Where's the fire? Who's the fireman?

Posted: Oct 23, 2003 12:00 AM

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.

Abortion is another issue that many leading journalists believe would already be settled in a "progressive" manner if pro-life pyromaniacs were not in the way. This week's coverage of Senate success for the bill banning partial birth abortion included an NPR slam on the pro-life movement for pushing a measure seen by most Americans as moderate. (That makes it harder to depict pro-lifers as fanatical fire-starters.)

Or look at the coverage this week and last of the purportedly fiery remarks of Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin. NBC played a clip of Boykin presenting a slide slow in June at the Good Shepherd Community Church in Sandy, Ore., and Boykin saying: "Well, is he (bin Laden) the enemy? Next slide. Or is this man (Saddam) the enemy? The enemy is none of these people I have showed you here. The enemy is a spiritual enemy. He's called the principality of darkness. The enemy is a guy called Satan."

This is standard biblical understanding: The real enemies are not flesh and blood, they are spiritual. But NBC and an unheavenly host of politicians were aghast, as they also were about Boykin's statement at a church in Florida that Christianity is true and Islam is not. The general soon came under enormous pressure to bow to the standard non-biblical understanding that all religions are essentially the same.

Intelligent Design advocates, pro-life leaders, Christian generals: Networks and liberal pundits scream Fire! Fire! Good thing we have hundreds of high-pressure fire hoses and journalists willing to use them.