Posts Tagged “hauntings as news”

Scary Ghost / naoshika, via Open Clip Art LibraryIt’s been a while since I last blogged about the phenomenon of “hauntings as news.” Of course, that’s not because media outlets have stopped reporting on “hauntings” and other “paranormal” events as though they were legitimate news stories. Oh no. In this age of so-called “reality” shows featuring ghost hunters, mediums, etc., it’s obviously something the media have decided they’re not going to let go of.

And frankly, why should they? “Haunting” stories are the sorts of things that literally drop themselves into reporters’ laps. Either people tip reporters off to “hauntings,” or else they overhear a “haunting” story and decide to relay it. They might have to talk with a couple of people familiar with the supposedly-haunted location, but most of those folks are willing interviews who have a lot of information to give (or so they think). It’s quick and easy to write a “haunting” story … whereas, by comparison, most other types of real news are much harder to develop. In this age of pared-down newsrooms, one can see the appeal of such stories.

As for “reality” shows, supposed ghost hunters (cached) and “paranormal investigators” are very good at ginning up drama and staging things to appear however they wish them to. The shows’ producers don’t have to work too hard at their jobs. It’s easy money!

The latest example of “paranormal journalism” caught my eye — and engendered this blog post — because the venerable Hartford Courant reported flat-out that a building is haunted. As though it were definite and confirmed. There are no caveats, qualifiers, “reportedlys” or anything of the kind. Reporter Dan Haar lays it out unequivocally and unreservedly (WebCite cached article):

In Canton, near the town green, the contrast between The Junk Shop and The Blue House a few doors away is striking.

Both sell antiques and vintage furnishings but The Junk Shop, owned and run by Eric Hathaway, has the feel of a chaotic workshop and is open to noise from Route 44. The Blue House, owned and run by Eric’s wife, Kimberly Hathaway, is quiet, orderly, filled with linens and lace, artwork and clothing.

Oh, and The Blue House is haunted.

Did you catch that? It’s a simple, clear, unqualified statement: “… The Blue House is haunted.” Nothing else.

This is not the first time Connecticut’s newspaper of record has declared a building definitively “haunted”; I caught them at it right around 5 years ago. The Courant is also part of the same group (within the larger Tribune media conglomerate) which thought exorcisms were genuine “news” a couple years ago and told us all about how a “spiritual battle” is underway, and that “in recent years, it has intensified” … as though they’d somehow managed to verify that claim.

Anyone with a brain — and who can use it — knows there’s no such thing as a verified haunting. Lots of places are supposedly “haunted,” but that’s a far cry from being definitely known as “haunted.”

If Canton’s “The Blue House” has, in fact, been confirmed haunted, it ought to be trivial for its owners (or for reporter Haar or anyone else connected with the place) to provide verification of it. So let’s have it! Upon what objective evidence can anyone know this building is “haunted”? I dare someone to demonstrate it. (Oh, and when they’ve done so, they may as well turn around and apply for the million-dollar grant that the Randi Foundation will no doubt provide them.)

This is the kind the bullshit a paper like the Courant ought never to stoop to. It’s beneath their dignity, and their editors ought to have known better. And it’s a cheap way of grabbing eyeballs. As I said above, I get why they want to churn out stories like this. It’s easy writing and it’s dramatic. People like hearing this crap. Unfortunately, it remains crap, no matter how much readers might like it. And reporting affirmatively that a building is “haunted” without any verification that it actually is, is dishonest at best and lying at worst. It needs to fucking stop. It just does. No one is served by overly-credulous reporters repeating bullshit and lies as though it’s all true — no matter what excuse they come up with for having done so.

Photo credit: Naoshika, via Open Clip Art Library.

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Cartoon ghost / lemmlingA man right here in Connecticut claims he’s invented a ghost detector. And at least one newspaper has published an article about him which conveys his claim and leaves it unchallenged. This is all part of the “hauntings as news” motif I’ve noticed over the last couple of years and have blogged about on numerous occasions. At any rate, here’s the venerable Hartford Courant‘s puff-piece on this “engineer” who now claims to be able to detect ghosts (WebCite cached article):

In 2004, 17-year-old Melissa Galka, a senior at Granby Memorial High School, died after the car she was driving hit a tree in town.

