magazine (April 2, 2003), the NIH wants to build at least one Level 4 lab on the West Coast, and only two applicants are contending: OHSU and the University of California at Davis. Since "Davis was a strong contender, but community opposition has forced UC officials to seek alternate sites," OHSU is in a good position.

Second, Bellotti posits -- without any apparent irony -- that "the need for such research became a prominent issue two years ago in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and incidents of mailed anthrax", even though it is now well-documented that the anthrax used in those attacks "originated within the U.S. biodefense program, where the necessary expertise and access are found" (LA Times, Sept. 22, 2002, et al.). It is not rational or logical to argue that the U.S. government needs more "biodefense" labs to protect itself from the substances currently being created and stored in existing ones.

Third, Bellotti leaves out any reference to the growing community opposition to OHSU's bid for a Level 4 lab in the Portland area, even though she is aware of it, having spoken to members of this opposition at a public meeting (of the Raleigh West Neighborhood Association on August 13, 2003). Concerns raised by opponents and not mentioned by Bellotti include:

  1. the danger posed to the surrounding population if deadly pathogens were released through accident, animal escape, sabotage or theft;
  2. the lack of accountability to the local population in the case of such a release ("the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 prohibits disclosure of certain information concerning, among other things, quantities of select agents, which researchers are using them and where, and notification of releases" [Davis Enterprise, August 15, 2003]); and,
  3. the need for a new set of Level 4 labs at all, which Richard Ebright, a biochemist at Rutgers University has strongly questioned (Oregonian, August 3, 2003).
More information on local opposition to OHSU's bid for a Level 4 lab can be found at http://www.nobioterrorlab.org.

I agree 08.Sep.2003 14:32

Corporate media lies

I read the Portland Tribune article and thought many of the same things. I am very concerned about the possibility of a extremely dangerous pathogens being experimented on so close to a densely populated area The article is misleading. It makes the reader think that no lab will be built in Oregon. It also makes it sound like losing the bid was a terrible blow to the regions economy which is not true. Oregon already missed the biotech opportunity. The only crumbs that are being offered now are high risk labs that no community should want.


Context 08.Sep.2003 14:43

Indy Reader

This bit from the nobioterrorlab.org website puts some context to the issue:

OHSU cannot guarantee that this facility will not be used for offensive military purposes. The opposition by local officials and Davis faculty to the UC Davis bid for the same lab sheds some light on the situation. The NIH has articulated a national policy intent to work with public and private sector partners in combating bioterrorism. It identifies the Army as its primary public sector partner. Dr. Fauci, director of the NIAID, expects that in the next few years the NIH will be doing a lot of work in partnership with the Department of Defense. The NIAID representative in charge of this contract has stated that such labs as the proposed OHSU BSL-4 lab will be made available to Defense Department researchers for their own projects.

Tribune has said it's printing this 08.Sep.2003 14:44


just got a call from the Portland Tribune. they said they're going to print this letter. that's cool, but remember that you saw it here on indymedia first!

Tribune headline is a lie. 08.Sep.2003 15:00


The Mary Bellotti headline " OHSU loses hefty bid for biolab" is a lie. It is flat out false. OHSU did not lose the bid for the biolab!

The corporate media seems like it just cannot tell the truth!

never attribute to malice... 08.Sep.2003 16:27


what can be better attributed to ignorance. The author of the article probably hadn't ever heard of a "BSL-4 Lab" before she wrote this article. She probably doesn't understand the difference between winning a grant as a "center for excellence" vs. winning the grant for the BSL-4 lab.

response to "v" re. "malice" 08.Sep.2003 16:57


i disagree, v, and wonder what your motivations are for acting as apologist to a corporate media journalist.

First of all, i don't believe that the author didn't know or understand these distinctions, or what a "BSL-4 Lab" is. She attended at least one meeting on the subject where OHSU folks explained it all. She also seems to have interviewed at least two people from OHSU (she quotes two in the article). Plus, i understand that links to most/all the above information was sent to her by an anti-lab activist she talked to at the community meeting.

Secondly, it is her job to understand these distinctions, and not to be ignorant. She's paid for it, in fact. i was able to figure out what a BSL-4 Lab was easily by attending a community meeting, reading just a little and talking to anti-lab activists, all for free in a small amount of my spare time.

Thirdly, i don't actually ascribe "malice" as her motivation in my criticism above. She may or may not be malicious in intent -- i leave that to other people to decide. (It's also possible she wrote more and that an editor cut it out.) What is true, though, is that she works for an industry that is often malicious in both its intent and actions: the corporate media. Quoting only people from the lab is typical of their so-called "objectivity". Corporate media has become little more than the p.r. wing of U.S. business interests and the war machine. Gone are the days (if indeed they ever existed) when the mainstream media acted truly independently from the government and advertisers and called the people in power to question. To be successful in corporate media, you must toe the line or risk your job. For some "journalists", self-censorship probably becomes unconscious habit. Thus, i am not surprised that the Tribune's article leaves out what it does; but occasionally i put some energy toward trying to correct them. Not that i believe they are reformable; no, it's too late for that. The only honest media at this point will be community media like indymedia.