It's been asked whether the Times would give the same treatment to other false controversies --- whether a holocaust denier, say, would get similarly reverential treatment. And here in my very own comment section, is the answer, posted by someone who identifies himself as, well, Kenneth Chang, which I'll reproduce here with emphasis added on a few key points:
- The reason we're writing about I.D. is because they have already managed to get onto the national stage and influence education policy around the country, and if you're writing about it, you have to explain what it is. Similarly, if there were a holocaust denier who was, say, running for mayor, then yes, we would write an article describing his (or her) views followed by the appropriate denunciations and perhaps a clarifying passage indicating there is no historical dispute that the Holocaust occurred. It would have a similar back-and-forth structure, and no one would come away with the impression that the Times approved of holocaust denying simply because that view was presented first. Rather, I would expect that most people would appreciate that these views had been exposed and they could easily judge for themselves how offensive they were.
Note the subtle shifting of the goalposts here. The Times has not been accused of approving of "intelligent design"; it has been accused of presenting the debate as legitimate when, in fact, it is not. If you're writing about I.D., you have to explain what it is, but you don't have to devote half your article to a respectful rehash of their idiotic non-arguments. (Though I'm not sure Chang's article actually did say in plain English what "Intelligent Design" really, objectively is: charlatans trying to get religious teaching into the classroom by dressing it up as science, while ignoring all standards for scientific evidence and review. For the most part, it treats them as if they were real scientists with an unorthodox theory. And if you think it's inconceivable for the Times to use language that strong in cases where it demonstrably fits, I invite you to review the Times's coverage of David Duke's run for governor of Louisiana -- like the Nov. 10th, 1991 page 1 piece headlined "Duke: the ex-Nazi who would be governor").
But, never mind that. Let's just think about that holocaust denial article for a minute, written in the same "back and forth" style as Chang's "intelligent design" piece, and see how we'd all like it. Starting at the top, Chang's article begins by explaining, at length, the argument of "leading design theorist" Michael Behe that the complex of proteins involved in blood clots could not have evolved. Which drove P.Z. Myers to ask
- When Behe says, "if any one of the more than 20 proteins involved in blood clotting is missing or deficient ... clots will not form properly", why not point out right there, in that paragraph, that [Prof. Russell] Doolittle says that "scientists had predicted that more primitive animals such as fish would be missing certain blood-clotting proteins", and that Behe was shown to be wrong?
Instead, the fourth through seventh paragraphs of the Times article --- all on the front page, in my library's printed edition --- have Behe's argument, and Doolittle's refutation doesn't start till the fifteenth, for which the reader must turn to page 10. People who read only the grafs on page 1, of whom there are many, could easily be left with the impression that science had no specific refutation of Behe.
A similar treatment of a Holocaust denier would give a respectful restatement of his views, then go on for several more paragraphs to say, in general terms, that Jews find these sorts of views objectionable, before finally explaining, starting in the fifteenth graf, that we have pictures of mass graves and death camps, or that the once vibrant Jewish communities of Germany and Poland had essentially vanished after the war. It would put the denier on page 1 (along with a few statements of general distaste for his position), and leave a presentation of the evidence against him, for "balance", along with plenty more "evidence" in favor, for the inside pages.
Who could have a problem with that? After all, a similarly "balanced" treatment of Iraq WMD skeptics in the IAEA and foreign governments before our invasion, or of the people within our own military raising doubts about the administration's "cakewalk" postwar scenarios, would have been a marked improvement over what we actually got.
Looking over that last paragraph, I can imagine someone from the Times asking whether I want them to be more balanced or less. So to put my position in slightly plainer English: In each case here, the Times made a judgment about which views to present, and at what length. In each case, the friends of the present administration got more credit and respect than they deserved, and in each case, their opponents got less. That's the same bias both times, even if the result in one case was a piece which, measured crudely by word count, might appear superficially "balanced". The Times's coverage of the Duke campaign was largely free of this phony "balance", and better journalism for it.