Within days of her death, her father said, she begin communicating with her family.

“She started doing things like ringing the doorbell, changing TV channels, turning lights on and off,” Gary Galka said Monday. “Then one time she came into my room and I felt her sit on the edge of the bed.”

Now Galka has a thriving trade in paranormal detection devices, launched as a result of those eery events.

Note the obviously-sentimental and sympathetic lede in this story. The reader is supposed to believe what this guy tells us, because as a bereaved father, he somehow “knows” more about ghosts than any of the rest of us. While I sympathize with his plight — I really, truly, honestly do; I have lost relatives myself, after all — and while it makes for a dramatic story that reporters and editors are sure will “sell,” none of this grants Galka’s invention any veracity, and it doesn’t make what he’s doing “news.” It just doesn’t.

I also honestly doubt there’s anything new here. After all, “paranormal investigators” have been using EMF detectors to chase after ghosts, for decades. I’m not sure how Galka’s device is appreciably different from any of the myriad other EMF detectors that have been used this way … except that he seems to be marketing them specifically to ghost-hunters.

I suggest Galka and/or fans of this device — if they’re so convinced it does what they claim it does — put this device to the test, and collect a huge payday, while they’re at it. They should immediately submit an application to James “the Amazing” Randi’s Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge. I’m not sure why they would not want to do so; a million dollars is, after all, a lot of money to just leave there, waiting to be claimed.

It’s inevitable that grieving people will come up with things like Mel-Meter and the SB7 Spirit Box. It’s quite natural. And as I said, I really do sympathize with Galka. What I find unacceptable here is the Courant‘s lazy and uncritical reporting on Galka’s devices. The story clearly implies they do precisely what Galka says they do — i.e. detect ghosts — however, they in fact do nothing of the sort. In truth, ghosts do not exist; they cannot be detected; they don’t haunt buildings or graveyards; psychics do not talk to them; and science has never demonstrated that they exist. The Courant doesn’t even include a brief comment from a “token skeptic” — but it does add Galka’s own childish swipe at skeptics, expecting them “to ‘take a better position’” (as if it’s up to him, personally, to decide what “positions” are “better” than others). The nation’s oldest newspaper can do better than this … and it should. What a waste.

Photo credit: lemmling, via Open Clip Art Library.

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Pac Man GhostThe “hauntings as news” phenomenon is one I’ve blogged about many times, as a sterling example of lazy journalism at its most obvious. A nearby newspaper, the Torrington Register Citizen (part of the barely-alive collection of rags known as Journal Register Company) is a chief offender in this regard; they’ve reported several times on hauntings and ghosts as though they are real news stories deserving professional journalistic attention. That ghosts do not exist, and that hauntings do not really happen, appears not to matter to the RC‘s hypercredulous staff. They just continue running after every ghost they hear about, including this latest example of their idiocy and laziness (WebCite cached article):

RISEUP Paranormal CT, an affiliate of the Rhode Island based RISEUP Paranormal Group will be investigating the Warner Theater in Torrington, Connecticut on January 16th. The Connecticut based group is led by Gail Capolupo, Ann Collette, Don Krantz and Thomas Flanagan.

We are to be confident that these people are experts on ghosts, for reasons the RC carefully copies verbatim (I assume, since it reads that way) from the group’s press release:

RISEUP (The Rhode Island Society for the Examination of Unusual Phenomena) is a non-profit organization that specializes in researching, investigating, and documenting reported hauntings, UFO/USO experiences, and unidentified mysterious animal sightings. Members are trained to apply science in order to seek logical explanations about supposed paranormal events through the use of surveillance tools, recording devices and common sense. While RISEUP remains open to the existence of ghosts, spirits, extraterrestrial beings and crypto zoological animals, each investigation is conducted without pretensions allowing the group to conduct research as unbiased observers.

These are not really valid “credentials” granting weight to any of their determinations, however. That they’re non-profit does not mean they can’t be deluded or incompetent. That they “document” things does not grant veracity to what they document. That they claim to “apply science” to things, does not mean they actually do. That these people are “open” to strange things means they may be too credulous to bother looking into mundane, non-mystical explanations for things. That they claim to investigate “without pretensions” does not mean they actually do. That they say they’re “unbiased” does not mean they actually are. For all I know, these folks may sincerely believe the pablum and nonsense they’re serving up. But that also does not grant them any veracity.

