Almost 17 years ago, a paleoanthropologist was walking in the desert outside the town of Aramis, Ethiopia, and caught a glint of something among the pebbles and sand. That glinting object turned out to be the root of a fossilized molar, polished by the elements. Further digging turned up yet more bones -- a jaw, hands, a pelvis, feet, and a skull. The bones were hominin, like those of "Lucy," the world-famous Australopithecus afarensis skeleton discovered in Ethiopia in the 1970s. But these bones were about a million years older than Lucy's, extremely brittle, and in poor condition. A team of scientists and researchers spent nearly two decades using advanced technology to restructure the fossil fragments of this chimpanzee-sized creature called Ardipithecus ramidus, or "Ardi" for short.
That's the story told by the latest issue of Science (registration required), which devotes a huge chunk of the magazine to the long-awaited unveiling of Ardi, a primitive hominin female that spent part of her day climbing trees like a chimpanzee, and the other part walking upright like a human (or something close to it). She was able to perform this trick thanks to her feet, which had the stiffness required for bipedal motion, but also an opposable big toe used to grasp branches; and her pelvis, the upper parts of which are suitable for upright motion, but the lower parts of which are more ape-like. Researchers suspect that Ardi is an ancestor of Lucy -- who spent the entire day going about on two legs -- but have not yet confirmed that suspicion. Ardi's importance as a key to understanding human evolution, however, cannot be denied. As Science put it, Ardi is one of those discoveries that "reveals a whole chapter of our prehistory all at once."
Aside from the natural significance of Ardi's grand debut, it's fortuitous that she was unveiled just one month before the 150th anniversary of the first publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species. It's fortuitous because the copious documentation of the years-long scientific investigation into Ardi's bones stands in stark contrast to the cheap theatrics being employed by conservative activists looking to use the anniversary of Darwin's seminal work to reignite the "debate" over evolution.
Take, for instance, Ray Comfort, the New Zealand-born minister with no scientific training and a firm belief that bananas prove the existence of God. Comfort has decided to exploit both the public-domain status of On the Origin of Species and the gullibility of his fellow man by republishing his own edition of Darwin's tract that includes a 50-page introduction that connects Darwin to Hitler, exposes the "hoaxes" of evolution, and makes the case for "intelligent design." Next month, he and Kirk Cameron (the eldest son from the 1980s sitcom Growing Pains) are going to try and distribute 50,000 free copies of this Frankenstein edition of On the Origin of Species at 50 college campuses across America.
Comfort's cause has been heartily embraced by WorldNetDaily's Joe Farah, who also published Comfort's newest book, and whose disbelief in evolution is matched only by his disbelief in President Obama's citizenship. For a taste of Farah's scientific acumen, consider this passage from his column on Friday hyping Comfort's Darwin stunt: "Today, it is virtually impossible to escape being indoctrinated with evolutionary theory. I don't mean that evolution is taught as a theory. Just the opposite. It is taught as scientific doctrine, despite the fact that it is non-observable, non-testable and, frankly, nonsensical." Farah here is making an error common among evolution deniers -- that the word "theory" means conjecture and should be set apart from "scientific doctrine." When used in the scientific sense, "theory" means something that has been observed, tested, and affirmed, such as gravitational theory, cell theory, and, yes, evolutionary theory.
And that is why Ardi is so important -- she is another key piece of evidence upholding evolutionary theory, one of the many "transitional fossils" that Farah and his ilk insist don't exist. As Dr. C. Owen Lovejoy and his colleagues explained (registration required):
The pelvis, femur, and preserved thoracic elements of Ar. ramidus establish that adaptations to upright walking in these regions were well established by 4.4 Ma, despite retention of a capacity for substantial arboreal locomotion. Ar. ramidus thus now provides evidence on the long-sought locomotor transition from arboreal life to habitual terrestrial bipedality.
Translation: Ardi's bones show us how hominins went from swinging on tree branches to walking on two legs along the ground.
