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Undoing Darwin: The media's role in undermining science in favor of ideology
by Chris Moooney and Matthew C. Nisbet    Columbia Journalism Review
Entered into the database on Tuesday, October 04th, 2005 @ 14:22:23 MST


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On March 14, 2005, The Washington Post’s Peter Slevin wrote a front-page story on the battle that is “intensifying across the nation” over the teaching of evolution in public-school science classes. Slevin’s lengthy piece took a detailed look at the lobbying, fund-raising, and communications tactics being deployed at the state and local level to undermine evolution. The article placed a particular emphasis on the burgeoning “intelligent design” movement, centered at Seattle’s Discovery Institute, whose proponents claim that living things, in all their organized complexity, simply could not have arisen from a mindless and directionless process such as the one so famously described in 1859 by Charles Darwin in his classic, The Origin of Species.

Yet Slevin’s article conspicuously failed to provide any background information on the theory of evolution, or why it’s considered a bedrock of modern scientific knowledge among both scientists who believe in God and those who don’t. Indeed, the few defenders of evolution quoted by Slevin were attached to advocacy groups, not research universities; most of the article’s focus, meanwhile, was on anti-evolutionists and their strategies. Of the piece’s thirty-eight paragraphs, twenty-one were devoted to this “strategy” framing — an emphasis that, not surprisingly, rankled the Post’s science reporters. “How is it that The Washington Post can run a feature-length A1 story about the battle over the facts of evolution and not devote a single paragraph to what the evidence is for the scientific view of evolution?” protested an internal memo from the paper’s science desk that was copied to Michael Getler, the Post’s ombudsman. “We do our readers a grave disservice by not telling them. By turning this into a story of dueling talking heads, we add credence to the idea that this is simply a battle of beliefs.” Though he called Slevin’s piece “lengthy, smart, and very revealing,” Getler assigned Slevin a grade of “incomplete” for his work.

Slevin’s incomplete article probably foreshadows what we can expect as evolution continues its climb up the news agenda, driven by a rising number of newsworthy events. In May, for example, came a series of public hearings staged by evolution-theory opponents in Kansas. In Cobb County, Georgia, a lawsuit is pending over anti-evolutionist textbook disclaimers (the case is before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit). And now comes the introduction of intelligent design into the science curriculum of the Dover, Pennsylvania, school district, a move that has triggered a First Amendment lawsuit scheduled to be argued in September before a federal judge in Harrisburg. President Bush and Senator Bill Frist entered the fray in early August, when both appeared to endorse the teaching of intelligent design in science classes.

As evolution, driven by such events, shifts out of scientific realms and into political and legal ones, it ceases to be covered by context-oriented science reporters and is instead bounced to political pages, opinion pages, and television news. And all these venues, in their various ways, tend to deemphasize the strong scientific case in favor of evolution and instead lend credence to the notion that a growing “controversy” exists over evolutionary science. This notion may be politically convenient, but it is false.

We reached our conclusions about press coverage after systematically reading through seventeen months of evolution stories in The New York Times and The Washington Post; daily papers in the local areas embroiled in the evolution debate (including both papers covering Dover, Pennsylvania, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and the Topeka, Kansas, Capital-Journal); and relevant broadcast and cable television news transcripts. Across this coverage, a clear pattern emerges when evolution is an issue: from reporting on newly discovered fossil records of feathered dinosaurs and three-foot humanoids to the latest ideas of theorists such as Richard Dawkins, science writers generally characterize evolution in terms that accurately reflect its firm acceptance in the scientific community. Political reporters, generalists, and TV news reporters and anchors, however, rarely provide their audiences with any real context about basic evolutionary science. Worse, they often provide a springboard for anti-evolutionist criticism of that science, allotting ample quotes and sound bites to Darwin’s critics in a quest to achieve “balance.” The science is only further distorted on the opinion pages of local newspapers.

Later this month, all of this will probably be on full display as the dramatic evolution trial begins in Pennsylvania over intelligent design, or ID. The case, Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, will be the first ever to test the legality of introducing ID into public-school science classes. The suit was filed by the ACLU on behalf of concerned parents after the local school board voted 6-3 to endorse the following change to the biology curriculum: “Students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin’s Theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, Intelligent Design.” The trial is likely to be a media circus. And, unfortunately, there’s ample reason to expect that the spectacle will lend an entirely undeserved p.r. boost to the carefully honed issue-framing techniques employed by today’s anti-evolutionists.

“Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution,” the famed geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky wrote in 1973. What Dobzhansky calls “evolution,” Charles Darwin himself often called “descent with modification,” but the basic idea is the same — that the wide variety of organisms occupying the earth today share a common ancestry but have diversified greatly over time. The main force driving that process, Darwin postulated, was “natural selection.” In brief, the theory works like this: natural variations make some organisms better equipped than others for their various walks of life, and these variations are heritable. As a result, some organisms will be more likely to survive than others and will therefore pass on advantageous traits to their offspring — a process that, over vast stretches of geological time, can bring about division into species and, ultimately, the diversity of life itself.

Since Darwin’s time modern science has dramatically bolstered this theory with evidence from a wide range of fields. For example, advances in genetics and molecular biology have now shown how heredity actually works, as well as explained the nature of chance mutation (the source of the “variation” that Darwin noted). In fact, DNA now provides perhaps the single best piece of evidence supporting the theory of evolution. More closely related organisms turn out to have more DNA in common, meaning that the course of evolutionary change can actually be charted through genetic analysis.

As the National Academy of Sciences has noted, further evidence for evolutionary theory comes from such diverse arenas as the fossil record, comparative anatomy (which reveals structural similarities in related organisms, often called “homology”), species distribution (showing, for instance, that island species are often distinct from but closely related to mainland relatives), and embryology. With all of this interlocking evidence, the academy has declared the theory of evolution to be “the central unifying concept of biology.”

Despite its firm foundation, however, evolution has long been challenged by some devout religious believers who find it incompatible with a literal interpretation of scripture and an assault on religion itself (even though many evolutionary scientists are themselves religious). Over nearly a century in the United States, the creationist movement has not only persisted but changed its form in reaction to legal and educational precedents. In the 1960s and 1970s, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that bans on the teaching of evolution were unconstitutional, creationists adopted the mantle of “creation science” or “scientific creationism,” arguing for instance that Noah’s flood caused geological phenomena like the Grand Canyon, and calling for “equal time” for their views in public schools.

More recently, Darwin’s foes have taken up intelligent design, making the more limited — and far more sophisticated — claim that evolution alone cannot explain the stunning complexity of anatomical structures such as the eye, or, more basically, parts of the cell. The intelligent design movement, like the creation science movement before it, includes at least a few Ph.D.s — for example, Lehigh University’s Michael Behe, who argues that certain biochemical structures are “irreducibly complex,” meaning that they could not have evolved in an unguided fashion and must instead have been designed by a superhuman intelligence. Behe’s arguments have not successfully swayed the broader biological community, however.

If attacks on evolution aren’t anything new in America, neither is the tendency of U.S. journalists to lend undue credibility to theological attacks that masquerade as being “scientific” in nature. During the early 1980s, for example, the mega-evolution trial McLean v. Arkansas pitted defenders of evolutionary science against so-called “scientific creationists.” Today, few take the claims of these scientific creationists very seriously. At the time, however, proponents of creation science were treated quite seriously indeed by the national media, which had parachuted in for the trial. As media scholars have noted, reporters generally “balanced” the scientific-sounding claims of the scientific creationists against the arguments of evolutionary scientists. They also noted that religion and public-affairs reporters, rather than science writers, were generally assigned to cover the trial.

Now, history is repeating itself: intelligent-design proponents, whose movement is a descendant of the creation science movement of yore, are enjoying precisely the same kind of favorable media coverage in the run-up to another major evolution trial. This cyclical phenomenon carries with it an important lesson about the nature of political reporting when applied to scientific issues. In strategy-driven political coverage, reporters typically tout the claims of competing political camps without comment or knowledgeable analysis, leaving readers to fend for themselves.

