Coverage of Evolution Debate Shows Mainstream Media are Purveyors of ‘Fake News’

What's needed is an independent metric for weighing the credibility of at least one side in the standoff over media truthfulness.

By David Klinghoffer Published on February 26, 2017

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 h*** 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.

The Long-Term Media Accountability Experiment

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.

Some Themes of Media Distortion

Some themes of media distortion include the following. We know that our arguments for intelligent design (ID) draw on the relevant sciences alone (biology, cosmology), not Scripture, and that that our arguments presume a standard Big Bang time-frame with a universe having originated some 13.7 billion years ago. Yet to discredit the scientific case for design, journalists over and over conflate ID with “creationism,” a particular way of reading science through the lens of the Bible, typically assuming a “young earth” less than 10,000 years old.

In states like Louisiana, Tennessee, and the current flash point of South Dakota, we have supported responsible academic freedom laws. These laws allow science teachers to present the strengths and weaknesses of neo-Darwinian theory as an explanation of biological novelties. They don’t introduce or protect teaching about intelligent design, and certainly not about any religious doctrine (like creationism). They explicitly extend protection to science instruction alone, and then only when it enriches students’ understanding of subjects that are already part of the curriculum (which ID is not). Yet journalists routinely assert that these laws would shoehorn intelligent design and “creationism” in public school science classes.

In the same context, when we advocate introducing students to “critical thinking” on evolution, with teaching material drawn only from mainstream science, the media claim that “critical thinking” is “code” for intelligent design, or for “intelligent design creationism.” We know that it’s not, and that the “code word” conspiracy theory is utterly false. It doesn’t make any sense, either. A law can permit or forbid something. Someone reading the law and deciding how to implement it needs to know what you meant to protect or forbid. A law written in “code” understandable only to a masked cabal would be pointless and self-nullifying.

Though Discovery Institute has always opposed pushing ID into public schools, one school district in Pennsylvania disregarded our advice and ham-handedly sought to do just that. In 2005 they lost a federal court case, Kitzmiller v. Dover, over it. Though the case pertained only to the Middle District of Pennsylvania, media advocates ever since have falsely portrayed the decision as a Waterloo for intelligent design, an ultimate defeat as both policy and science.

Again, the idea is absurd if you think about it for a moment. A judge in Harrisburg, PA, steps out of total obscurity and suddenly has standing to decide once and for all an ultimate question that scientists and philosophers have struggled over for millennia? Please.

The Media Echo Chamber

Yet these points and more are hit again and again by media organs. The supposedly objective investigative news site ProPublica hit all of them — codes, creationism, Kitzmiller v. Dover — in a recent article, going after then-Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos, who had mentioned “critical thinking” in her appointment hearing. When a colleague and I challenged their reporting, focusing on a distortion of our education policy that could be verified by published documents on our website, an editor brushed us off, claiming it came down to a “matter of opinion and debate, not fact.”

I’ve documented my correspondence with the editor, which I found very revealing. I might have let it drop had I not heard an annoying report on NPR extolling the comedian John Oliver for his smug, frequently vile and partisan rants on HBO. Besides commending flatulence as a pillar of comedy, Oliver praises ProPublica in a league with The New Yorker as a source of fact that he draws upon.

And remember that what I’ve said so far pertains only to coverage of the debate itself, mostly about public policy where the reporter wasn’t called on to adjudicate scientific matters. On the science of evolution, my single favorite media distortion was an article at The Daily Beast by theistic evolutionist Karl Giberson. Recounting a debate with Discovery Institute’s Stephen Meyer, he chided intelligent design advocates for failing to grapple with the proof of evolution from human babies being born with “tails.” In all seriousness, he linked to an article from a humor site, Cracked, with a photo of a tailed baby. The tail, we showed, had been Photoshopped in. The original Daily Beast article remains up, still deriding ID as “pseudo-science” and still pointing readers to the fake tailed baby.

So, do respected media outlets merit the respect they get, from other media outlets or from media consumers? The answer depends on whether you think they are what they claim to be, high-minded purveyors of fair, thoughtful reporting? Or are they activists using the guise of fair reporting to advance an agenda that they won’t admit, perhaps not even to themselves?

Perhaps it’s only their coverage on the evolution debate that’s a problem, while the media are scrupulously accurate when it comes to all other matters. Judge that for yourself.

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  • Dean Bruckner

    David, spot on! Thanks for taking the time and effort to keep defending the truth. You have a way with words too! Well done.