What will likely happen is that Comfort and Cameron will get a little bit of media buzz for their stunt, and the annoying hand-wringing and equivocating over the "two sides" of the evolution "debate" will begin anew. But the key thing to remember is that a few brittle bones pulled from the Ethiopian desert make a far more compelling case than 50 pages of Creationist drivel soldered to the front of one of humanity's greatest scientific achievements.
For the second straight week, New York Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt devotes a column to claims that the paper's supposedly-inadequate responsiveness to right-wing yelling about ACORN proves that the paper demonstrates liberal bias. This time, Hoyt's hook is reader response to his previous column.
This latest column does show some improvement: This time, Hoyt went to the trouble of acknowledging that not everybody thinks the Times is biased in favor of liberals. That's quite an improvement. Still, glaring flaws remain, most notably that Clark Hoyt has yet again managed to get through an entire column about whether the Times demonstrates liberal bias without using the words "Iraq" or "Gore" or "Whitewater."
That's a bit like writing a column about whether the Atlantic Ocean is a desert without ever mentioning all the water.
The New Republic's Michelle Cottle examines "the never-ending lunacy of Betsy McCaughey," including a lengthy examination of the largely-forgotten hilarity and insanity that marked McCaughey's time as Lieutenant Governor of New York.
Cottle's article seems to be part of TNR's continuing efforts to make up for inflicting McCaughey's lies on the rest of us in the first place. Just this morning, for example, Politico's Michael Calderone quotes TNR editor Franklin Foer saying of the magazine's publication of McCaughey's falsehood-riddled attack on the Clinton health care bill "an original sin that I hope we can expunge."
Cottle pulls few punches in her profile of McCaughey, beginning with a description of Brookings Institution scholar Henry Aaron's opening statement during a recent debate with McCaughey, which Aaron used to make clear his opponent's dishonesty:
So it is that Aaron finds himself standing in the Crystal Ballroom of the Doubletree Hotel in Arlington, Virginia, running through PowerPoint slides that detail--quote by excruciating quote--McCaughey's reputation as among the most irresponsible, dishonest, and destructive players on the public stage. He starts with Politifact.com's categorization of her commentary as "Pants on Fire," followed by New York Times articles debunking her assertions, followed by complaints from economist Gail Wilensky (adviser to John McCain's presidential campaign and head of Medicare financing under the first President Bush) that "these charges of death panels, euthanasia and withholding care from the disabled give rational, knowledgeable, thoughtful conservatives a bad name." Next comes a denunciation of McCaughey's "fraudulent scare tactics" by John Paris, professor of bioethics at Boston College; AARP executive vice president John Rother's protest that her statements are "rife with gross--even cruel--distortions"; a scolding editorial by The Washington Post about McCaughey's characterization of White House health policy adviser Ezekiel "Zeke" Emanuel as "Dr. Death"; and, to wrap it all up, Stuart Butler, vice president of domestic policy at the conservative Heritage Foundation, expressing dismay that the "personal attacks on good people like Zeke are outrageous. There are real policy issues that should be debated vigorously, but slandering a good person's name is beyond the pale." At one point, the debate moderator felt moved to reach over and give McCaughey's hand a comforting pat.
Cottle concludes that McCaughey's refusal to acknowledge her own dishonesty is what makes her infuriating:
Since her earliest days in the spotlight, McCaughey has presented herself as a just-the-facts-please, above-the-fray political outsider. In reality, she has proved devastatingly adept at manipulating charts and stats to suit her ideological (and personal) ambitions. It is this proud piety concerning her own straight-shooting integrity combined with her willingness to peddle outrageous fictions--and her complete inability to recognize, much less be shamed by, this behavior--that makes McCaughey so infuriating.
I don't think that is actually what makes McCaughey infuriating. There are plenty of liars in the world who nobody gets worked up about -- because their lies don't drive major media coverage about an important issue. That's what's infuriating about Betsy McCaughey: major news organizations give her a platform. They run her op-eds, they host her on television, they quote her, they allow her falsehoods to shape the public debate about health care. They do this despite knowing that she's a liar.