For example, consider this perfectly balanced two-sentence summary of competing positions that appeared repeatedly in coverage of the Dover, Pennsylvania, evolution debate by The York Dispatch’s Heidi Bernhard-Bubb: “Intelligent design theory attributes the origin of life to an intelligent being. It counters the theory of evolution, which says that people evolved from less complex beings.” This type of pairing fails in more ways than one. First, the statement about the “less complex beings” that supposedly preceded modern humans suggests a lackluster understanding of evolutionary theory. (Nothing in evolutionary theory suggests that an increase in complexity is inherent to the process. In fact, very simple bacteria continue to thrive on earth to this day.) Even worse, such “balance” is far from truly objective. The pairing of competing claims plays directly into the hands of intelligent-design proponents who have cleverly argued that they’re mounting a scientific attack on evolution rather than a religiously driven one, and who paint themselves as maverick outsiders warring against a dogmatic scientific establishment.

Political reporting in newspapers is just part of the problem. Television news reporting often makes the situation even worse, even in the most sophisticated of venues. Consider, for example, a March 28 report on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, in which the correspondent Jeffrey Brown characterized evolution’s new opponents as follows: “Intelligent design’s proponents carefully distinguish themselves from creation scientists. They use only the language of science, and avoid speaking of God as the ultimate designer.” Brown appears oblivious to the scientific-sounding arguments employed by earlier creationists. Moreover, references to God and religion aren’t particularly difficult to find among ID defenders, if you know where to look. The pro-ID Discovery Institute’s strategic Wedge Document, exposed on the Internet years ago and well known to those who follow the evolution issue, baldly stated the hope that intelligent design would “reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and . . . replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.”

In a kind of test run for the Dover trial, the national media decamped to Kansas in May to cover public hearings over the science curriculum staged by anti-evolutionists on the state school board (hearings that mainstream scientists themselves had boycotted). The event triggered repeated analogies to the Scopes trial (even though there was no actual trial), colorful storytelling themes that described the “battle” between the underdog of intelligent design and establishment science, and televised reporting and commentary that humored the carefully crafted framing devices and arguments of anti-evolutionists.

Even the best TV news reporters may be hard-pressed to cover evolution thoroughly and accurately on a medium that relies so heavily upon images, sound bites, drama, and conflict to keep audiences locked in. These are serious obstacles to conveying scientific complexity. And with its heavy emphasis on talk and debate, cable news is even worse. The adversarial format of most cable news talk shows inherently favors ID’s attacks on evolution by making false journalistic “balance” nearly inescapable.

None of which is to say there aren’t some journalists today who are doing a great job with their evolution coverage, and who can provide a helpful model. Cornelia Dean, a science writer at The New York Times, presents a leading example of how not only to report on but also how to contextualize the intelligent-design strategy. Consider a June 21 article in which, after featuring the arguments of an ID proponent who called for teaching about the alleged “controversy” over evolution in public schools, Dean wrote: “In theory, this position — ‘teach the controversy’ — is one any scientist should support. But mainstream scientists say alternatives to evolution have repeatedly failed the tests of science, and the criticisms have been answered again and again. For scientists, there is no controversy.”

Besides citing the overwhelming scientific consensus in support of evolution, journalists can also contextualize the claims of ID proponents by applying clear legal precedents. Instead of ritually likening the contemporary intelligent-design debate to the historic Scopes “monkey trial” of 1925, journalists should ask the same questions about ID that more recent court decisions (especially the McLean v. Arkansas case) have leveled at previous challenges to evolution: First, is ID religiously motivated and does it feature religious content? In other words, would it violate the separation of church and state if covered in a public school setting? Second, does ID meet the criteria of a scientific theory, and is there strong peer-reviewed evidence in support of it? In short, to better cover evolution, journalists don’t merely have to think more like scientists (or science writers). As the evolution issue inevitably shifts into a legal context, they must think more like skeptical jurists.

And as evolution becomes politicized in state after state through trials and school board maneuverings, it rises to prominence on the opinion pages as well as in news stories. Here, competing arguments about evolution and intelligent design tend to be paired against one another in letters to the editor and sometimes in rival guest op-eds, providing a challenge to editors who want to give voice to alternative ideas yet provide an accurate sense of the state of scientific consensus. The mission of the opinion pages and a faithfulness to scientific accuracy can easily come into conflict.

