The American press is "drawn from a relatively narrow fringe element on the far left" that is "trying to tear down America," according to White House science adviser George A. Keyworth II.
Keyworth made the remarks in an interview with officials of the Scientists Institute for Public Information, a New York-based, nonprofit group that tries to facilitate communication between scientists and the media. A transcript of the interview, approved by Keyworth, is to be published this week in the group's newsletter, SIPIscope.
Last October, Keyworth told a meeting of science writers at the University of Pennsylvania that most reporters who cover science and technology deliberately distort facts they report.
Asked why they would do that, Keyworth replied, "We're trying to build up America, and the press is trying to tear down America. There are several reasons.
"Number one, for some reason that I just do not understand, much of the press seems to be drawn from a relatively narrow fringe element on the far left of our society. Number two, there's an arrogance that has to do with the power of the press . . . . It's easier to achieve power by being negative and tearing at foundations."
Keyworth, a nuclear physicist who formerly worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, was interviewed Dec. 19 toward the end of the Reagan administration's first term, in which he served from the start.
Keyworth said that, in those years, he could look back on several positive developments. "But if I look at the negatives, I see the American press -- a press that is not responsible enough to do their job carefully or learn.
"The press," he added, "is highly skewed in two senses: It is skewed in a manner that is not consistent with trends in the U.S today, and it is skewed toward an apparent joy in attacking anything that resembles the 'establishment.'
"This country is looking toward things like investment in the future, education, respecting people who work hard and well. We have a pragmatic view of the world's competitiveness, not some artificial, ideal world where, for example, foreign policy is dominated by human rights. The American press as a whole is inconsistent with these trends," he said.
Keyworth also accused the media of emphasizing the hazards of emerging technologies and neglecting the benefits.
"The American press as a whole, especially here in the East, has done an irresponsible job of discussing important technical issues that are not easy for the public to understand -- the role of biotechnology, for example," he said.
"They cover hearings on the Hill on the hazards of biotechnology, but how much effort in the press has there been to discuss the positive things biotechnology can do for America? Some, but very, very little."
Bruce Abell, a spokesman for Keyworth, said that Keyworth would be unavailable to comment on the published interview but that "he still stands by it."
Abell said that he was unable to cite examples of media irresponsibility beyond the subject of biotechnology and that Keyworth did not mean to imply that it was irresponsible for the media to cover congressional hearings.
Possible hazards of biotechnology received prominent media coverage a decade ago when scientists adopted a voluntary moratorium on recombinant DNA research until it could be established that dangerous microbes would not be created or released.
Once it was shown that the early fears were unfounded, government regulation dwindled and the biotechnology industry boomed, a phenomenon widely reported in a generally positive light.