    • Kevin Quillen

      the truth? The earth is not 13 billion years old. Long age evolution is a dying theory. Young earth will be found to be truth. It is coming out more and more. Soft tissue in dinosaur bones is the death of evolution. They are trying to keep the lid on this fact but cannot for long. Also, irreducible complexity proves Darwin wrong.

      • Dean Bruckner

        I support a Young Earth as the most likely alternative. I was referring to David’s work to keep ID alive and well. At this he is a considerable force.

        • James Downard

          It would be entertaining to see David (or any Intelligent Design advocate, apart from already creationist Paul Nelson) to explain why Young Earth Creationism is twaddle without relying on the very Methodological Naturalism they refuse to allow on the evolution data field. So far no ID star has criticized any YEC claim in any venue whatsoever, which I regard as craven at best. Btw, interbedded volcanic ash would be one of many evidential snags for YEC, and the Day 4 Genesis events (cribbed from the Babylonian Enuma Elish creation myth) are shredded by modern cosmology, so there are certainly many places to be extremely skeptical of the “scientific” pretensions of YEC dogma.

          • Dean Bruckner

            The toxic concentration of ignorance, arrogance, and petulance in your pathetic reply is the perfect storm of what the Bible calls foolishness. Solomon had your number 3,000 years ago:

            “When a wise man has a controversy with a foolish man, the foolish man either rages or laughs, and there is no rest.” – Proverbs 29:9

            The LORD rebuke you!

          • Dean Bruckner

            Today I read a summary article over at Uncommondescent(dot)com. The title is “Discovery of 7 times higher complexity of protein folding!” The probability that this complex process evolved from nothing is zero. You can find it quickly with an internet search.

            I plead with you to repent from your sins of arrogance and idolatry and cry out to God, that he will have mercy on your willful rebellion against him and against the truth, and do not treat you as your sins deserve! He will forgive you, as he forgave us, if you come to him with humility and faith.

  • Gary

    Once you find out someone is a liar, it makes trusting them again difficult. Fool me once…………..

    • Kevin Quillen

      have you researched “soft tissue in dino bones? It is quite interesting. The earth is young just as the Bible says.

      • Gary

        I have not researched that. But I have done enough research to learn that if evolution is true, it must be planned and executed by God. But God said he made everything in six days.

        • Scripture does say that God created the heavens and the earth in six days. It does not, however, seek to address WHEN those six days happened. John Lennox, in fact, has a very interesting theory regarding the meaning of the word יוֹם as used in the Hebrew Scriptures of the first chapters of Genesis. Search YouTube for “John Lennox: “Seven Days That Divide the World”” to find just how involved the Hebrew usage is in that passage.

          • Gary

            The Bible lists genealogies that go all the way back to Adam, proving that the universe can’t be very old.

          • Not really. The Hebrew word used in the Genesis genealogies can mean several things, immediate descendant (i.e. direct child) being not the only one. Plus, if you watch the Lennox video I wrote about above, it will reveal to you that, while the Hebrew does say that God created the heavens and the earth in six days, it makes no distinction as to when those days happened. The preceding sentence will be much more clear to you if you watch the video I talked about above. There are multiple senses of the Hebrew involved, and Dr. Lennox explains it much more clearly than I could.

          • James Downard

            Trying to use biblical genealogies a prior is rather like trying to “prove” things by the Book of Mormon (or Lord of the Rings). When we get to the New Testament, Matthew and Luke can’t even agree on Joseph’s part in the chain (and yes, I know conservative Christian apologists are fond of penciling in Mary into Luke’s version to try and save the case retroactively).

          • faithntrust

            Mr. Murdock, I too question these ‘6 days’: when one also reads that a 1,000 years are likened to a day by God. The point that is always most important – a person’s salvation & this debate has no [should not] effect on one’s salvation!

          • rwhawk

            But it does affect trusting God fully and His Word.

          • faithntrust

            We now look thru a mirror darkly? Accept on faith!

          • rwhawk

            God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. This is a hard one to sweep under the rug for each of the days.

            “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” Prov 18:17
            Unfortunately, most Christians have only heard the evolutionists narratives and never truly studied the Creation Scientists narratives and explanations that render the old earth narrative empty and hollow.

  • Irene Neuner

    My husband has been following the ‘evolution is true’ coverage that the the media spew. Especially Google news science section. It’s uncanny. Scientists and students need to look at the theory of evolution with a critical and open mind instead of hanging onto it like a life raft.