In fact, these forums are quite easily hijacked by activists. Actors on both sides of the evolution debate, but especially pro-ID strategists, often recruit citizens to write letters and op-eds that emphasize the strategists’ talking points and arguments. “You get an awful lot of canned comment on the creation side, which you just can’t use,” observes William Parkinson, editorial page editor of The York Dispatch, one of the two papers closely covering the Dover evolution controversy. Yet despite his awareness of this problem, Parkinson’s paper did recently print at least one form letter modeled on a prepared text put out by the American Family Association of Pennsylvania, a Christian conservative group. Precrafted talking points included the following: “This is a science vs. science debate, not a science vs. religion debate — it is scientists looking at the same data and reaching different conclusions.” The York Dispatch’s rival paper, the York Daily Record, printed two letters clearly based on the same talking points.

In our study of media coverage of recent evolution controversies, we homed in on local opinion pages, both because they represent a venue where it’s easy to keep score of how the issue is being defined and because we suspected they would reflect a public that is largely misinformed about the scientific basis for the theory of evolution yet itching to fight about it. That’s especially so since many opinion-page editors see their role not as gatekeepers of scientific content, but rather as enablers of debate within pluralistic communities — even over matters of science that are usually adjudicated in peer-reviewed journals. Both editorial-page editors of the York papers, for example, emphasized that they try to run every letter they receive that’s “fit to print” (essentially meaning that it isn’t too lengthy or outright false or libelous).

We wanted to measure the whole of opinion writing in these two papers. So for the period of January 2004 through May 2005, we recorded each letter, op-ed, opinion column, and in-house editorial that appeared (using Lexis-Nexis and Factiva databases). We scored the author’s position both on the teaching of intelligent design or creationism in public schools and on the question of whether scientific evidence supports anti-evolutionist viewpoints. While this remains a somewhat subjective process, strict scoring rules were followed that would allow a different set of raters to arrive at roughly similar conclusions.

Rather stunningly, we found that the heated political debate in Dover, Pennsylvania, produced a massive response: 168 letters, op-eds, columns, and editorials appearing in the York Daily Record alone over the seventeen-month period analyzed (plus ninety-eight in The York Dispatch). A slight plurality of opinion articles at the Dispatch (40.9 percent) and the Daily Record (45.3 percent) implicitly or explicitly favored teaching ID and/or “creation science” in some form in public schools, while 39.8 percent and 36.3 percent of opinion articles at those two papers favored teaching only evolution. On the question of scientific evidence, more than a third of opinion articles at the two papers contended or suggested that ID and/or “creation science” had scientific support.

In short, an entirely lopsided debate within the scientific community was transformed into an evenly divided one in the popular arena, as local editorial-page editors printed every letter they received that they deemed “fit.” At the York Dispatch this populism was partly counterbalanced by an editorial voice that took a firm stand in favor of teaching evolution and termed intelligent design the “same old creationist wine in new bottles.” The York Daily Record, however, was considerably more sheepish in its editorial stance. The paper generally sought to minimize controversy and seemed more willing to criticize Dover school board members who resigned over the decision to introduce intelligent design into the curriculum (asking why they didn’t stay and fight) than to rebuke those board members who were responsible for attacking evolution in the first place. When the Dover school board instituted its ID policy in October 2004, the first York Daily Record editorial to respond to the development fretted about an “unnecessary and divisive distraction for a district that has other, more pressing educational issues to deal with” but didn’t strongly denounce what had happened. “I think we’ve been highly critical of the personal behavior of some of the board members, but we’ve tried to be, you know, fair on the issue itself of whether ID should be taught in science class,” says the editorial-page editor, Scott Fisher, who adds that the editorial board is “slightly divided” on the issue.

Interestingly, however, not all local opinion pages fit the mold of the York papers. Given the turmoil in Cobb County, Georgia, over the introduction of anti-evolutionist textbook disclaimers, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution also covered the debate heavily on its opinion pages. But the paper took a very firm stand on the issue, with the editorial-page editor, Cynthia Tucker, declaring in one pro-evolution column that “our science infrastructure is under attack from religious extremists.” Tucker, along with the deputy editorial-page editor, Jay Bookman, also warned repeatedly of the severe negative economic consequences and national ridicule that anti-evolutionism might bring on the community. Meanwhile, a majority of printed letters, op-eds, and editorials in the Journal-Constitution (54.2 percent) favored teaching only evolution and argued that ID and/or creationism lacked scientific support (53.5 percent). This may suggest a community with different views than those in Dover, Pennsylvania, or it may suggest a stronger editorial role. (Tucker and Bookman did not respond to queries about whether they print letters according to the proportion of opinion that they receive or use other criteria.) Yet despite the strong stance of the Journal-Constitution editorial staff, the editors also actively worked to include at least some balance in perspectives, inviting guest op-eds that countered the strongly pro-evolution editorial position of the paper. Roughly 30 percent of the letters and op-eds to the paper featured pro-ID and/or creationist views.

