Media Bias Trickle Down at the <i>Seattle Times</i> - Evolution News & Views

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Media Bias Trickle Down at the Seattle Times

In the New York Times, Mark Oppenheimer reports on the case of astronomer Martin Gaskell, who is suing the University of Kentucky for (alleged) religious discrimination. The article is fair, objective, and descriptively accurate.

Perhaps the most interesting detail Oppenheimer reports concerns the "smoking gun" in Gaskell's case: the text of a 2007 email from UK staffer Sally Shafer to two colleagues:

"Clearly this man is complex and likely fascinating to talk with," Ms. Shafer wrote, "but potentially evangelical. If we hire him, we should expect similar content to be posted on or directly linked from the department Web site."

To this gem, Gaskell's attorney, Francis J. Manion, said: "I couldn't have made up a better quote. 'We like this guy, but he is potentially Jewish'? 'Potentially Muslim'?"

Bingo. Apparently committing evangelical Christianity disqualifies a scientist from employment at the University of Kentucky.

The closing paragraphs of the story draw the connection between Gaskell's case and those of two other scientists:

Daniel Mach, who works on religious freedom issues for the American Civil Liberties Union, said he knew of no cases similar to the one filed by Mr. Gaskell.

At least two scientists have made accusations of similar discrimination, but neither sued. Richard Sternberg, a biologist, said he was harassed after a journal he edited published a paper, in 2004, supporting the "intelligent design" theory of the universe, which scientists generally say owes more to religion than to science. And an astrophysicist, Guillermo Gonzalez, said he was denied tenure by Iowa State University in 2007 because of his advocacy of intelligent design.

But if you happened to read Oppenheimer's story on the cover of the Seattle Times, you didn't see that final paragraph. Instead, the story ends with this:

Daniel Mach, who works on religious freedom issues for the American Civil Liberties Union, said he knew of no cases similar to the one filed by Mr. Gaskell.

This is a perfect example of what we might call "media bias" trickle down, in which local news becomes more biased than national news. In the case of Oppenheimer's story, we actually start with a carefully researched and objective piece in the New York Times, but the Seattle Times can't resist inserting bias by omission. You might think that the reference to Sternberg and Gonzalez would have local interest. But apparently the Seattle Times didn't think so.

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