Tri-City Herald Publishes Creationist’s Tall Tale As News

Here’s a perfect example of bad reporting.

John Trumbo of the Tri-City Herald in Washington state wrote an article about Greg Morgan, a local man who recently found an unusual sandstone formation. And there’s only one conclusion he can draw from it:

Morgan, who is a mechanical engineer and worked in the aviation industry before coming to Hanford, said he was shocked when he first saw a picture of The Wave because it contradicted his original thinking about an ancient Earth and evolution.

Morgan, who became a Christian as an adult and takes the Bible literally, said the convoluted formations at Paria Canyon forced him to consider there must be another explanation.

“This is excellent evidence for Noah’s flood. It is far better than what anyone believes for an ancient Earth,” Morgan said.

Paul T. Erickson/Tri-City Herald

Before you dismiss him offhand, Trumbo writes that Morgan has been published in a journal!

Morgan’s photographs of The Wave and his article, “Flood Currents Frozen in Stone,” are in the latest issue of Answers magazine, a quarterly publication of Answers in Genesis, a Christian creation research organization based in Petersburg, Ky. The nonprofit organization’s 70,000-square-foot facility also houses the Creation Museum

Surely, there’s a credible scientist cited somewhere in the piece who can offer a more accurate perspective on what Morgan found:

Andrew Snelling, who has a doctorate in geology and is a content editor for Answers magazine, said two items of evidence at Paria Canyon point to a massive flood event.

One concerns analysis of grinds in the sandstone at Paria, which match mineral sources in the Appalachians. It would take a lot of wave action to move sand that far, he said.

No, I said credible scientist, not a lackey for the Creation Museum.

Nothing.

Not a single non-Creationist is quoted in the piece. It’s just a long article masquerading as news without a shred of scientific evidence to support Morgan’s claim. And it’s not like Washington lacks any universities where Trumbo could’ve spoken to a professor of this stuff.

I know newspapers are desperate to sell copies, but finding the craziest person in town and claiming his nutball theory is valid isn’t the way to do it.

Find a real scientist. Get a qualified perspective on this story. Then print an apology for your own incompetence as a reporter and print a proper version of this story. I’ll even suggest a headline: “Local Man’s Geological Ignorance Dupes Gullible Reporter.”

(Thanks to Claudia for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Rich Wilson

    At least the comments don’t make me hurt.  Unfortunately, I can just see an editor go “oh, that got readers!  Let’s do more of the same!”

  • Aj

    if they actually print that retraction, someone please post it here, because I would subscribe to their paper if they did.

  • george.w


    I know newspapers are desperate to sell copies, but finding the craziest person in town and claiming his nutball theory is valid isn’t the way to do it.”

    I wish that were true.

    • JSug

      As a Washington state native, I feel it’s my duty to point out that, in the Tri-Cities area, this man is unlikely to be the craziest person in town. In fact, pretty much everything east of the Cascades is fundi-land. Although Spokane is increasingly exempt from this assessment.

      • Anonymous

        They just did a really brief story (showed the picture, brief mention) on KXLY (Spokane station) about this. Sigh…

        Plenty of conservatives in Spokane but also lots of more liberal leaning folks. Definitely a big step up from Tri-Cities as far as that goes.

  • Christoph

    From the look of the photo, I’m almost certain it’s the Jurassic aged Navajo Sandstone.

    It’s actually about as far away from a flood environment as you could possibly go.  Wind blown sand a’la Sahara Desert, finely sorted, rounded sand grain, large scale cross bedding… yep, nothing special about this at all, except for the profound ignorance of the journalist.

    • Rich Wilson

      The article does say:

      The formation itself is classified as Jurassic Navajo Sandstone, and according to conventional “old Earth” geology, was formed 200 million years ago when seasonal winds laid down the layers to create the dramatic land forms.

      but that’s the extent of it.

      • Christoph

        blah.  That’s what I get for not reading the whole thing.  I can only headdesk so many times before I give up.  Maybe my new year’s resolution should have been to learn to persevere through the stupid to the end…

        • Rich Wilson

          Nah, I was just confirming your observation.  No reason we should all have to get a headache.  I was just trying to take one for the team :-)

    • http://teachingsapiens.wordpress.com/ Rob

      Good call. I’ve seen similar elsewhere. But if it ‘looks’ like evidence of a bible flood to the untrained eye, its equal to real science! 

  • Nobody

    Oregon and Washington have some really nice towns for intelligent people. Sadly towns on the east side of the Cascade mountain range tend to fall very short. The small towns tend to be hot-beds for Mennonite and Mormon groups. Tri-cities has a very large Mormon presence. Suspicious coincidence?