At the other local paper we looked at, The Topeka Capital-Journal, the issue has not received nearly as thorough an airing, though the proportion of pro-evolution to pro-ID arguments was roughly similar to those in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Interestingly, the Topeka paper appears to have been somewhat reluctant to go beyond publishing letters on the topic, featuring only two guest op-eds (both in support of evolution) and no in-house editorials or columns. Silence is no way for an editorial page to respond to an evolution controversy in its backyard.

At two elite national papers, The New York Times and The Washington Post, the opinion pages sided heavily with evolution. But even there a false sense of scientific controversy was arguably abetted when The New York Times allowed Michael Behe, the prominent ID proponent, to write a full-length op-ed explaining why his is a “scientific” critique of evolution. And when USA Today took a strong stand for evolution on its editorial page on August 8 (‘INTELLIGENT DESIGN’ SMACKS OF CREATIONISM BY ANOTHER NAME), the paper, using its point-counterpoint editorial format, ran an anti-evolution piece with it (EVOLUTION LACKS FOSSIL LINK), written by a state senator from Utah, D. Chris Buttars. It was filled with stark misinformation, such as the following sentence: “There is zero scientific fossil evidence that demonstrates organic evolutionary linkage between primates and man.”

More recently, the Times delivered another coup for anti-evolutionists by printing a July 7 op-ed by the Roman Catholic Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, making the case for the “overwhelming evidence for design in biology.” Schonborn is a religious authority, not a scientific one, and while his opinion may have been newsworthy because it suggested a shifting of position on evolution within the Catholic Church, the “evidence” to which he referred is not recognized by mainstream evolutionary science. In fact, the Times science writer Cornelia Dean implied as much when, in covering the publication of Schonborn’s article as a piece of news, she wrote in her seventh paragraph that “Darwinian evolution is the foundation of modern biology. While researchers may debate details of how the mechanism of evolution plays out, there is no credible scientific challenge to the underlying theory.”

In early August, on the heels of Cardinal Schonborn’s newsmaking op-ed, Americans received another confusing signal about the scientific merits of intelligent design, this time from President Bush. During a roundtable discussion with reporters from five Texas newspapers, Bush said of the teaching of ID, “I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought . . . . You’re asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas and the answer is yes.” That day an AP article on the president’s remarks reported his statements without context — no response from a scientist, no mention of the scientific basis for evolution. The Houston Chronicle, one of the five Texas papers at the roundtable, reflected on Bush’s statement uncritically in its story, noting only that intelligent design and creationism “are at odds with a Darwinian evolution theory, which holds that humans evolved over time from other species.” The Chronicle also quoted a board member of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, observing that Bush was playing to his conservative Christian base. In their reporting, the political correspondents Elisabeth Bumiller at The New York Times and Peter Baker and Peter Slevin at The Washington Post did at least contextualize Bush’s remarks with responses from pro-evolution advocacy groups, but they also referred to ID as a “theory,” lending an implicit sense of scientific legitimacy to a religiously motivated political movement.

At the end of August, the Times weighed in with a three-part series on the evolution “controversy,” drawing from its deep well of expertise. On Sunday, August 21, reporter Jodi Wilgoren provided background on the history, funding, and tactics of the Discovery Institute. On Monday, science writer Kenneth Chang tackled the science, giving considerable space to an explanation of evolutionary theory. Cornelia Dean broke new ground on Tuesday with a piece about how scientists, including devout Christian scientists, view religion.

