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NOVA Program on Intelligent Design Biased,
Not by Chance but Because They Designed It That Way

First they dramatized the O.J. Simpson trial. Then they acted out Michael Jackson’s courtroom drama. This time around we have NOVA reenacting parts of the 2005 Dover intelligent design trial presided over by Judge John E. Jones.

As NOVA’s website points out, Paula Apsell, senior producer for NOVA’s propaganda piece on intelligent design, Judgment Day, felt “compelled” to make the docudrama. Journalists are usually only “compelled” to report on events by their editors, or by the newsiness (timeliness, proximity, impact, conflict, etc) of a specific issue/event.

So, why were Apsell and NOVA compelled to make this program?

Apsell: If the decision had gone the other way, it could have had dire consequences for science education in this country.

Clearly, Apsell has an agenda. Judge Jones ruled that the Dover school board could not require students to hear a statement about intelligent design because intelligent design is not science. According to Apsell, had he ruled otherwise, the consequences would have been “dire.”

Dire: adj. dir•er, dir•est, having dreadful or terrible consequences; calamitous.

If Apsell really thinks this, then it’s no wonder she felt compelled — compelled to make a docudrama that misrepresents what the theory of intelligent design is and ultimately presents only a one-sided, biased view of intelligent design. A decidedly negative view.

Apsell claims that they wanted to include other points of view. However, their proposal to do so was aimed at slicing and dicing interviews with intelligent design scientists and scholars to show them in the poorest light possible.

Apsell claims that she “had to think long and hard before we decided to take it on.” Yet it was scarcely eight weeks after the ruling, February 6th, 2006 in fact, when NOVA first approached Discovery Institute seeking our involvement in the program. Over the course of the next eight months I negotiated with NOVA and WGBH producers (though never with Apsell herself) as to whether or not Discovery Institute scientists and scholars would appear in the documentary. We were anxious to be included in the program so that we could clearly define what intelligent design theory is, what the role of the Institute was in the trial, and most importantly, what our position was leading up to the Dover school board’s decision to plunge ahead with their ID policy — against our specific counsel and advice. We all thought that this program would give us a good chance to have our side of the story told. Clearly that wasn’t what NOVA’s producers thought — or wanted to happen.

I understood from the beginning that NOVA and PBS have a clear anti-ID position, but I hoped that we might have a chance to at least speak for ourselves.

PBS has a track record of bias against ID, dating back to their poorly-received “Evolution” miniseries in 2001. Then, as now, we negotiated but ultimately were kept from participating by PBS’ unwillingness to fairly represent our scientists and views on intelligent design. Indeed, in 2001 a leaked memo surfaced — a memo that was never denied by PBS — that outlined how they were planning to “co-opt existing local dialogue about teaching evolution in schools” and target government officials, all to promote a Darwin-only science education policy that didn’t just negate any discussion of intelligent design, but also strove to stifle any questioning of Darwinian evolution whatsoever. So we had no doubt as to what point of view Judgment Day would be preaching.

I’ve had a great deal of experience dealing with anti-ID reporters and producers. I can smell a disingenuous interview request a continent away. In 2005 I negotiated for months with ABC’s Nightline and finally agreed to have them come in and conduct an interview with CSC Director Dr. Stephen Meyer. The interview was lengthy and on several occasions specifically broke the ground rules that we had agreed to with ABC. However, ABC allowed us to audiotape the interview, and allowed me to sit in the room as the interview was conducted so I could see how it transpired.

We audio taped Nightline’s interview with Dr. Stephen Meyer at Discovery Institute’s office, and we’ve prepared a verbatim transcript, available here. If you want learn what Nightline refused to show its viewers, I encourage you to read it. I think you’ll find the transcript illuminating–not only because of Dr. Meyer’s answers, but because of the predictable tone of some of the questions by Nightline’s staff. Here’s your chance to go behind-the-scenes with the gatekeepers of the national media to see how they screen out viewpoints and information that don’t fit their stereotypes.

Out of two hours discussing mostly intelligent design theory, what did Nightline include in their extremely biased program? A couple of seconds and seven words of Dr. Meyer’s, taken out of context and completely misrepresentative of his views. Instead of airing anything substantive from a thoughtful discussion about the identity of an intelligent designer, Nightline sliced and diced the interview to come up with a moment when Dr. Meyer said he thinks the designer is God.

Nightline: The whole theory of intelligent design begs the question of who and what is behind that design. How do you answer that question?

