AP Reporter Misses Some Small Facts, Misconstrues A Big Theory

Seth Cooper

When a news reporter doesn’t bother to accurately and fairly report the small issues, is it any wonder when they fail to accurately and fairly report the big issues? Take the recent, un-credited article by an AP reporter entitled Lawmakers draft bills to address debate over evolution,” concerning two legislative proposals in the state of Montana concerning the teaching of evolutionary theory in their public schools.
The AP reporter discusses two legislators from Big Sky Country who are considering two very different legislative approaches to the issue. According to the AP reporter, these respective proposals were

“driven by curriculum changes in Darby schools earlier this year that mandates the discussion of ‘intelligent design’ theory in science classes.”

Seeing as the AP reporter identifies the actions of the Darby school board in 2004 as the impetus for such legislation, one would think the AP reporter would be sure to get the facts right about what happened in Darby. But the AP reporter got the facts wrong.

Regardless of one’s personal views on these issues, a quick dissection of the above-quoted sentence shows where the AP reporter misses the facts.
1) “curriculum”
The Darby School board never took action on curriculum concerning intelligent design in early in 2004. In reality, it considered a proposed (but never adopted) policy concerning the teaching of scientific criticisms of neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory.
2) “changes”
The Darby School Board never made any changes to the curriculum concerning evolutionary theory, nor did it adopt the aforementioned policy it had been considering. In reality, the proposed (but never adopted) policy never reached the second reading necessary for adoption.
3) “mandates”
The Darby School Board never considered any policy that mandates intelligent design. In reality, the proposed (but never adopted) policy only encouraged the discussing of scientific strengths and weaknesses of neo-Darwinian theory.
4) “discussion of ‘intelligent design’ theory”
The Darby School Board never considered any policy that called for discussion of intelligent design. In reality, the proposed (but never adopted) policy encouraged the discussion of scientific strengths and weaknesses of neo-Darwinian theory; its express terms (largely borrowed from existing Montana science standards) only suggested students be able to learn about the scientific evidence for and against neo-Darwinian theory, rather that learn about alternative scientific theories such as intelligent design.
The pertinent language of the proposed (but never adopted) policy reads:

Teachers in the Darby School District are encouraged to help students assess evidence for and against theories, to analyze the scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories, including the Theory of Evolution, by giving examples of scientific innovation or discovery challenging commonly held perceptions.

(A story discussing the final outcome in Darby can be found here.)
Given that the AP reporter failed to get the smaller issue of the Darby School Board’s actions correct, is it any wonder that the AP reporter misreports the bigger issue of the scientific debate between neo-Darwinian theory and intelligent design theory by completely mischaracterizing intelligent design?
Here’s how the AP reporter tries to describe intelligent design:

“intelligent design, a secular form of creationism, argues that Earth was created by a series of intelligent events, not random chance.”

Some of the more vehement critics of intelligent design have sought to undermine its credibility by declaring it to be the same thing as creationism, thereby ignoring the unique, empirical, scientific arguments that clearly set it apart from creationism. (See John West’s Research News article discussing intelligent design’s differences from creationism.)
Now consider the reporting of the critics’ views concerning intelligent design:

Critics contend that intelligent design is nothing more than creationism in disguise,
Toole sees intelligent design as the latest version of creationism.

Isn’t it remarkable how the AP reporter’s “neutral” description of intelligent design theory so closely tracks with the views ascribed to the theory’s critics? When a newspaper’s front page starts to read like its editorial page, you know you have a biased publication. Similarly, when a reporter’s plain statement of the facts parallel’s one disputing party’s assertions on an issue, you know you have a biased story.
If the AP reporterhad done some digging on the matter, perhaps he would have come up with the definition of intelligent design given by many of its leading proponents, namely:

The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.