    • Kevin Quillen

      heve you guys looked into “soft tissue” found in dino bones?

      • Irene Neuner

        I have heard of it and although I have not verified it but I would expect it to be true. Polystrate trees, petrified trees through multiple rocks layers would cause reasonable people to conclude that the rock layers involved were rapidly layed down as opposed to representing different geological ages and millions of years. However evolutionist still hold tightly to their dogma.

        • James Downard

          Wrong on both counts. The soft tissue examples are literally microscopic, and always in trapped conditions where there would be no reason for their molecules to disappear, no case of large scale tissues that might be consistent with a hypothetical recent Flood origin. Polystrate trees are a threadbare staple of YEC apologetics, but if you explore the actual cases (such as Yellowstone) you’ll discover they are occurring in perfectly natural pyroclastic flows (as a resident of WA state who had to shovel bits of Mt. St. Helens off my driveway, I’m more than passingly familiar with the impact of volcanic eruptions). I recommend you return to your creationist sources and try to do some source fact checking, perhaps you might learn how they were less than honest in presenting the data to you.

          • Irene Neuner

            We agree that the trees were rapidly buried by something. The layers do not represent millions of years but rather a couple days of catastrophe.

            I am not a scientist but I will look up your Slam Dunk for evolution article and see if I can discern anything intelligent in it.

            Being able to see, hear, and intellectually comprehend truth which is beautiful, is is truly a blessing. A good thing.

          • James Downard

            “Evolution Slam Dunk” (ESD) is a book, available Amazon, ebooks etc. I am not a scientist either, but do have a BA in history, and its that follow the source principle that everyone, layperson and scientist, need to do before coming to conclusions. ESD is on the reptile-mammal transition, and covers all the arguments antievolutionists have offered on it. I don’t address the polystrate/YEC issue in ESD, but there is a sizable technical literature on the sites in question. No current geologist that I know of thinks that polystrate trees in pyroclastic flows represent “millions of years,” so that is a strawman. The issue is whether they represent anything other than conventional observed geological processes. I recommend you check back on whatever sources you have relied on, and do some source checking to determine whether their arguments are up to snuff. One of many problems for YEC claims is interbedded volcanic ash (beyond just those pyroclastic flows) that are inexplicable of they are attributed to a Flood event (even Andrew Snelling is aware of the problem, proposing occasionally multiple floods to work around it, but skirts past most of the examples in his apologetic work)

          • Irene Neuner

            James, trees petrified through multiple layers of rock don’t prove a flood they disprove the conventional theory that the rock layers represent millions of years, or thousands, or even 1 year. Biologically living things rot quickly as I am sure you would quickly agree.

            The primary reason I am a young earth creationist is that the Bible says in 2 Peter “The heavens were created as of old.” Nothing in science could disprove this. Science or evolution can’t hold a candle to the subject of origins. So a connected but more significant question to me is did Adam and Eve have belly buttons?

            Eleven times in Genesis 1 it says that God created not only each animal “after his kind” but also the plants. So I don’t believe that one thing evolved into another.

            I believe my source is superior to yours. I believe the one who created everything for his pleasure and sent his son to restore relationship after the Fall.

            Who is this darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Job 38:2

            Finally, I remember watching Nova evolution documentaries when I was young. The evolutionary claim 25 years ago was that various, unknown, catastrophes changed our atmosphere or planet to cause the evolution of one species to another. There are bones of GIANT animals and plants. For example an 8 foot beaver. No more. So clearly whether we are creationists or evolutionists things happened in the distance past that aren’t seen recently!

          • James Downard

            And who says they are in “multiple layers of rock”, in the sense of deposits over time? If you check the claims made on polystrate fossils over the years, they rely on very old material, repeated without checking. You’re also being behind the curve of you are unaware that polystrate claims are made only by young earth creationism and that those are in context of a belief that virtually all of the geological column laid down during the Flood.

            Your reference to kinds is not unexpected, but if you check out that issue too you’ll discover that creationists have been unable to work out how many kinds there were, and that the baraminologists have slid all over the map on it, even confirming the traditional horse evolution sequence (a “monobaramin”) and slipping some austraolopithecines (not even yet in our genus) as inside the human baramin. Thus utter confusion reigns on that.

            I do not find the Bible particularly impressive, from its silly cosmology to moral quagmires like its acceptance of slavery. Though as you are a young earth creationist, your acceptance of it is utterly expected.

