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Stop CNN Before They Edit Again

In the coverage of the debate over evolution CNN has repeatedly (here, here, here just for a few examples) been unable to curb its tendency to misrepresent intelligent design advocates and mislead the public about the nature of the debate over how to teach evolution.

Last week CNN’s Paula Zahn Now tackled the issue of intelligent design. Right off the mark they misframe the issue. Even though we’ve been clear with these very producers, as well as many others at CNN, as to what our position is, guest host Deborah Collins gives a completely misleading description of intelligent design, which she also claims is how its “backers” (in this case us, through Dr. Behe) describe it:

“Backers of that [ID] say life is just too complicated to be explained by Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.”

That is not how backers of intelligent design describe it. This is just one way in which intelligent design is improperly defined by the mainstream media, as we’ll see below.

Because of the mainstream media’s constant misrepresentations through splice-n-dice editing of taped interviews the CSC adopted a policy of only agreeing to live, or live-to-tape (which in broadcast news means the interview is taped, but it will air at a later time as a continuous “live” piece unedited) interviews.

Too many times CSC Fellows have agreed to taped interviews only to see their answers taken out of context, edited to change the emphasis and meaning, omitted altogether, and even used in different stories unrelated to what the original interview was about.

This artful editing was exemplified over the holidays on Paula Zahn Now. The program included several segments about the debate over evolution. CSC was approached to sit for a taped interview, and per our policy we declined. Zahn’s producers opted to use footage of CSC senior fellow Dr. Michael Behe that CNN obtained when he testified in the Dover v. Kitzmiller intelligent design trial last October. At the last minute they also asked Dr. Stephen Meyer to participate in a live-to-tape discussion with the guest host and Dr. Eugenie Scott from the National Center for Science Education. Believing their assurances that the segment would not be edited, Dr. Meyer agreed.

At Night The Editors Come

Three days later we saw the consequences to agreeing to do a taped interview vs. a live interview. Dr. Meyer’s responses were cut down, or in some cases cut altogether. I don’t know how much, if at all, Dr. Scott’s comments were edited, but I suspect not much.

Any sort of taped interview is ripe for manipulation. In their treatment of Dr. Behe, CNN’s editors used short quotes from Dr. Behe interspersed with factually inaccurate voiceovers to mislead viewers about Dr. Behe’s views on intelligent design. Rather than let Dr. Behe in his own words define intelligent design, and his work related to it, CNN correspondent Delia Gallegher puts words in his mouth wrongly stating:

“Michael Behe is a major player behind intelligent design, the movement that’s trying to bring the supernatural into science.”

Later, Gallagher again makes this false assertion:

“Behe says you only have to look at the details to recognize they were conceived and arranged by a supernatural power.”

Twice isn’t enough for Gallagher as still later in the show she goes for the hat trick and delivers yet another completely false definition of intelligent design:

“Intelligent design holds that life is too complicated to be the result of Darwin’s random mutation and natural selection, that some organisms were clearly designed by a supernatural hand, …”

Dr. Behe has been very clear that he doesn’t believe you can infer a supernatural designer from the scientific evidence. He wrote:

“The conclusion that something was designed can be made quite independently of knowledge of the designer. As a matter of procedure, the design must first be apprehended before there can be any further question about the designer. The inference to design can be held with all the firmness that is possible in this world, without knowing anything about the designer.” (Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box, pg. 197)

And, testifying under oath as an expert scientific witness in the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial Dr. Behe made his position very clear:

Q. Do you have an opinion as to whether intelligent
design requires the action of a supernatural creator?
A. Yes, I do.
Q. And what is that opinion?
A. No, it doesn’t. (Behe Testimony, October 17, 2005)

And yet CNN falsely asserts that he thinks that the evidence points to a supernatural designer.

Dr. Behe and other leading design proponents have been very clear that intelligent design does


address metaphysical and religious questions such as the nature or identity of the designer.

Following this “interview” with Dr. Behe, CNN uses one of their favorite tricks, they insert young earth creationists and Biblical adherents into the story and imply that they are the same as intelligent design proponents. In fact, Paula Zahn Now, did exactly this last year on a story about intelligent design. They called us and asked for an interview with an intelligent design advocate and I said we’d prefer to be involved in the live discussion. The producer claimed that it would only be a taped segment, they weren’t doing a live interview, and they really wanted someone to represent intelligent design scientifically. Sensing a trap, I declined. Read the results for yourself. To defend intelligent design they invited a scientist from the creationist organization Answers in Genesis, and he was part of a live discussion.

This time around they included a story about creationists visitng the Denver zoo and explaining to their children about the veracity of God’s word and young earth creationism, and a Darwinist denouncing their views. Then Collins announces:

“In a minute, supporters of both viewpoints will give you even more ammunition to think about.”

Wrong, supporters of both viewpoints were not invited. Dr. Eugenie Scott was invited and she supports the Darwinian viewpoint, but Dr. Stephen Meyer does not support the creationist viewpoint put forth in the previous segment. This is another instance of CNN misleading their viewers and completely misrepresenting the views of intelligent design proponents.

To make matters worse, the “live-to-tape” segment featuring Dr. Meyer and Dr. Scott actually wasn’t live-to-tape. It was taped and edited. Dr. Meyer’s answers were cut off –unbeknownst to viewers–and in some cases his responses to Dr. Scott were completely omitted, leaving the viewer to think that he did not have a response. This is one of the more wicked ways of misleading viewers, and CNN is accomplished in their execution.

Where we are talking about science, CNN wants us to talk about the supernatural. When we want to have a civil discourse about science educaiton policy, CNN is only interested in exploring creationism or religion. It is easy to mislead the public with just a few comments which completely change the nature of the debate. And that is exactly what happened here.

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.