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Journalistic Integrity RIP? Two Op-Eds That Showcase the Decline in Good Opinion Writing

Sports columnist turned news analyst Lloyd Garver normally opines about the morality of the designated hitter in baseball but all too often unsuccessfully attempts to weigh in on weightier matters. Today published a column that betrays Garver’s complete ignorance about anything to do with the debate over evolution.

Garver claims that those “pushing” intelligent design don’t know what a theory is, and falls back on the tired old complaint that ID proponents think theory means conjecture. Lloyd, we don’t, check it out on the CSC website sometime.

He then lectures on the meaning of the different definitions of theory, which he looked up in his dictionary.

“The theory that the line you get into in the supermarket always takes the most time, or that the best way to make it rain is to get your car washed, or that right when you sit down to dinner, the phone will ring may all fit into one of the definitions of “theory” that you’ll find in your dictionary — such as conjecture or supposition. But like “intelligent design,” they just don’t happen to be scientific theories. “

If Lloyd had bothered to do a little more than look up one word in his dictionary (is that what passes for research for columnists these days?) he could have informed himself about the development of the theory of intelligent design, the peer-reviewed articles by scientists who are working on intelligent design research, and found that it is indeed a scientific theory.

What else he didn’t look up was the word evolution, which also has many definitions. Yet, Garver never volunteers any insight into which definition he means at any give point in time. So you don’t know what he means by evolution, and you have no idea whether you agree with him or not.

Opinion writers should do their homework, read up on their subject and present it accurately. What is frustrating is how many columnists attacking ID have such a lack of understanding of what it really is. I respect those few who at least know the subject matter, even when I don’t always agree with their conclusions.

Even worse than Garver’s uninformed sort of ponderous writing, are the columns that are just out and out pure fabrication such as the poorly written “essay” by Jason Miller, a strident critic of intelligent design as well as any number of other issues.

Miller’s piece appears on a New Zealand alternative news site and starts out as if it is about the recent hearings in Kansas about how to teach evolution and includes this near libelous description of Discovery Insitute:

“Three moderate school board members and the entire mainstream scientific community boycotted the charade. John Calvert, a conservative Christian attorney who leads the Intelligent Design Network of Kansas, was the William Jennings Bryan of this circus. Calvert questioned “expert witnesses” in a quest to disprove Evolution. Most of the witnesses, who served the purpose of “validating” the board’s desire to introduce the concept of Intelligent Design into the public school curriculum for the state of Kansas, were from a think tank. Founded and funded by Christian fundamentalists, this entity called The Discovery Institute was created to advance the so-called “theory” of Intelligent Design. Intelligent Design essentially purports that in merely observing the complexity of the world, one cannot help but conclude that there was an intelligent designer (in other words, God). Evidence, research, and peer review are irrelevant (and non-existent) to the purveyors of the ID “theory”, a thinly veiled form of Creationism.”

This is wrong on so many levels that could easily have been research that it is obvious Miller is willfully misleading his readers. Let me run through them quickly. First, the majority of those testifying were not CSC Fellows, of the 23 scheduled to testify only five of them were affiliated with Discovery Institute (Thaxton, Menuge, Behe, Wells and Meyer). Second, Discovery Institute was not founded, and is not funded, by “fundamentalists.” Third, Discovery Institute was not “created to advance the so-called “theory” of Intelligent Design.” Discovery Institute was founded in 1991 as a public-policy think-tank, and that time had nothing, absolutely nothing to do with intelligent design focusing instead on technology and transportation. In 1996 the Institute launched a scientific research program that does indeed advance the theory of intelligent design. Fourth, evidence, research and peer-review are completely relevant — we’ve never claimed otherwise — though you wouldn’t know it by reading the likes of Miller. Fifth, there are a growing number of peer-reviewed articles on intelligent design, not to mention the scores of peer-reviewed articles that have highglighted a significant number of problems with Darwinian evolution. And, finally, intelligent design is not “a thinly veiled form of Creationism.”

And this was all just in the first two paragraphs. Miller’s focus — and I use that term loosely — strays into all sorts of rants about the religious right, diatribes against President Bush, ludicrous claims about 9/11 conspiracies, and a quote from the “wedge document.” Again, a little research would have turned up this article and given Miller context for the urban myth that Darwinists have spread about the “wedge document.” But research and getting the facts straight aren’t Miller’s objective.

My Objective According to Finley Peter Dunne, the purpose of journalism is “to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.” As usual, I hope I have fulfilled that purpose.”

I hope that if Lloyd Garver reads this conclusion of Miller’s he will get his dictionary out where he’ll find:

journalism \’jern-el-iz-em\ n (1833) 2 b: writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts or descriptions of events without an attempt at interpretation. — Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary

Keith Woods leads a program on reporting, writing and editing for the Poynter Institute, and says ethical journalism honors the core principles of truth, accuracy, fairness and balance. If columnists are going to present themselves as journalists analysing news and current events –such as the debate over evolution– then they need to stick to those same core principles as they present their opinions.

Robert Crowther, II

Robert Crowther holds a BA in Journalism with an emphasis in public affairs and 20 years experience as a journalist, publisher, and brand marketing and media relations specialist. From 1994-2000 he was the Director of Public and Media Relations for Discovery Institute overseeing most aspects of communications for each of the Institute's major programs. In addition to handling public and media relations he managed the Institute's first three books to press, Justice Matters by Roberta Katz, Speaking of George Gilder edited by Frank Gregorsky, and The End of Money by Richard Rahn.