Nightline is a Disgrace

So I watched Nightline tonight, buoyed by the fact that the clips that appeared on the website earlier today were not too bad from the atheist standpoint (as I described here.) I should have known better. Having just watched the actual show, it is clear that they had no intention of giving any sort of accurate picture of what either side said. Instead, the goal was to play in to the standard script in which the fanatical Christians are presented as lovable, but simplistic, while the atheists are presented as dogmatic and obnoxious.

Almost nothing from the clips I viewed this afternoon were included in the evening’s show. In fact, almost nothing from the debate was included at all. Instead it was mostly voice overs from the moderator, and clips showing the participants arriving at the debate site. There were just a few very short sound bites from the participants.

Thus, there was nothing from Ray Comfort’s lengthy diatribe about the Ten Commandments, or his relentless evangelizing. Instead, there was just a short clip of him blathering about how a painting requires a painter. There was nothing from the part where Comfort and Cameron had no answer to the atheists’ question about who designed the designer, or why, if it was allowed that the designer could be eternal the universe couldn’t be eternal as well. The atheists were described as “mocking the Christian position.” In reality they only mocked Ray Comfort’s insipid arguments.

Here was a typical exchange, as shown on the program. Kirk Cameron holds up a series of cartoons meaning to show the absurdity of evolution. There was a picture of a half frog/half bull (a bullfrog, get it?) and the like. The idea was to illustrate the foolishness of thinking that one kind of animal could turn in to a different kind of animal. That, of course, is one of the dumbest anti-evolution arguments ever devised. But the only response shown from the atheists was of one of them turning to the other and muttering “What a numbnut!” I agree with the sentiment, but it plays terribly on television.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the atheist side made a number of good points during their presentation. So naturally the only one that was given any significant time on screen was the one where they really stepped in it. That was when they were asked whether the accounts of Jesus death, burial and resurrection as given in the Bible count as evidence in favor of Christianity. It’s a softball question. You simply point out that the Gospel accounts were written long after the events they describe and that they comprise the sole evidence for the rather extraordinary claims about the supernatural aspects of Jesus’ life. Thin evidence indeed. Instead the atheists went down the dead end of questioning whether Jesus actually existed. This rightly got a groan from the audience, and a quick response from Comfort.

After the “debate” there is a clip of moderator Martin Bashir lounging comfortably on a sofa, engaging in pleasantries with Comfort and Cameron. Seems they were suprised by the strong atheist sentiment from the audience, but hey, that’s New York for you. Ha ha ha! The segment closed with Bashir gushing about the wonderful thing Nightline had done in bringing together such disparate viewpoints to discuss their differences. Yes, clearly an open exchange of ideas is what interests them.

I often bash the cable news stations for their simplistic reporting and braying pundits. But I have not seen anything on cable to match the worthlessness and vapidity of this segment. A while back, when Ted Koppel was still hosting the show, there was talk that ABC might cancel Nightline and replace it with another standard late night talk show. At the time there was much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth about the decline of television news, and about the difficulty of putting on intelligent programming (which Nightline was thought to be at that time) on network television. Nightline survived, of course. Judging from tonight’s performance, alas, it would have been if it had been cancelled. The average monologue from a late night talk show host is far mor informative and interesting than the dreck they put on tonight.


  1. #1 MartinC
    May 10, 2007

    Its hardly the biggest surprise in the world that it turned out like that considering how atheism is viewed by the US public at large (the ‘customers’ of that TV channel). A lot of atheists were worried that having unprofessional individuals (especially when it comes to subjects like biological evolution) argueing ‘our’ side exposed that viewpoint to selective editing bias – as was the case. Whatever your view of Richard Dawkins it is quite clear that he choses his words very carefully during interviews, in the knowledge that what the reporter actually wants is a soundbite that fits in with the current majority opinion (atheists are irrational extremists, the equivalent of religious fundamentalists). Without that soundbite the reporter is forced to use Dawkins considered answers instead. Until the US reaches a tipping point where atheism can be considered just another metaphysical viewpoint then we can only expect more of this sort of bias.
    In my opinion challenging ‘A’ religion head-on like this in a pro-religion populace is a mistake. There is a false dichotomy presented to the viewers. The reality of their lives is not Religion versus Rationalism, its Baptists versus Catholics versus Methodists versus Mormons versus Scientologists versus Moonies versus Islam versus Judaism versus Hinduism versus New Age Religions versus Flying Spagetti Monsterism. Religions, while sharing the same need for ‘Faith’ (why the hell do we still use that word? – call it what it really is – CREDULITY) are mutually incompatible.
    The Mormons are going to Baptist Hell, the Catholics are off to Islamic hell, the Jehova witnesses will burn forever in Methodist hell and on and on it goes. Let the public view it like that and then perhaps it might finally dawn on them why
    the rational scientific method provides mankind with a way to move forward. Don’t debate one religion, debate two or three and set them at each others throats. The current Mitt Romney kerfuffle is a perfect example of how this can work. He is getting criticised for having an illogical religious viewpoint at odds with the evidence. Yet who is criticising him ? Christians ! In my own case Richard Dawkins was important in my move away from the dark side (actually, being raised an Irish Catholic its more like a non-commital grey side) yet the crucial argument he made that set me thinking was not anything to do with evolution, it was the point about religious localization – that if I had been born in India I’d be a Hindu and think Christians were simply misguided followers of a superstition. That sort of argument should be hammered home, not the evolution one. Set the religious against each other (when you look at it this way, I’m simply a lover of tradition!).

