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Journalistic Malpractice in South Dakota: Argus Leader Won’t Correct Misleading Story

John G. West

Casey Luskin has done an admirable job chronicling the poor reporting by Patrick Anderson at the Sioux Falls Argus Leader in South Dakota. The saga continues. Both Anderson and the paper’s editor have now refused to correct one of Anderson’s most egregious misrepresentations in a story relating to proposed academic freedom legislation in his state.

As Casey explained previously, one article by Mr. Anderson implied that Discovery Institute had lied to him when it said it wasn’t trying to push intelligent design into public schools. Why was our statement supposed to be false? Anderson reported (in best “gotcha” fashion) that we publish a curriculum titled Discovering Intelligent Design. Aha! So we must be for pushing ID into the schools after all. There was just one problem: Discovering Intelligent Design is designed for homes schools and private schools, NOT public schools. And this fact is no secret. The curriculum’s website states unequivocally:

The Discovering Intelligent Design curriculum is designed for educational use by home schools and private schools rather than public schools. When this subject of intelligent design is forced into public schools, it tends to generate polarization, transforming the topic from a scientific investigation into an emotional, politicized debate.

Rather than quote this clear statement, Anderson merely references another web page where we state that the curriculum is “especially suitable” for home schools and private schools. Anderson’s wording appears to be intentionally ambiguous, creating the impression that we might also have intended Discovering Intelligent Design for use in public schools. But Anderson can only convey that impression because he refused to quote our clear statement from the curriculum’s website.

Even if Anderson’s misleading reporting was due to carelessness, once the problem was brought to his attention, he should have fixed it. He didn’t, responding instead that “I really don’t see the difference at all… Even if they were ‘designed for’ private and home school teachers, I don’t ever say otherwise in the blog post, so what is the error?”

The error is that Anderson’s article clearly conveyed the impression that Discovery Institute wasn’t telling him the truth about its educational policy position. That’s the way his story was framed. But if Anderson had accurately quoted Discovery Institute’s description of Discovering Intelligent Design, the whole reason for his article would have evaporated. Rather than let the facts get in the way of his story, Anderson suppressed the facts.

Unfortunately, the newspaper’s executive editor, Maricarrol Kueter, decided to back him up. Without explaining why she thinks Anderson’s story is accurate or responding to the evidence to the contrary, she responded: “I have reviewed the posting by Patrick Anderson and do not see a need for a correction.”

I understand Mr. Anderson has an axe to grind, and it seems that there is no way he is going to report fairly about the debate over academic freedom legislation in South Dakota. But editorializing is one thing. Making up stuff is another. This is in the category of made-up claims. Discovering Intelligent Design was not designed for public schools, is not marketed for use in public schools, is not used in public schools, and is explicitly described as not being designed for use in public schools. To imply that this curriculum somehow contradicts our policy that intelligent design shouldn’t be pushed into public education is a non-starter.

Anderson and his editors are doing a disservice to their profession and to their readers. Newspapers are already facing a precipitous decline in their subscriber base. Much of the decline is due to the changing way people get their information, but at least some of it is probably due to the fact that many members of the public are skeptical about whether journalists accurately report the news. In the case of the Argus Leader, such skepticism is apparently justified.

Image:  Ruggiero Scardigno / Dollar Photo Club.

John G. West

Senior Fellow, Managing Director, and Vice President of Discovery Institute
Dr. John G. West is Vice President of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and Managing Director of the Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Formerly the Chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at Seattle Pacific University, West is an award-winning author and documentary filmmaker who has written or edited 12 books, including Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society, and Walt Disney and Live Action: The Disney Studio’s Live-Action Features of the 1950s and 60s. His documentary films include Fire-Maker, Revolutionary, The War on Humans, and (most recently) Human Zoos. West holds a PhD in Government from Claremont Graduate University, and he has been interviewed by media outlets such as CNN, Fox News, Reuters, Time magazine, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.