That's what's infuriating: that someone whose defining quality for the past 15 years has been her dishonesty about health care reform should be granted a role shaping the debate over health care reform by major media outlets. And, unfortunately, Cottle doesn't address that issue at all. How did TNR come to publish McCaughey in the first place? Don't they employ fact-checkers? Shouldn't they? How do her false claims continue to make it into print? Why do television news shows book her? What does it say about the news media that they grant McCaughey a platform? That's the important part. If McCaughey was just another crackpot spouting off lies and conspiracy theories while nursing a cup of coffee at the local diner, nobody would care.
But she isn't. And as Calderone notes, TNR owner Martin Peretz still stands by her:
"I do not think Betsy is an intellectual fraud. Not at all," Peretz wrote in an email.
"I have not read the Cottle piece and I do look forward to doing that," he continued. "But the issue that McCaughey went after was one of the most intricate and economically challenging ones that America has faced, as we can see from the present debate."
Also, Peretz wrote, "their [the Clinton administration's] worst tactical error was to do up what was I think [was] an eleven-page memo 'rebutting' the New Republic article, a sign of its importance and weight."
The owner of a magazine that published a deeply dishonest attack on the Clinton health care reform efforts thinks it's appropriate for him to lecture the Clinton administration on why they were unsuccessful in combatting the lies he published?
That's the story here. Not Betsy McCaughey's shamelessness -- the irresponsibility of the news organizations that promote her, and the arrogance of someone who lectures others for failing to properly clean up his own mess.
From the Fox Nation, accessed on October 5:
Appearing on NBC's Meet the Press yesterday, Times columnist David Brooks made an excellent point when discussing the right-wing "loons" on the AM dial. They "couldn't control Republican voters in South Carolina" last year during the GOP primary, said Brooks.
The columnist's larger point was that Limbaugh and company don't steer the Republican Party; they don't steer "real Americans." Yet the Times itself has been pushing the opposite storyline for quite some time. Last summer, the Times celebrated Limbaugh with a Sunday magazine cover story, which heralded him as the leader of the GOP.
As Media Matters noted at the time:
The Times' ego-stroking premise that Limbaugh pulls the strings within the GOP remains laughable. It was just a few months ago that Limbaugh put his reputation on the line when he announced Sen. John McCain was not a true Republican (neither was Mike Huckabee) and that conservatives should vote for Mitt Romney to be the party's presidential nominee.
So what did millions of Republican voters nationwide do in response to Limbaugh's clarion call? They completely ignored him and voted for the guy Limbaugh said was a bum.
On the eve of last year's GOP Super Tuesday, the Limbaugh talk radio crowd went all in against McCain and Huckabee, who then then proceeded to run the table. Mitt Romney, talk radio's favorite son, made an early primary exit.
Brooks is correct that Limbaugh has a long track record of impotence in terms of moving voters and votes. Maybe Brooks' colleagues at the Times will take note.
It's a pattern we've seen before and will likely see again. Often during the Clinton presidency, stories embarrasing to the administration - many of them with no basis in reality - were written about in the British press with little to no actual sourcing then highlighted by domestic conservative outlets as if there was some validity to them. This would then infect domestic discourse and prompt reporting from U.S. news outlets about the invented stories. To call this sort of behavior shoddy journalism is almost generous.
Today's example is this story from the London Telegraph, headlined "Barack Obama furious at General Stanley McChrystal speech on Afghanistan". Who does the story cite for its evidence of President Obama's allegedly "furious" state? "[S]ources close to the administration", an "adviser to the administration", "[s]ome commentators" and "critics". Even those anonymous sources discuss differing views on policy, not the supposed events the article's hook relays. No named sources, or even administration sources, support the headline's contention about the President's supposed emotional state.
Predictably conservative bloggers are taking the ball and running down the field.