The series was nuanced and comprehensive, and will likely boost even higher the profile of evolution in the news. Still, the unintended consequence may be that increased media attention only helps proponents present intelligent design as a contest between scientific theories rather than what it actually is — a sophisticated religious challenge to an overwhelming scientific consensus. As the Discovery Institute’s vice president, Jay Richards, put it on Larry King Live the day of the final Times story: “We think teachers should be free to talk about intelligent design, and frankly, I don't think that it can be suppressed. It’s now very much a public discussion, evidenced by the fact that you're talking about it on your show tonight.”

Without a doubt, then, political reporting, television news, and opinion pages are all generally fanning the flames of a “controversy” over evolution. Not surprisingly, in light of this coverage, we simultaneously find that the public is deeply confused about evolution.

In a November 2004 Gallup poll, respondents were asked: “Just your opinion, do you think that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution is: a scientific theory that has been well supported by evidence, or just one of many theories and one that has not been well-supported by evidence, or don’t you know enough to say?” Only 35 percent of Americans answered a scientific theory supported by evidence, whereas another 35 percent indicated that evolution was just one among many theories, and 29 percent answered that they didn’t know. Meanwhile a national survey this spring (conducted by Matthew Nisbet, one of the authors of this article, in collaboration with the Survey Research Institute at Cornell University), found similar public confusion about the scientific basis for intelligent design. A bare majority of adult Americans (56.3 percent) agreed that evolution is supported by an overwhelming body of scientific evidence; a sizeable proportion (44.2 percent) thought precisely the same thing of intelligent design.

At the very least, the flaws in the journalistic presentation of evolution by political reporters, TV news, and op-ed pages aren’t clarifying the issues. Perhaps journalists should consider that unlike other social controversies — over abortion or gay marriage, for instance — the evolution debate is not solely a matter of subjective morality or political opinion. Rather, a definitive standard has been set by the scientific community on the science of evolution, and can easily be used to evaluate competing claims. Scientific societies, including the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, have taken strong stances affirming that evolution is the bedrock of modern biology. In such a situation, journalistic coverage that helps fan the flames of a nonexistent scientific controversy (and misrepresents what’s actually known) simply isn’t appropriate.

So what is a good editor to do about the very real collision between a scientific consensus and a pseudo-scientific movement that opposes the basis of that consensus? At the very least, newspaper editors should think twice about assigning reporters who are fresh to the evolution issue and allowing them to default to the typical strategy frame, carefully balancing “both sides” of the issue in order to file a story on time and get around sorting through the legitimacy of the competing claims. As journalism programs across the country systematically review their curriculums and training methods, the evolution “controversy” provides strong evidence in support of the contention that specialization in journalism education can benefit not only public understanding, but also the integrity of the media. For example, at Ohio State, beyond basic skill training in reporting and editing, students focusing on public-affairs journalism are required to take an introductory course in scientific reasoning. Students can then specialize further by taking advanced courses covering the relationships between science, the media, and society. They are also encouraged to minor in a science-related field.

With training in covering science-related policy disputes on issues ranging from intelligent design to stem-cell research to climate change, journalists are better equipped to make solid independent judgments about credibility, and then pass these interpretations on to readers. The intelligent-design debate is one among a growing number of controversies in which technical complexity, with disputes over “facts,” data, and expertise, has altered the political battleground. The traditional generalist correspondent will be hard-pressed to cover these topics in any other format than the strategy frame, balancing arguments while narrowly focusing on the implications for who’s ahead and who’s behind in the contest to decide policy. If news editors fail to recognize the growing demand for journalists with specialized expertise and backgrounds who can get beyond this form of writing, the news media risk losing their ability to serve as important watchdogs over society’s institutions.

When it comes to opinion pages, meanwhile, there’s certainly more room for dissent because of the nature of the forum — but that doesn’t mean editorial-page editors can’t act as responsible gatekeepers. Unlike the timidity of the York Daily Record and The Topeka Capital-Journal, The York Dispatch and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution serve as examples of how papers can inform their readers about authoritative scientific opinion without stifling the voices of anti-evolutionists.

One thing, above all, is clear: a full-fledged national debate has been reawakened over an issue that once seemed settled. This new fight may not simmer down again until the U.S. Supreme Court is forced (for the third time) to weigh in. In these circumstances, the media have a profound responsibility — to the public, and to knowledge itself.