    • Cfischer01

      I am resident of the Tri – Cities. Sadly this is par for the course for this area as far as media goes. I am a long time reader of this blog, and I don’t subscribe to the local paper for obvious reasons. There are a lot of fundies and Mormons here, but there is also a national lab and the Hanford site hosting more PhD’s per capita then anywhere in the country. (don’t quote me on that fact, but it’s a phrase I have heard often since I have lived here.) I think that most educated non religious people don’t buy the paper due to its poor coverage of things that are important to us, so the paper puts out this garbage to appease the fundies who are buying the paper.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Amanda-McCoy/758313093 Amanda McCoy

        I know a great retired atheist scientist who often writes in to the Tri-City herald with witty comebacks to their terrible journalism. I’ll keep an eye out to see if he gets published and if so, I’ll be sure to share his response to this awful article!
        The Tri-Cities IS overly conservative, but I still happily call it my home. You just have to know where to look for the good ;-)

        • Anonymous

          Totally OT here but with so many Tri-City folks on this thread we should have a get-together or something. The Yakima paper used to have an atheist group listed in the meetings section, but when I showed up at Borders I didn’t see anyone all suspiciously atheist-looking hanging around. (You know how we are and stuff.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ryan-Langford/100000336679595 Ryan Langford

    That is my home town paper.  When I’m visiting the folks, I always enjoy digging through the opinion section, because it is almost always peppered with fringe right insanity.  I noticed this xmas, they took up half a page quoting Luke 2:1-11, just in case you had lost your 16 bibles.  They are thoughtful that way.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JTBMQYMFVZMKNCXIMISICQ3Z6E Anonymous

      my hometown, too. And I do just what you do with the paper… plus look to see if anyone I know has croaked.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Troy-Latta/100000241016662 Troy Latta

      My hometown, too. And now you know why I don’t live in my hometown. My folks are looking to get out as soon as Dad retires from Hanford.

  • Patrick

    Weird landform?  Near Hanford?  C’mon, do I have to draw a picture?

  • Lana

    I’m a Washington resident, but I’m from Western Washington, not Eastern Washington (a distinction that likely means nothing to non-Washington residents, who are likely unaware of the the Western/Eastern Washington tensions).

    Anyway, I read this with a mounting sense of shame for Washington state, but I kept reminding myself that this is the Tri-Cities, so, y’know. Eastern Washington is pretty darn conservative. Basically, the state is split in a red/ blue divide, but Western Washington has denser population counts so the state as a whole swings blue in government policy, which irritates the (larger) but more sparsely populated red counties. I understand there’s even been discussion in the past of splitting the state, North Carolina/ South Carolina style, but nothing ever comes of it.

    Then I went to the link and read the comments. Has anyone else ever noticed that the minority population in an area seems to be the most opinionated/ verbose? I’m not complaining in this case, because the minority population in the area appears to be intelligent scientists who are calling out the article for the bunk it is.

    If you go read the comments on the KOMO news website for news stories based in Seattle, etc., you come away with this sense that everyone in Seattle is a homophobic pro-life, pro-death penalty gun-nut who wants to run down bicyclists and throw plastic bags in the Puget Sound just because it’s neat.

    Reading those comments in the Tri-City Herald makes me wanna move there. Then I remember that my sister lives in Pasco, and every time I visit with her, I find myself frantic to be back in Olympia after a week or so. There’s a very subtle but pervasive difference in the atmosphere and how people interact. 

    • Anonymous

      There was a bid back when I was a kid to make a splinter state out of eastern Washington/ parts of Idaho/ eastern Oregon and call it “Lincoln”. Thank the FSM it never went anywhere, what a nightmare that state would have been!

      • wright

        OTOH, maybe such a state could become where all the fundie crazies could go, those that the rest of us could persuade to move there, anyway. Then they’d rapidly run their theist paradise into the ground, become an even bigger laughing stock and their insane Christian literalism would lose even more ground, socially and politically.

        • Lana

          I keep hoping Texas will secede from the Union and do exactly what you’ve described.

    • Anonymous

      People who are against something are always more motivated to write letters, voice their opinions opinions or engage in activism – no matter the topic

  • Anonymous

    I live not too far from there (Coeur d’Alene, Idaho) and the right-wing fundies are a fixture in this region.  Reading the comments section in any local newspaper is an exercise in frustration realizing just how many of them there are and how rampant (often willful) ignorance is.  Local armchair creationist “geologists” also often cite the deposits and scouring caused by ancient Lake Missoula floods as evidence for a global flood.  Never-mind that the geology clearly shows that it was regional, that’s just a minor detail.  :)

    • Ellen Flanery

      Agree, the badlands of eastern Washington were cause by Glacial Lake Missoula.  I live in Missoula – it’s part of our local history.  The entire valley was flooded almost up to the tops of the mountains.  You can see the shorelines on Mt. Jumbo.  The ice dam that melted release enormous amounts of water and it happened more than once.

