Ben Stein, Walt Ruloff, and Mark Mathis have been rattily scurrying about the country, doing press conferences and radio interviews in an attempt to boost attendance at their upcoming schlockfest, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. Their schtick is to claim that academia prohibits free speech, and doesn’t allow people to pursue the truth and ask questions.
There’s a problem, though. In order to have a media interview, they have to let media representatives into the room. They try to deal with this problem by making them sign a non-disclosure agreement (wait…they’re holding a press conference, but they don’t want the press to write it up afterwards?) I’m glad to see, though, that some journalists are still willing to report on the sleazy behavior of the Expelled crew.
Freedom of expression is unseemly at an Expelled press conference. There was no give-and-take, no open marketplace of ideas, in fact, scarcely any questions at all. Ruloff and Stein batted one softball after another out of the park from those posed by Paul Lauer, a representative of the film’s public relations firm. Questions from non-employees had to be submitted by email. Lauer (or somebody at his firm) screened them.
I’m not sure whether Thomas Aquinas handled media inquiries this way. I’ll have my people get back to your people on that.
The questions that made it through the screening were from: Listen Up TV, a Christian program; the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention; Focus on the Family; and the Colorado Catholic Herald. Four outside questions in 50 minutes of press conference, only two of which can be described as “press.”
I’ve participated in a lot of press conferences in my thirty years as a journalist. I once bumped into President Gerald Ford on the front lawn of the White House. I had a question for him, which he politely answered. I went to a press conference by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who took all of our questions and hung around afterward to talk with me. I’ve had press conference questions answered by physicists Hans Behe and Edward Teller, “father of the hydrogen bomb”; by Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson; by John Wayne; by U.S, Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney; by U.S. Sens. Alan Simpson, Craig Thomas, John Kerry, Malcolm Wallop and Gary Hart, and by lots and lots of other public figures whose time I’ve wasted. Some of my questions were argumentative, but all were thoroughly – if sometimes equally argumentatively — answered.
Until I got to Ben Stein. Though calling for the rough-and-tumble of openness and debate, Stein didn’t have time for questions.
In my earlier review, I dealt with Expelled as a failed and dull attack on evolution. But this “press conference” convinced me that not only is Expelled and the intellectual movement behind it hypocritical in its supposed defense of “freedom of expression,” it’s an attack on the entire superstructure of science and technology that has created the modern world. Expelled is anti-rational.
I have a suggestion for the Expelled PR team. Stop inviting legitimate journalists altogether — they’re going to see right through your pretenses. Just invite the liars for Jesus of creationist apologetics: they don’t have any objections to dishonesty and ignorance, and will write much more sympathetic reviews.