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Introducing Our Long-Term Media Accountability Experiment

David Klinghoffer
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If you follow us at Evolution News, you’re likely familiar with Richard Lenski’s Long-Term Evolution Experiment with E. coli bacteria, which has been the subject of much media spin over the years. Well, guess what, we’ve been conducting our own long-term experiment — not on E. coli, but gauging media accountability and truthfulness.

Writing over at The Stream, I give a sense of the results we’ve obtained.

Following the national news lately has been a frustrating exercise in “He said, she said.” Is Trump on a fast track to impeachment for high treason in colluding with Putin’s Russia, per the drumbeat of the media? Or are the media a fountain of “very fake news,” as Trump says, panting for revenge over a lost election, and willing to see the White House implode along with the country, sending the struggling middle class to hell as a bonus?

Since few of us have the resources to verify any of this with first-hand information, must it come down to a question of which side you trust least? With so much at stake, that is unsatisfactory. No, what’s needed is some sort of independent metric for weighing the credibility of at least one side in the standoff over media truthfulness. In that, I may be able to help.

For more than a decade, my colleagues and I at Discovery Institute have been conducting what I call a Long-Term Media Accountability Experiment. In this multiyear project, we have gauged the trustworthiness of mainstream media sources, focusing on a subject where we have first-hand knowledge: the debate about Darwinian evolution. Evolution is convenient for present purposes because so far it hasn’t figured prominently in controversies around the Trump Administration.

We’ve found that journalists routinely prevaricate and mislead and, when challenged, almost invariably refuse to correct the record. Though “fake news” is a recent coinage, we’ve been documenting it for years in media outlets from the national level — the Washington Post, ProPublica, the New York Times, the Guardian, Mother Jones, The Atlantic, Vox, Inside Higher Ed, Religion News Service, National Review, Slate, Science, and more — to a range of local newspapers. You may not be familiar with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram or the Texas Tribune, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, the Austin American Statesman, the Weatherford Democrat, Huntsville Item, or Jacksonville Progress, the Akron Beacon Journal or similar venues, but they are influential in their communities.

When I say “evolution,” that’s shorthand not so much for the scientific question of biological origins — whether the long history of life gives objective evidence of intelligent design. On that, thoughtful and honest people may disagree. Instead, I’m talking about the mundane and tractable question of how media spokesmen report on this debate, especially its public policy aspects, and characterize those on both sides.

In scores of articles at our daily reporting and analysis site, Evolution News, we have found that in the hands of the mainstream media, journalism merges seamlessly with axe-grinding propaganda.

Do you think it’s overblown or exaggerated to say that the press is very often engaged in axe-grinding and that the precious and vaunted Fourth Estate habitually tells fibs and then refuses to correct its distortions? Well, read on.

Photo credit: © picsfive —

I’m on Twitter. Follow me @d_klinghoffer.