SM:The question of the identity of the designer is what I would call a second order philosophical question. From the evidence of the information that’s embedded in DNA, from the evidence from the nanotechnology in the cell, we think you can infer that an intelligence played a role. In fact, there are sophisticated statistical methods of design detection that allow scientists to distinguish the effects of an intelligent cause from an undirected natural process. When you apply those statistical measures and criteria to the analysis of the cell, they indicate that the cell was designed by an intelligence. Now, the second question then you want to ask is, “Who was the designer?” 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.

And later in the interview the interviewers continued to badger Dr. Meyer about this point.

C: When you say intelligent designer, if you’re saying you don’t mean God, then could you mean the devil, or space aliens, or some supernatural force beneath the sea?
SM: There have been some scientists who have posited other identities for the designer. Sir Fred Hoyle, one of the first advocates of the idea of intelligent design, thought that it might be an intelligence from some other planet. I don’t hold to that view, but it’s certainly a logical possibility, and one of the reasons that we say that the question of the identity of the designer is a second order philosophical question that invites further deliberation once you have become convinced from the scientific evidence that you are looking at evidence of intelligence in the cell and in the form of the information that you find there.
C: You call it a second order philosophical question. That kind of sloughs off the main event, doesn’t it? I mean, if there is a design is not the secondary question….
SM: The two questions are separable…
C: …but who is the designer?
SM: People have different answers to the question of who the designer is. The key question for us is how you interpret the observed information that is present in the cell. And we think intelligence provides the best explanation for that. After you have inferred that, then there is a second question that needs to be deliberated upon, and that is who is the designer?
C: And you are saying the designer could be something other than God.
SM: That is a logical possibility — the designer could be something other than God. But there is also the possibility that the designer could be God.
E: You’ve drawn no conclusions on who you think the designer is?
SM: 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.

What was shown on Nightline? You guessed it: “I think the designer is God.” But not even the full sentence, and certainly none of the context of the discussion in which Dr. Meyer made it quite clear that science cannot identify the designer, that is a philosophical question and not what the scientific theory of intelligent design is proposing.

So I was well aware of how interviews with PBS could be manipulated to say just about anything they want them to say. And because we published the Nightline incident, and the New York Times wrote a lengthy article about it, you can bet that Paula Apsell and others at PBS were well aware of the incident too.

Initially, when we agreed to sit for interviews, as long as we could monitor and record the interviews, NOVA agreed. Not surprising. We’ve had this policy for almost four years and in that time we’ve recorded interviews with Newsweek, The New York Times, ABC News, CBS News, BBC, CBC and a number of other media outlets. This is not an unusual request.
In an e-mail Apsell wrote:

If DI believes it needs to make its own recordings of the interviews being conducted, that is acceptable as well provided that these recording activities do not interfere with NOVA’s technical or journalistic needs in setting up and conducting its own recordings.

Perhaps it was after this was presented to us that Apsell heard about how we had held Nightline accountable and exposed their manipulative and biased editing of Dr. Meyer’s interview.
Ultimately, Apsell refused to let us record the interviews, writing to us just a few weeks later.

Upon reflection, I’ve decided that NOVA cannot set such a precedent, although we would be happy to provide a transcript or even a tape of our interview footage should you decide to participate.

The offer of a transcript or taped footage came with strings attached, however.

DI agrees that any use of such recordings will be limited to DI’s commenting upon or reviewing the NOVA program or other related internal DI uses, and shall not be used for purposes unrelated to commenting upon the specific NOVA program, such as but not limited to, fundraising, lobbying, general advocacy, or in any publicly exhibited media.

Clearly, NOVA didn’t want to be held accountable. If they weren’t planning to slice and dice the interviews, then why not let us record them? If you’ve nothing to hide, why refuse to allow complete transcripts to be made available?

In the end NOVA wanted to sit pro-intelligent design scientists down in isolation and interrogate them about the Dover case and intelligent design. They wanted to be able to do as they please with the interviews, much like Nightline, and edit them to fit their biased, anti-ID agenda. And they weren’t about to give anyone permission to expose their manipulation of the interviews, so we would be denied the ability to ever expose the complete, unedited interviews “In any publicly exhibited media.”

Once you know the whole story, you have to wonder how fair NOVA’s presentation of Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial is really going to be. My guess is not very.

We will be watching and we will be posting corrections to all of the mistakes and misleading pieces of information about intelligent design that PBS produces in the program, and in its plethora of propaganda materials, again aimed at censoring science education policy so as to present a one-sided Darwin-only approach to biological evolution.

Go to for the truth about the Dover trial, and to get the truth about intelligent design theory that PBS is trying to stifle visit where you will find links to a multitude of pro-intelligent design organizations.

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.



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