Accuracy in Media

It?s clear that journalistic ethics have declined, even in news organizations that claim to have the highest possible standards. First, the science journal called Nature published an article just before the election under what the editors now acknowledge was a misleading headline: “Jefferson Fathered Slave?s Last Child.” The clear impression was that President Thomas Jefferson had had illicit sexual relations with one of his own black slaves, fathering a child. This had the effect of making Jefferson look bad but possibly undermining the criticism of President Clinton?s adulterous relationship. But the headline was false. As Nature later acknowledged, there is no firm evidence establishing that Jefferson was the father.

Then the Journal of the American Medical Association, JAMA, decided to play politics, also on behalf of President Clinton. As Clinton?s impeachment trial over perjury and obstruction of justice was beginning in the Senate, JAMA was set to publish a sex survey showing that most college students didn?t think oral sex was sex. The clear implication was that the president?s lies about his sexual relationship with Monica Lewinwsky were not really lies; they are views held by many young people.

“This is blatantly political,” declared Steve Malloy, publisher of the Junk Science Home Page on the Internet. Bob Knight of the Family Research Council said its publication was reminiscent of the president?s decision to bomb Iraq on the eve of the impeachment debate in the House. In short, the publication of this so-called survey was a political distraction, designed to divert attention from the nature of Clinton?s crimes. In this case, the editor who made the decision to publish this politically-charged survey was quickly dismissed. AMA Executive Vice President Ratcliffe Anderson said the JAMA editor, George Lundberg, was fired for trying to “exact political leverage” for the president in his impeachment trial. Incredibly, Lundberg?s lawyer responded that it was the AMA which had chosen to “jeopordize the editorial integrity and scientific credibility” of the journal.

The facts of the case show how political Lundberg?s decision actually was. It turns out the survey was 8 years old. Despite its being dated, the authors had submitted it to JAMA in late November, and Lundberg put it on an editorial fast track—meaning he wanted to rush it into print. Normally, it takes 6 months to get an article published in JAMA. The whole process smacked of blatant partisan politics. To make matters worse, the survey itself is questionable. It was put together by researchers at the Kinsey Institute of Indiana University, which is notorious for issuing data making it appear that the American people are more liberal in their sex habits than they really are. It is named for Alfred Kinsey, who got some of his sex data from experiments conducted on children.

The sex survey to be published in JAMA was said to be based on questions provided to 600 undergraduate students at an unnamed midwestern state university. Why unnamed? This makes the entire episode even more odious. The survey itself may have been rigged or even made-up. It?s a good thing the AMA has decided to clean up this mess.

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