I read the headline of Denyse O’Leary’s post about the LiveScience article headlined “Gigantic Cambrian Shrimplike Creature Unearthed in Greenland,” and I did what I always do – suspended judgment while I waited for the real facts.
Fortunately in this case, the real facts were not long in coming. The story itself states that “Gigantic” refers to a beastie that was about two and half feet long. And the phrase “massive frontal appendage” in the story refers to an appendage that appears to be about one-fourth of that length – i.e., about eight inches long.
It is not hard to understand why I suspend judgment whenever I read the latest hyperventilating story about evolution. Countless times I have seen articles with claxon-sounding headlines suggesting there has been some massive earth-shattering breakthrough proving the long-held evolutionary narrative, only to later learn the story has been puffed at best and downright sensationalized at worst. Burn me once, shame on you . . .
It reminds me of the truly sensational revelations in New York Times editor Michael Cieply’s recent article about how the Times has self-consciously rejected a “report the facts” approach to journalism in favor of an “impose our pre-established narrative on the facts” approach. Cieply writes:
Historically, the Los Angeles Times, where I worked twice, for instance, was a reporter-driven, bottom-up newspaper. Most editors wanted to know, every day, before the first morning meeting: “What are you hearing? What have you got?” It was a shock on arriving at the New York Times in 2004, as the paper’s movie editor, to realize that its editorial dynamic was essentially the reverse. By and large, talented reporters scrambled to match stories with what internally was often called “the narrative.” We were occasionally asked to map a narrative for our various beats a year in advance, square the plan with editors, then generate stories that fit the pre-designated line. . . .
The bigger shock came on being told, at least twice, by Times editors who were describing the paper’s daily Page One meeting: “We set the agenda for the country in that room.”
LiveScience has followed the Times approach to journalism here. The evolutionary “narrative” is utterly confounded by the Cambrian Explosion, as Darwin himself acknowledged in Origin of Species. Darwin thought subsequent research would solve the problem for his theory, but as Steve Meyers demonstrated in Darwin’s Doubt, if anything, the conundrum has become even more vexing for the Darwinian narrative in the ensuing 150 years.
So what is a good line-toeing journal like LiveScience supposed to do when the facts don’t fit the narrative? Why, impose the narrative on the facts of course. We don’t have any truly gigantic species in the Cambrian, so we play games with the word “gigantic.” It is a relative term after all, and we can make it mean anything we want. Who are you to say that 2.7 feet isn’t “gigantic” and that 8 inches isn’t “massive.”
The problem with the Times’ and LiveScience’s approach (and the approach of the legacy media in general) is that, thanks to alternative sources of information, the yahoos out in flyover country have begun to catch on. Everyone knows that while the Times has some excellent coverage on many topics, every story concerning culture and politics is going to be slanted leftwards.
The bottom line: The legacy media, of which the Times is the most prominent symbol, have squandered their most precious recourse: trust. No one but the most doctrinaire progressive reads the Times’ coverage of politics and culture without a massive dose of salt. Which is to say, when I read something in the Times, I suspend judgment and wait for the true facts to emerge, just as I do when I read sensationalized evolution headlines.