During the holiday weekend, a story broke about how the Girl Scouts had directed its members to Media Matters, in a handbook about discerning bias in media. Here’s the page in question. The problem, of course, is that Media Matters, funded by George Soros, is highly political and quite controversial. While adherents of Soros’ political views may find the organization a useful website to take down some conservative pundits, a more detached reading of the website will find that it projects onto others its own politicization, and often prioritizes polemic over accuracy.
Alas, if only incidents such as this one were the exception, rather than the rule. Take National Geographic. My father and grandfather were subscribers, and so we had issues going back to the 1940s. I would grab the magazine whenever it came in the mail, and would sometimes find issues from the time of Woodrow Wilson during the occasional excursion to the Parnassus Book Service in Yarmouthport, Massachusetts—still, hands down, my favorite used book store.
How disappointing it was, then, in June 2004 when National Geographic featured an article on the Shiites of Iraq and proceeded to sully it by endorsing the website of Juan Cole, who had never been to Iraq but whose website regularly promulgated wild conspiracy theories, factual inaccuracies, and embraced the familiar anti-Semitic dual loyalty trope on an almost weekly basis. Such politicization should have no place in National Geographic, but when editors surround themselves exclusively with like-minded fellows, they no longer recognize the political consensus inside the office either has no place in their core mission or that the bloggers whom they read and embrace may—with a little distance and time—be little more than fringe peddlers of unscholarly inappropriate polemic.
The Girl Scouts, to their credit, say they will stop endorsing such a biased website, and will strive to be more neutral, or at least to avoid letting partisan politics seep into their core mission. As for National Geographic, their stain is permanent. It briefly made them a laughing stock among Iraqi Shiites, and it has permanently diminished their reputation.