The only way to establish the veracity of ghosts, is to subject them to rigorous, valid scientific testing. To date, this has never even been attempted, much less tried and failed. Anyone who is certain s/he can do so, would do well to submit an application to the James “the Amazing” Randi’s One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge, collect his/her prize, and become instantly wealthy.

And yes, the Randi Foundation has that money set aside. Yes, you will be allowed a say in how your own test is conducted. And not to worry if you don’t need all that money, you can always donate it to charity … so don’t let that stop you! If you’re right, you have absolutely nothing to lose, and everything to gain, by doing so.

Lastly … I’ve been to the now-magnificent Warner Theater in Torrington many times, beginning way back in the 70s when it was a dreary, run-down movie theater, rather than the art-deco live theater it is now. I’ve been in its backstage areas and all around the building. But never once have I seen even the slightest hint of anything that could even remotely be called a ghost. I grant that I’m a cold-hearted godless agnostic cynic and skeptic, so I guess the ghosts there have — quite obviously — read my mind, detected that, and steered clear of me so that I would remain skeptical.

Or something like that, the true believers love to say.

Photo credit: acordova.

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Derby Superior Courthouse, aka Sterling Opera HouseIt’s to be expected, I suppose, given that Halloween is almost here. But the news media continue to waste their time — and that of their readers/listeners/viewers — on stories about “hauntings” and the paranormal. It’s something I’ve blogged on many times already, and there doesn’t seem to be any end to this pathetic journalistic trope. The latest example is one I saw tonight on WTNH-TV out of New Haven, CT, reporting on the putative “haunting” of the Sterling Opera House in Derby, CT (WebCite cached article):

News 8 is with two paranormal investigators checking out one spot in Connecticut some say is haunted, the Sterling Opera House.

Dan Rivera and John Silveira run “Above the Realm Paranormal” which checks out reports of Unexplained noises or shadows or other things you can’t explain yourself.

The Sterling Opera House was built in 1889. It’s undergoing a renovation.

The “meat” of the report is in the video, which is right here:

The problem is that none of this so-called “evidence” proves anything. Gobs of light on photographs? Lens flares. Supposed children’s voices saying “Help me”? Some guy off-camera holding something over his mouth, saying it in falsetto.

Please, spare me the protestations of how “genuine” and/or “sincere” these “paranormal investigators” claim to be. They may be genuine, in which case they’re deluded. They also may not be, which makes them frauds. Either way, not good.

And the good folks at Channel 8 News were taken in by it. For shame. We don’t need any more “haunting journalism.”

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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GhostI’ve blogged several times already on the dismal phenomenon of “hauntings in the news” — that is, when bona fide media outlets treat ghost stories, hauntings and other paranormal events as though they were truly newsworthy. Some of those incidents have involved a newspaper local to me, the Torrington (CT) Register-Citizen. Unsurprisingly, the RC continues — wrongly! — to report “ghosts” and hauntings as though they were news (WebCite cached article):

If you live in the Burlington [Connecticut] area, no doubt you have heard of the Green Lady of Burlington. But, her only claim to fame is she’s boring!

No tales of being scared out of your pants in the middle of the woods.

No disembodied heads popping out of teapots.

No terrifying bedroom appearances in the middle of the night.

She just slowly fades in, smiles at you like Mona Lisa and then slowly fades out in a green haze.

Wow. What cutting-edge journalism. A news story about a ghost story whose main feature is that it’s totally unremarkable! A non-newsworthy version of a non-story. What an incredible waste of time and space in a newspaper and on a Web site!

This report even includes putative “proof” the Green Lady of Burlington (CT) exists:

Below is a YouTube video of a visit to the graveyard by Barry Dillinger, with the only recorded EVP ever made at this site. She sort of moans. Turn your volume up to hear it. …

I don’t know what you heard, but I didn’t hear a damned thing. But even if I had … who’s to say that it couldn’t have been something uttered by a living (not dead) person off-camera? This video — even if it did contain any discernible “moaning” sound — does not constitute “proof” of the Green Lady of Burlington’s existence. Far from it!