More than 60 advertisers have reportedly dropped their ads from Glenn Beck's Fox News program since he called President Obama a "racist" who has a "deep-seated hatred of white people." Here are his October 2 sponsors, in the order they appeared:
The former student at the center of the Fox News fueled Jennings controversy has provided Media Matters for America with the following statement:
Since I was of legal consent at the time, the fifteen-minute conversation I had with Mr. Jennings twenty-one years ago is of nobody's concern but his and mine. However, since the Republican noise machine is so concerned about my "well-being" and that of America's students, they'll be relieved to know that I was not "inducted" into homosexuality, assaulted, raped, or sold into sexual slavery.
In 1988, I had taken a bus home for the weekend, and on the return trip met someone who was also gay. The next day, I had a conversation with Mr. Jennings about it. I had no sexual contact with anybody at the time, though I was entirely legally free to do so. I was a sixteen year-old going through something most of us have experienced: adolescence. I find it regrettable that the people who have the compassion and integrity to protect our nation's students are themselves in need of protection from homophobic smear attacks. Were it not for Mr. Jennings' courage and concern for my well-being at that time in my life, I doubt I'd be the proud gay man that I am today.
EXCLUSIVE: Media Matters confirms student at center of Fox fueled Jennings controversy was of legal age
Right-wing caricatures of Jennings undercut by broad support he has received
Conservative media unleash anti-gay rhetoric in attacks on Jennings
Hannity and Fox News defended Hastert during Foley scandal
Despite evidence to contrary, Fox News machine claims Jennings "cover[ed] up statutory rape"
More witch-hunting: Fox News targets "safe schools czar" Kevin Jennings
For the past few weeks, the Fox News smear machine has turned its attention to attacking Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools director Kevin Jennings, with the network's fact-free screeds reaching a fever pitch over the past few days. But one voice has been strangely absent from Fox's choir: Glenn Beck.
Beck, of course, has led the charge in Fox's previous assaults on Obama administration personnel. He has been widely credited with the resignations of White House green jobs adviser Van Jones and National Endowment of the Arts communications director Yosi Sergant, and has led a smear campaign against administration appointees whom Beck has lumped into the category of "czar," even writing to followers of his Twitter page "Find everything you can on Cass Sunstein, Mark Lloyd and Carol Browner." And yet, as his colleagues at Fox have lined up to smear Jennings, Beck has been nowhere to be found – in fact, a Nexis search indicates that Beck has NEVER mentioned Jennings on his Fox News program.
Instead, it is Sean Hannity who has stepped up to lead Fox's attacks on Jennings. On September 30, Hannity claimed (citing a Washington Times report) that Jennings covered up a "statutory rape" -- in spite of the evidence the individual involved was at the legal age of consent. Based on this faulty premise, Hannity said he wanted Jennings "fired." This led Greg Sargent and my colleague Jamison Foser to ask whether Hannity was jealous of all the attention Beck has been getting and was viciously smearing Jennings to get the spotlight.
Last night, Hannity devoted much of his program to attacking Jennings, and, in the ultimate "Look at me, look at me" moment, Hannity announced the following "late breaking development":
HANNITY: And there is another late-breaking development tonight. In 1999 Jennings wrote the foreword to a book called "Queering Elementary Education." And I promise you, America, I'm not making this up. Guess who wrote a blurb for the back of the book praising it as, quote, "An important contribution to nourishing the ethical heart of teaching."
You guessed it, our old friend, Bill Ayers.
So with all these new details about Jennings, will he be the next official from team Obama to now have to call it quits?
Education expert Kevin Jennings wrote the forward to a book about education, and education expert William Ayers wrote a blurb for the back. To Hannity, that's a huge story. To everyone else – especially those that read the book's forward, in which Jennings controversially called for valuing "every human being as a precious gift" and looked forward to the day when students could "walk down our streets without fear" -- it's a sad commentary on Hannity's obsession with Ayers and his need for attention.
But while Hannity is having an on-air mid-life crisis over Jennings, Beck has yet to mention the man's name. The carnival music is playing, but the self-described "rodeo clown" isn't responding to his cue. Is it possible that Beck has decided that this smear is so sleazy even he won't touch it? And if so, what could that possibly say about Hannity's own standards?