  2. #2 C.W.
    May 10, 2007

    Ah, Ray Comfort. I just love him. Probably the dumbest creationist alive, which says a lot. My favourite is his 2001 debate with Ron Barrier where he says:

    Kent Hovind… doctor Kent Hovind, who is a personal friend of mine, I can vouch for his integrity
    (laughter from the audience)
    on his website offers …
    (more laughter from the audience)
    I’ll repeat it … Dr Kent Hovind offers 250000 dollars to anyone who can offer any scientific evidence for evolution.

  3. #3 Jeff Hebert
    May 10, 2007

    I weep for what used to be the best television news magazine show. Ted Koppell’s hairpiece must be turning in its grave. They took what was a wonderful, deep, insightful hour and turned it into a cheap, pointless, rerun of “Dateline”. Very very sad.

  4. #4 Ginger Yellow
    May 10, 2007

    Bashir is such an embarrassment to British TV. He’s always been a deeply Americanised interviewer, more Barbara Walters meets Larry King than Jeremy Paxman, so I suppose he’s found his niche.

  5. #5 Aaron
    May 10, 2007

    I’m curious to know if anyone saw Kirk Cameron on the O’reilly factor last night discussing the debate with atheists. It was the worst dialogue I think I’ve ever seen on national television. I’ve been looking for someone to post or comment on this but I haven’t seen it anywhere. Virtually every line each of them spoke was complete tripe. The “highlight” was when, in discussing transitional fossils, Cameron actually chided evolution for its inability to produce a “crocoduck”. He seriously held up a large photoshopped picture of a duck with a crocodile’s head!! It was ludicrous!!

  6. #6 Chris Bell
    May 10, 2007

    Jason, I disagree. The “numbnut” comment was the only good part of the whole thing.

  7. #7 Jason Rosenhouse
    May 10, 2007


    I just watched the segment on You-Tube. Didn’t some famous person once say, “Against stupidity, the Gods themselves toil in vain”?

    Chris Bell-

    Well, as I said, I certainly agree with the sentiment. 🙂

  8. #8 MartinC
    May 11, 2007

    I’ve found the crocoduck picture and youtube clip and put them on my blog. I am beginning to wonder if Kurt Cameron is really a brilliant agent provocateur, secretly working to bring down the forces of superstition by acting as silly as possible so as to make the deepest believer sit up and think “crocoduck ? crocashit!”

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  10. #10 Chris Hallquist
    May 12, 2007


    You probably recognize the line from the Asimov novel “The Gods Themselves.” He was quoting a line from a play about Joan of Arc.

  11. #11 Blake Stacey
    May 12, 2007

    Asimov quoted the line from Friedrich von Schiller. “Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens.

    The Columbia Journalism Review Daily has a nice write-up about the Nightline “debate”.

  12. #12 Explicit Atheist
    May 14, 2007

    A moderator of the ABC ‘about atheists’ forum that was apparantly created to accompany the airing of this Nightline show is being accused of systematically deletling the posts of an atheist even though the contents of the deleted posts comply with all of the rules. This is being discuess on the Internet Infidels Positive Atheism & Secular Activism forum

  13. #13 Quanta
    October 23, 2007

    Such simpletons. I have yet to read any reasonable comments from “scientific minds”. Many of you sound like Hillary Clinton’s frequent vocalization of “word salads”. Please just be scientific and answer the question without all the whinny hysteria.
    Answer this: Is it possible to have both Creationism and Evolution coexist in the universe?
    Can information( angels, souls, people, Christopher Hitchens, mice or whatever)traveling via worm holes knitting themselves through the fabric of time seemingly faster than the speed of light, interlacing themselves seven times and creating seven windows of proximity in such a way that the billions of years traveled happened in seven days during the Creation or the Big Bang , thus allowing both the long eons of Evolution and the creation of Heaven and Earth in seven days. Is this possible via quantem physics/mechanics? May be.
    My point fellow “scientific minds” is that you tend to blab, blab, blab without having some far reaching hypothesis to answer these questions. Shamefully, your lack of imagination limits you to a level below brilliant, and makes you technechally smart and boring. So you see how crude and limited you sound when you emotionally decry “The Cruel God” or the lack of His existence. And one more thing, what makes many of you think that having an atheistic society would solve the world’s problems. Do you forget how many people the atheistic murderer Stalin exterminated- 50,000,000- can you count that high. And what about the other godless dictators that oppress their enslaved people, IE; Castro, Chavez and the cruel warlords in Africa. Don’t any of you know any anthropology? Our behavior is fundamentally genomic. We have wars, murder and rape because it is in all of us. Predicated by the right conditions you sissy geeks would do just that, murder, steal, rape and plunder. You just have not reached that threshold. Grow up and be real scientists for God’s sake.

  14. #14 Laser Potato
    September 10, 2008

    Shorter Quanta: blah blah blah Doggerel blah blah blah strawman blah blah blah fallacies blah blah blah fundie spittle…

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