The Texas State Board of Education will decide early next month whether to require textbooks to include a pinch of criticism in their pages of pro-evolution teaching. But many journalists feel no need to balance Darwinian theory with Intelligent Design perspective, since they see the latter as educational arson.
Is that an exaggeration? Look at a recent email exchange between Rob Crowther of the Discovery Institute, the Intelligent Design spearhead, and Houston Chronicle editorial board member James Gibbons. Crowther wrote of his disappointment to find the Chronicle twisting the textbook question and misrepresenting the Intelligent Design position. He asked whether the Chronicle had "any interest in representing Discovery Institute's side of this important issue."
Gibbons replied with a firm NO, writing that, "As Winston Churchill once remarked, ‘I will not be neutral as between the fire and the firemen.' In similar fashion, the Chronicle Editorial Board will not be neutral as between biologists and members of the modern no-nothing (sic) party who have no regard for reason, intellect or even basic honesty."
In defense of Gibbons, his role on the editorial page might relieve him of some criticism for bias: He is not required to pretend to be neutral. But reporters on the news pages also are not required to be neutral, if they define the debate as one between good and evil. Reporters do not balance news about breakthroughs in the war against cancer with pro-cancer reports. These days newspapers that affectionately cover Gay Pride parades rarely sense any need to quote critics of homosexuality.
Whether coverage is "balanced" depends on how journalists define fires and view firemen. CNN, for example, was in the clear earlier this year when it depicted the textbook battle as one between extremist Bible-thumpers and scientists, instead of the dispute among scientists that it now is. For CNN, Intelligent Design proponents were children playing with matches, and the scientists would save the day.
You'd never know from such coverage that distinguished scientists such as Michael Behe of Lehigh University, author of "Darwin's Black Box," were encouraging the Texas Board of Education to correct factual errors in biology textbooks and to require that textbooks present both the weaknesses and strengths of evolutionary theory. For many biased reporters, Behe and others are just part of the fire that needs to be extinguished.