  • JimG

    I am a newspaper reporter – have been for many years – and I’ve just got to try once again to correct a common misconception that’s spilled all over this post.

    People constantly assume that “sellin’ more papers” is the motivation for every news story they don’t like. This is simply not true. I have never seen that motivation come up in a newsroom, not even once, and I’ve been in a lot of newsrooms.

    Sure, newspapers want to remain profitable, and journalists want to keep their jobs. But the factors controlling that are so far removed from daily news operations as to be irrelevant.

    Since papers only print so many copies each day, single-copy sales can’t actually increase by much due to any one story. Anyway, it’s ad revenue that constitutes the bulk of newspaper income – and that’s based on long-term average circulation, not a one-day spike.

    The reality? This was probably a reporter with only the haziest background in science, sent to cover something about which he had no prior knowledge; and it went through editors who were similarly ignorant, were themselves creationists, or were simply too busy to read it closely: “Everything’s spelled right? OK, slap it on the page and send it.”

    • JimG

      I would add that reporters, and even editors, have little incentive to jump on any “Let’s sell more papers!” bandwagon. Even if circulation, ad sales and profits suddenly doubled, the writers are very unlikely to see a nickel of it. That windfall would go straight into owners’ pockets.

  • Anonymous

    Le sigh.

    I grew up in the Tri-Cities (both parents being Hanford employees… we all have a healthy glow about us!) and am still in eastern Washington. It’s a bitch being a liberal atheist here, to be sure. The Herald hasn’t ever exactly been much of a newspaper- and people actually complain that it has become too liberal (?!) over the years. This sadly doesn’t surprise me a hell of a lot. This is an area with a lot of conservative religious presence, a major Mormon center (migrants up this way to work at Hanford during WW2), Seventh-Day Adventists and splinter groups, Mennonites up in the farmland, and Roman Catholics from the large number of Hispanic migrants.

    Weirdly enough, I still want to move home. Yakima is worse because of the crime rate. ;) Eastern Washington has fascinating landscapes from the volcanic and glacial activity (the “scablands”) and it’s sunny 300 days of the year, with only 8-11 inches of rain. Perfect for us seasonal affective types. My oldest is now attending University of Washington at Tacoma so she at least is getting away from the pervasiveness of conservativism for a while.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JTBMQYMFVZMKNCXIMISICQ3Z6E Anonymous

      HEY! I grew up there, too. Graduate of Hanford high, dad worked at battelle, mom at 100 area, brother at battelle and my older brother is still at ch2m hill. It’s funny people all think Washington is so liberal… lol… it’s like how they think the whole state is covered in trees. NOT EASTERN WA!! lol… and it’s friggin’ jesusland over there, too. Mormon presence is so large now they had to build a temple (out on gage in kennewick… i know because they assimilated my older brother). I live in western wa now, and i hate the rain… I’d move to spokane and just deal with the cranks, if i could.

  • Josh

    I’ll have to visit Paria Canyon if I ever go to the area. It looks beautiful.

  • Chas, PE SE

    To heck with the Washington State business.  Every time I see someone with Engineer training ignoring scientific principles, I want to beat my head against the drawing board.

  • Chas, PE SE

    PS:  Washington is a nice state, I’m sure.

    • Wesley

      I like to hit the state rodeo in Ellensburg every couple years to get my fill of farms, horses, bbq, and bat shit crazy… Then head back to the west (more sane) side of the Cascade Mts

  • Anonymous

    Actually, there is evidence of a huge flood in Washington.  It was documented in one of the most awe-inspiring science specials I have ever seen:

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/megaflood/about.html 

    It’s about this region called the scablands, and at the end of the last ice age, a huge body of water was trapped behind an ice dam near Missoula, Montana.  The ice dam went one day, and a body of water half the size of Lake Michigan drained to the Pacific Ocean over a period of about three days.

    • Ellen Flanery

      Best answer Yet!!

  • ORAXX

    Where did the water for Noah’s flood come from and where did it go?   If all the land on earth was covered by water, sea level would have to rise to an altitude where everyone on board the ark would have either frozen to death or perished from oxygen starvation.  Just another of God’s mysteries I suppose. 