            Now where’s David Klinghoffer in all this? Do weigh in David, telling where you stand on any of these issues. I suspect David has got no closer to the YEC tarpit as he has the general science data he remains 900 miles from.

    • James Downard

      I track some 52,000 working scientists, whose output of over 20,000 technical papers utterly belies your notion that they are “hanging onto” evolution “like a life raft.” It is the evidence that has always mattered. When antievolutionists can account for data like the reptile-mammal transition evidence with anything like the comprehensivity of the regular scientific community (paleontology, biology etc), then one might take them more seriously. But I documented exactly how threadbare the antievolutionist apologetics is on that in “Evolution Slam Dunk: Why the Reptile-Mammal Transition Proves Macroevolution & How Antievolutionists Ignore It.” If there is a Designer, He/She/It/They were pretty darned dumb to have created so many transitional therapsids, including the probainognathids that were explicitly predicted twenty years in advance by Robert Broom.

  • faithntrust

    The horrible thought crossed my mind: ‘what if our local news gave us fake news as does the national news?’ Chaos? confusion? hostility?

    • Dean Bruckner

      It does. Always has.

      • faithntrust

        I realize this is true [fake news] in the portion given by the affiliate but we do not hear bias reporting on our local politicians, businesses, community leaders. Or, can you inform me differently?

        • Dean Bruckner

          I was actually referring to newspapers. Most local papers parrot the national news and so pass along fake news. In some cases, they slant local stories, but in all cases, they pass along the bias of the Progressives.

          Local newspapers know that people know more about local stories, so they are more reluctant to make up stuff about people locally, since in many cases their readers know more about the stories than the reporters do. One of our older family members lives in Ocala, FL, and their paper is a nest of Progressivism, complete with bias and lies. Their readers, being mostly retirees, are more conservative than the paper’s world view is, but that doesn’t deter them for a minute. Their editorials are full of fake narratives, so I am suspicious of their coverage even when it sounds correct.

  • mickey40

    Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al.
    A six-week trial over the issue yielded ‘overwhelming
    evidence’ establishing that intelligent design “is a religious view, a mere
    re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory,” said [U.S. District
    Judge John] Jones, a Republican and a churchgoer appointed to the federal
    bench three years ago. (Associated Press, December 20, 2005)

    Is Judge Jones in error? He spent six weeks examining the evidence. Both sides.
    Is AP in error? They published what the court found.

    ‘Discovery Institute has always opposed pushing ID into public schools, one school district in Pennsylvania disregarded our advice and ham-handedly sought to do just that.’ Why was the discovery institute afraid of a trial, where the evidence rules? Simple. Where each side examines the evidence, with cross examination allowed, ID loses. It is not science.

    For more: Read my – Faith Enterprise: Making Mysteries and Miracles Vanish

    • rwhawk

      Yes, Judge Jones is in error. He copied the evolutionists story. He showed no original thought and he definitely was not impartial as he conflated ID with creationism and they are distinctly different.

      • mickey40

        Read Judge Jone’s full original conclusion. You will discover it was the creationists that replaced creationism with ID, to hide the fact it was creationism, of religious origin. This is a fact, not debatable.

        Any judge, or any observer for that matter, would conclude the same thing. It was in the court testimony. This also explains why the discovery institute wishes to avoid going to court over this issue. They know they would lose in any and every court. The data is unambiguous. The creationists conflated ID with creationism and the court saw who did it, when they did it, and how they did it. Please go see for yourself.

        Type: Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al. into Google and about the second result will be Jone’s full official conclusion.

        • rwhawk

          I read the account years ago. Jones parroted the evolutionists and was incapable of distinguishing between Creation Science and ID. What the evolutionists fall to understand is their own religious belief system that has blinded them to truth.

          • mickey40

            You need to read Jones again. This time for comprehension.

          • rwhawk

            Actually not. It is rather obsolete at this time.

        • rwhawk

          What really matters is truth. Jones and his evolutionist buddies are on the wrong side. Creation Science and ID have totally different starting points/presuppositions/philosophies of science. What they both have in common is the search for truth….evolutionists main concern is control of their religion, not science. Creation science begins with the universals God has given and ID begins with the particulars of true science, but both deal with reality and following the evidence wherever it leads and this leaves evolution in the dustbin of myths. God, after all, is truth and ultimate reality. ID, following the evidence, arrives at His doorstep but doesn’t cross the threshold because that would not be a scientific endeavor at that point.

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