In Reporting Hot Button Issues Like Evolution It’s Hard for the Media to Not “Tell You What It Means”

Robert L. Crowther, II

Evolution News & Views (ENV) started out to do exactly what The New York Times’ Kit Seelye reports that some in the media are not happy is happening:

“Subjects of newspaper articles and news broadcasts now fight back with the same methods reporters use to generate articles and broadcasts – taping interviews, gathering e-mail exchanges, taking notes on phone conversations – and publish them on their own Web sites.”

This indeed is what we’ve done to show the public how institutional biases, and personal viewpoints, slant the mainstream media’s reporting on the debate over how to teach evolution.

When we launched this website almost exactly one year ago, it was because we were tired of the mainstream media ignoring, mischaracterizing and otherwise misreporting the views of scientists and scholars who dissent from Darwinism, as well as those scientists who also advocate for the theory of intelligent design. The mainstream media has noticed. It is becoming more and more the case that non-journalists are using the internet to hold reporters accountable, as well as using it as an additional tool for delivering their own message to the general public.
Seelye leads her story with an example from ENV last August. ABC Nightline reporter Chris Bury interviewed Dr. Stephen Meyer at length for a Nightline episode about intelligent design. Following the Nightline episode we immediately posted the entire transcript of the interview so that readers could get the entire, unedited, picture of what was discussed. With that context the final program is exposed for its obvious bias.
As we noted then:

Fortunately, viewers don’t need to depend on Nightline to determine whether there is a scientific controversy over Darwin. While the Nightline “journalists” simply parrot the Darwinists’ party-line, the number of peer-reviewed articles and books by intelligent design scholars continue to grow, as do the number of doctoral scientists who are skeptical of the core claim of Darwin’s theory on scientific grounds.
Rather than depend on Nightline, people can read for themselves about the scientific debate in academic books published by Cambridge University Press and Michigan State University Press. Or they can watch one of the “high-gloss video productions” dismissively alluded to by Nightline such as Unlocking the Mystery of Life. There they can see and hear for themselves scientists like University of Idaho microbiologist Scott Minnich and Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe who support intelligent design. These are the scientists Nightline insists don’t actually exist. Hint to Nightline’s staff: Maybe you should watch one of these videos. You might learn something.

In the end Nightline edited the interview with Meyer to manipulate viewers, and used a quote from Meyer out of context, in which he said that he thinks the designer is God. What they cut out was his comment explaining that this was not his basis for advocating intelligent design, and that his personal view doesn’t have any bearing on the scientific questions being debated. Meyer said:

The media commonly says, in fact recently it was said that we’re so clever that we don’t say the designer is God. Well, the reason we’re not saying the identity of the designer is not because we’re trying to be clever or get around Supreme Court rulings, or anything of the sort. We’re just trying to be careful about what the scientific evidence does and does not support. It supports the conclusion that there was an intelligence; the second order question of the identity of the intelligence is something that is for philosophical deliberation. … I think the designer is God, but, look, it’s not like we are trying to make a scandal of where the evidence might lead. We think that the evidence leads first to intelligence, and then from there, there is a second question, which is the identity of the designer, and there are some people who think it’s God, and there are some people, like Fred Hoyle, who think that maybe it is some sort of imminent intelligence within the universe. Francis Crick speculated that some other intelligence may have been involved. But we are insisting that from the scientific evidence, from the presence of digital code in the cell, you can tell that an intelligence played a role in the origin of life.”

It doesn’t matter if he thinks the designer might be God, all that matters is following the scientific evidence where it leads. But none of that fit Nightline’s typical old trope that this is just a religious issue, so they didn’t include it.
Nightline’s Bury is very candid in explaining exactly how the mainstream media controls the message it wants the public to receive:

“But readers and viewers need to realize that one interview is only one part of the story, that there are other interviews and other research and that this is just a sliver of what goes into a complete report.”

So, on ABC at least, the public gets only those “slivers” that Nightline producers what them to get. In this instance all they got was a tiny “sliver” that distorted Meyer’s position on the issue, but which Bury and others at Nightline decided was all the public should hear about his view. Fortunately, we can post the interview in its entirety and let the viewers decide for themselves.
We have often criticized CNN,like we did ABC, for its blatantly biased coverage of this issue. But they don’t seem to care, and are even quite up front about the fact that they’re going to editorialize the news for you rather than report it straight. Seelye reports CNN correspondent Jamie McIntyre admitting:

“I don’t worry so much anymore about finding out every little detail five minutes before someone else. It’s more important that we take that information and tell you what it means.”

So, now they don’t just report the information, they “tell you what it means.” I suspect that many in the mainstream media would also like to tell you how to think about what it means.

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.