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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Intelligent design and the old media - a tour of the old media attic

Last night, the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C. offered a panel discussion on the theme of the book, edited by an old friend Paul Marshall, Blind Spot: When Journalists Don't Get Religion.

In the book, which covers a wide range of issues, one of the listed author contributors, Roberta Green Ahmanson, talks about what happens when journalists morph into censors of the news that involves the intelligent design controversy:
In the Columbia Journalism Review, Chris Mooney and Matthew C. Nisbet argued that intelligent design did not deserve to be covered at all. Their concern was not whether any reporters had implied that intelligent-design arguments were true; rather, he argued that some journalists had actually reported what the arguments were. Mooney and Nisbet insisted that such arguments were really religious arguments and were, therefore, not only nonscientific, but could not be counted as arguments at all. They concluded that intelligent design is "a sophisticated religious challenge to an overwhelming scientific consensus." Therefore, "journalistic coverage that helps fan the flames of a nonexistent scientific controversy (and misrepresents what's actually known) simply isn't appropriate."(p.168)

In their view, journalists are not to report what is happening but only what they have decided it is "appropriate"for their readers and listeners to know.

Wow. Why move to a surviving communist regime when you can have the same censorship services at home in the West ...

See also:

Popular media and the intelligent design controversy: When reporters write what they "know"

Religion and the media: Why it doesn't pay to be just plain vindictive

The intelligent design community and the media revolution - an old hack's thoughts

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Popular media and the intelligent design controversy: When reporters write what they "know"

Last night, the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C. offered a panel discussion on the theme of the book, edited by an old friend Paul Marshall, Blind Spot: When Journalists Don't Get Religion.

By the by, in Chapter 8, "Getting Religion in the News Room," Terry Mattingly discusses a recent "dropped ball" in coverage of the intelligent design controversy:

Consider one of the most loaded terms in religion news - "fundamentalist". In a New York Times story, reporter Jodi Wilgoren described the beliefs of Discovery Institute fellows highly critical of Darwinian evolution. In the final-edition version of the story, Wilgoren wrote: "Their credentials - advanced degrees from Stanford, Columbia, Yale, the University of Texas, the University of California - are impressive, but their ideas are often ridiculed in the academic world. ... [Most] fellows, like their financiers, are fundamentalist Christians, though they insist their work is serious science, not closet creationism." But the group included Episcpalians, Catholics, Jews, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Baptists, and several strains of Presbyterianism. What does the world "fundamentalist" mean in this context? (p. 148)
It means a person to whom Jodi Wilgoren considers herself immeasurably superior, even though she has probably not got the least idea why anyone would doubt the Big Bazooms theory of evolution. Mattingly continues,

On top of that, a bible of journalism - the Associated Press Stylebook - warns against using the divisive term in precisely this manner. It states: "fundamentalist: the word gained usage in an early 20th century fundamentalist-modernist controversy within Protestantism. In recent yeas, however, fundamentalist has to a large extent taken on pejorative connotations except when applied to groups that stress strict, literal interpretations of Scripture and separation from other Christians. In general, do not use fundamentalist unless a group applies the word to itself."
Apparently, the Times had to retreat on this one, and it offered a correction in the digital archives. Mattingly comments further,

To avoid having to make that correction, all that was neecdd was to consider the Associated Press Stylebook or allow members of the group to describe their own ideas and beliefs, rather than using labels assigned to them by their enemies? (Pp. 148-49)
Well, I don't know. Given that the whole point of the Times's coverage is to suck up to the DI group's enemies and to reassure those enemies that nothing is happening - nothing that can't be contained by propaganda and crackdowns - why not just continue to use the labels? And when the group's enemies can no longer pay for the persecution, hit on the government!

Think that won't happen? Look here where Jonah Goldberg notes,

... journalistic Brahmins, who last year would have spontaneously combusted at any hint of government meddling in the Fourth Estate, now openly debate whether we should revive the Federal Writers' Project to give jobs to scribes thrown out in the cold by newspaper downsizing.
I myself have had to leave at least one prominent Canadian writers' organization because members are obviously far more interested in writers' welfare than intellectual freedom. So yes, it is in the air.

Never mind, I have a trade for Terry Mattingly: Here Wilgoren's colleague Elisabeth Bumiller substitutes "biblical" for "biological" when interviewing a Discovery Institute fellow - and can you guess the results?

Honestly, as I have said here, I think legacy media will either go under or get legislation that forces everyone to listen to them. In which case, further discount anything you hear from them.

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Just up at The Mindful Hack ...

Mind reading technology: In your face and in your mind - or maybe not ...

Religion and the media: Why it doesn't pay to be just plain vindictive.

The Mindful Hack is my blog that supports The Spiritual Brain.

Intellectual freedom in Canada: Moving toward a reasonable standard of evidence

From Tom Barrett in The Tyee we learn that journalists in Canada have won an important libel judgment:
The Nov. 28 decision in Grant vs. Torstar recognizes what is known as the "responsible journalism" defence in libel cases. The defence is a legal innovation that has been described as revolutionary in terms of how it allows journalists to report in the public interest.

The responsible journalism defence will be aired before the Supreme Court of Canada in February and it's possible the top court will reject it. But legal experts say the Grant vs. Torstar decision suggests the courts are moving in the direction of greater freedom of expression.

- "A Win Streak for Free Speech" (December 15, 2008 )
A key difficulty, Barrett notes, is that
One of the oddities about the common law that governs defamation in Canada is that the courts assume that comments that hurt an individual's reputation are false; it is up to the person who made the comments to prove they are true.

But proving that a controversial news article is true isn't always easy, Burnett notes.
Not easy? I should say it is often impossible.

Suppose, for example, the journalist is sued over an article describing the "incompetence" of a senior government employee. The employee sues and demands that the journalist prove that she is incompetent.

Well, in the article, it comes to light that the employee paralyzed her department for six months because she was unable to make a series of conventional decisions expected at her level. My guess is that the word "incompetent" would form silently in most readers' minds even if the writer had not used it.

But is that proof? I don't know? Does anyone? The reality is that decisions about such matters as whether an employee is competent are usually made according to an inference to the best explanation. Fair libel laws should reflect that fact.

Hat tip: Five Feet of Fury

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