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      The origin and disposal of more water than the Earth actually has is a good question that challenges the silly myth, but the idea about the air being thinner I don’t think works as a good de-bunker, because if somehow all that extra water were to appear and become deep enough to cover Mt. Everest, it would have pushed the atmosphere up with it. The air pressure would be slightly reduced, because having to cover a larger sphere, the air would occupy a volume of space that would be slightly greater, but maybe not enough to suffocate or freeze the occupants of the ark.  They would still be at “sea level” even if the sea were 29,029 feet higher than usual.

      • Rich Wilson

        Another is the distribution of animals.  Did Noah make a stop in Australia to drop off the marsupials?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JTBMQYMFVZMKNCXIMISICQ3Z6E Anonymous

    Nice to find others who managed to avoid becoming part of the hyper-religious group think of the tri-cities area. It’s amazing that an area that has so many great minds packed together would also be soooooo religious. I never once spoke up about being a non-believer while I was growing up. And every friend I had there growing up still (according to their FB profile) is immersed in the god-think. Any friend I had that grew out of that also left the area.

    Anyway, this article doesn’t surprise me a bit. My brother’s a geologist… and he’s also a mormon. Which means he has to subscribe to the notion that the Garden of Eden is in Minnesota. Cognitive dissonance… go figure.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ryan-Langford/100000336679595 Ryan Langford

      When I was growing up in Kennewick, it was quite common for the teenagers to transfer to Seattle, and/or go back and forth.  In fact, in my circle of friends, people that spent any time on the west coast were considered cooler by proxy.  It isn’t too surprising that the people I respected all left for Seattle.  The hics were too busy fussing with their cowboy hats and pickup trucks.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Why I left Young-earth Creationismby Glenn R. Morton

    But eventually, by 1994 I was through with young-earth creationISM.
    Nothing that young-earth creationists had taught me about geology turned
    out to be true. I took a poll of my ICR graduate friends who have worked
    in the oil industry.  I asked them one question.

     “From your oil industry experience, did any fact that you were
    taught at ICR, which challenged current geological thinking, turn out in
    the long run to be true? ,”

    That is a very simple question.  One man, Steve Robertson, who
    worked for Shell grew real silent on the phone, sighed and softly said
    ‘No!’  A very close friend that I had hired at Arco, after hearing
    the question, exclaimed, “Wait a minute.  There has to be one!” 
    But he could not name one.  I can not name one.  No one else
    could either.  One man I could not reach, to ask that question, had
    a crisis of faith about two years after coming into the oil industry. 
    I do not know what his spiritual state is now but he was in bad shape the
    last time I talked to him.

  • Nigel McNaughton

    It’s the AIG Magazine, not the Journal. It’s not even worthy of their Journal.

  • sminhinnick

    The photo seems to show wind scouring on soft sandstone layers, that are overlaid by harder sediments that are less affected by the wind.  

    If it was caused by the biblical flood wouldn’t the water height have been greater?  It would be funny to use this photo to define the maximum depth of Noah’s flood, and then see what the consequences of that “measurement” is!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HLCEV7FIKPSAYPRW4ETEGA33DE Jessica

    Another lifelong Washington State resident here.  I recieved my higher education from two colleges in Eastern Washington.  I am now a licensed geologist, it even says so on my business card.  And, I have also been to Paria Canyon, which is near Zion National Park in Utah and is a popular hiking destination. 
     
    So, having established my credentials, and I hope I stack up to a “retired mechanical engineer who used to work in the aviation industry”, in my professional opinion, the fact that Paria Canyon “looks like” a flood deposit is to geology what an image of Jesus in your grilled cheese sandwich is to religion. 

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/DJRVGKGG36KNLNMZAVT4EXOF3M Ed-words

      Terriffic!

  • Thatguy2001

    Just to scare you all a little bit more, the “article” was printed in the Daily Astorian as well.

  • Sue Blue

    I live in Western Washington on the Kitsap Peninsula, but I’ve frequently crossed over to Montana to visit relatives and I’ve always noticed the huge difference between West and East – not just the climate!  That being said, one can find plenty of poor journalism and ignorant comment sections right here at home.  The KOMO website, for instance, has some of the murkiest, most poorly-researched stories I’ve ever read – complete with contradictions, misspelled words and such poor grammar and sentence structure that it is sometimes nearly impossible to figure out the point of the story.  The comments, as one poster above pointed out, often read like Seattle is full of right-wing nutjobs.  I had to quit reading that site because it was so disturbing to realize that people with fifth-grade writing skills were being paid to write, as well as that there were enough religious nutjobs around here to fill pages of comments.  Somehow, finding out that an eastern Washington paper put out this piece of religious pseudoscience pandering doesn’t shock me nearly as much.


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