“I have a different attitude toward journalists, one I have exercised frequently over the past few days. When reporters call me, I have no comment, no matter what the subject. If they persist, I simply hang up. I never talk to reporters….”
—Stephen L. Carter, The Emperor of Ocean Park
Talcott Garland, narrator of Stephen L. Carter’s gripping summer potboiler,, is a professor of law at a university that strongly resembles Yale, where Carter himself is a professor of law. Another apparent similarity between the two is their unwillingness to talk to reporters. But while the fictional Talcott Garland doesn’t like to talk to any reporters (because their scandal-mongering sank the Supreme Court nomination of Talcott’s late father, Oliver), the real-life Stephen Carter is reluctant only to talk to reporters who want to ask him why he went AWOL on the President’s Council on Bioethics. The number of reporters currently pursuing the matter is one.
Eleven days ago, Chatterbox e-mailed Carter and left phone messages with his secretary at Yale and his publicist at Knopf. Why, Chatterbox asked, did Carter stop showing up at meetings of the bioethics panel, and why, in the words of panel Chairman Leon Kass, has Carter “chosen not to participate” in the committee’s recommendation that the Bush administration maintain a four-year moratorium on all forms of cloning, including nonreproductive “cloning” aimed at producing stem cells for biomedical research? Carter still hasn’t replied. Chatterbox would also like to know what Carter thinks of the panel’s moratorium compromise.
Last week, Chatterbox persuaded his Slate colleague Chris Suellentrop to barge into Carter’s online MSNBC chat about Emperor in order to ask about his nonparticipation in the bioethics panel.(Technically, Chris’ query indicates that there are actually two reporters currently chasing this story. But really, Chris wrote in only because Chatterbox was having trouble with his computer.) The ambush proved a bust because the moderator, Will Femia, never posted Chris’ query. So much for corporate synergy. (Slate and MSNBC share Microsoft as a corporate parent.)
Even though Carter hasn’t answered Chatterbox’s queries, Chatterbox has a pretty good idea why Carter failed to show up at those bioethics meetings. It was because he had a blockbuster novel to publicize. (It’s beyond dispute that on June 20, Carter missed a particularly crucial meeting of the bioethics panel in order to plug his book on NBC’s Today show.) Ordinarily, Chatterbox wouldn’t make a fuss about somebody blowing off a blue-ribbon panel to fatten his wallet. But the President’s Council on Bioethics wields considerable power over regulatory decisions that address what Jerome Groopman (in an article from the Aug. 5 and 12 New Republic) calls “the urgent needs of human beings with terrible maladies.” Moreover, Carter is Mr. Civic Virtue, author of books with after-dinner-speech titles like Integrity and Civility. In a recent column for Christianity Today, Carter inveighed against those who believe “we owe no moral obligation to anything higher than ourselves.” Given all this, Carter should be willing at least to acknowledgethe ethical questions raised by his nonparticipation. Chatterbox continues to await his response.