Jim Lippard has made me aware that CMI and Fathom Media have released a statement defending their actions. Nothing in the statement has made me change my opinion. While Fathom Media may have attempted to portray themselves as disinterested individuals attempting to “dig a bit deeper into the life and science of Charles Darwin and the development of his ideas,” the very nature of the study guide they produced belie that goal containing, as it does, merely links to YEC talking-points provided on the CMI website.
The posted statement is strangely ineffective. Note that there are claims that “[u]nder atheism there is no compunction to be truthful at all” and equations of mainstream academia with oppressive regimes:
If our critics were consistent, they would be raging at the BBC and other investigative documentary producers, since this is their accepted practice. For example, reporters didn’t reveal everything to Communist officials when making an undercover documentary of repression behind the Iron Curtain.
Really? Is that the best argument to make if you want to convince skeptical historians that you have done a good job in your documentary? That historians being interviewed are equivalent to members of the Communist party and needed to be deceived?
And a close reading of the following reveals a minimal defense at best:
Further, and perhaps most importantly, we were determined to deal fairly with the material that the interviewees provided. There was not to be the sort of sneaky editorial cut-and-paste that ends up with someone being seen to say “black” when they actually said “white”. Indeed, in an email response to a query, one interviewee said, “They didn’t actually distort what we said, but did cherry-pick the comments.” (emphasis added by CMI)
The implication from CMI is that it is ok to “cherry-pick” evidence as long as you don’t distort what is said. But as historians we cannot cherry-pick quotes, we can’t avoid statements that might provide a more nuanced interpretation of an earlier statement. We can’t – in short – do exactly what CMI are accused of.
Does the film have a viewpoint? Of course. So does every documentary. Does that influence which cherry gets picked? Of course. What counts is whether that has been fairly done in terms of the way that “cherry” is used and presented, not whether it suits the ideology of any particular interviewee.
As long as the “cherry” being picked suits the ideology of the production company, then all is fair when it comes to “cherry-picking.” This isn’t an attempt at good historical inquiry and is even more disgusting given the use of noted historians to provide the “cherries” thus adding a veneer of respectability to the production.
As Jim notes, the proof will be in the pudding. If CMI feel inclined to send me a copy of the documentary, I’d be happy to watch it as an historian and fairly evaluate the claims being made in the same way as I evaluate those of any historical work I have professionally reviewed. Until then, I remain unconvinced.
Update (6/29): Further thoughts here.