It would be nice if the RC refrained from this kind of bullshit reporting. But given they have a history of offering this kind of “news,” I don’t expect they plan to stop any time soon. More’s the pity.

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Pam Ziobron, Deep River Public Library (Mark Mirko / Hartford Courant / 4/16/10)I’ve blogged before on the “hauntings in the news” trope. I’m amazed that reporters these days can’t seem to find anything better to report on. It’s nothing more than “make-news,” or stuff they crank out in order to take up space in the paper. This morning’s example comes from the venerable Hartford Courant (WebCite cached article):

Odd things are happening at the Deep River Public Library.

Staff member Pam Ziobron was working by herself late one Saturday. She had shut off all the lights except for the one at the circulation desk, where she was standing, when she had a strong sense that she wasn’t alone.

“It was just a feeling. … It was just so light and airy, like a female coming down the stairs. It was very, very real,” Ziobron said.

Oh well. I guess there’s no question about it, then. Whenever you get those “feelings … like a female coming down the stairs,” then it can’t possibly be anything else, now, can it?

The article goes on to cite a couple of “haunting” stories in the Deep River library, none with any better evidence than Ziobron’s. It also goes on to cite a presumed expert on the subject:

Michael Dionne, founder of Full Spectrum Ghost Hunters, said that about 1 percent of the cases he investigates are paranormal.

And of course we know Dionne can’t possibly be wrong about that, because … well … he makes a name for himself going around talking about the paranormal and electromagnetic fields and all. Right?

Wrong. These ad hoc, self-appointed “experts” have no objective, verifiable basis for any claim they make. Yet the Courant — which has the distinction of being Connecticut’s newspaper of record — touts one such person as having indisputable veracity.

Sheesh. What bilge. Get with it, Courant, and report some news, not useless tripe like this.

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The “hauntings as news” trope has gotten old and tired, yet journalists continue to pound out “haunting” stories — even though hauntings are not news. But this latest example is a twist on that trend. A nearby paper, the Torrington Register-Citizen, reports on the cessation of a haunting rather than one that’s ongoing (WebCite cached article):

The horses do not mysteriously switch stalls at the Santos farm anymore.

Nor does the cat’s bowl move from one step to another step to another.

Donna Santos believed spirits were at work inside her house and inside her barn on West Hill Road.

Ms Santos credits some help she received, for getting rid of her “ghosts”:

Eventually, she heard about a group called the Northwest Connecticut Paranormal Society. Comprised of people who believe they have experienced a paranormal activity, the society scrutinizes instances in which people report suspected supernatural activities. …

John Zontok, the founder of this paranormal society, describes himself as a skeptic and a critical thinker. With its goal being to educate people, the society includes a college professor, a professional photographer, a paralegal, a business executive, a Marine, a Reiki master, college students and a dog, according to the organization. …

“Our main goal is to find something to show that paranormal activity exists,” Zontok said. “I am a sceptic regarding the paranormal.”

Let me clear something up right now: No genuine “skeptic” is going to run a “paranormal society” that finds ghosts. It doesn’t happen. What Zontok is doing, is to claim to be a “skeptic” so that he can appear to disarm other, genuine skeptics. To paraphrase, “I’m a skeptic, and I believe in this stuff. If you’re a skeptic, you should too … and if you don’t, then you’re not a ‘real’ skeptic and are just being unreasonable.”

Sorry Mr Zontok, it doesn’t work. You don’t get to call yourself a “skeptic” but then run around acting like a hypercredulous nut chasing every ghost you hear about. I’m not stupid enough to fall for that maneuver. As for how a dog can be an expert on the paranormal … well … that hardly merits comment.

At any rate, as the Register-Citizen goes on to explain, after this society’s “investigation,” the Santos’s problems have ended:

Ever since the paranormal society people investigated, the unexplained phenomenon have stopped, according to Donna Santos.

Ms Santos, have you considered that these “unexplained phenomena” have ended — because there never were any ghosts in the first place? Perhaps whoever had been pulling tricks on you, decided to stop, after you reeled in the Northwest Connecticut Paranormal Society to check things over?

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