Posts Tagged “journalists”

This ark, located an hour south of Amsterdam, is a replica of Noah's Biblical boat. Underwater archaeologist Robert Ballard is in Turkey, looking for evidence that the Great Flood happened. (ABC News)With Christmas approaching, the mass media are, as one would expect, catering to the country’s prevailing religiosity. That’s understandable, and normal. But this effort goes beyond annual re-showings of How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Even their journalists get into the act, manufacturing news stories that reinforce religious sentimentality. An example of this is ABC News, which is reporting that Noah’s Flood has been proven to have occurred (WebCite cached article):

The story of Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood is one of the most famous from the Bible, and now an acclaimed underwater archaeologist thinks he has found proof that the biblical flood was actually based on real events.

In an interview with Christiane Amanpour for ABC News, Robert Ballard, one of the world’s best-known underwater archaeologists, talked about his findings. His team is probing the depths of the Black Sea off the coast of Turkey in search of traces of an ancient civilization hidden underwater since the time of Noah.

Unfortunately for believers in the Abrahamic religious tradition, this is not really the “proof” that the article implies, or that ABC would like its readers/viewers to think it is. The ways in which they support the very-thin contention, are as varied as they are stupid:

Ballard’s track record for finding the impossible is well known. In 1985, using a robotic submersible equipped with remote-controlled cameras, Ballard and his crew hunted down the world’s most famous shipwreck, the Titanic.

Unfortunately for both ABC and Ballard, that Ballard had been able to locate the Titanic, does not mean he’s now found proof of Noah’s Flood. It’s a clever appeal to authority, I admit, but that’s all it is. Next comes this gem:

Now Ballard is using even more advanced robotic technology to travel farther back in time. He is on a marine archeological mission that might support the story of Noah. He said some 12,000 years ago, much of the world was covered in ice.

This is not actually news. Most of us learned of the Ice Age back when we were in school. The idea that the Noah’s Flood story might be a reflection of one or more flooding events spawned by the end of the Ice Age, is not new at all.

Curiously, after covering this ground in their effort to “prove” that Noah’s global Flood had occurred, ABC News veers off into something else:

According to a controversial theory proposed by two Columbia University scientists, there really was one in the Black Sea region. They believe that the now-salty Black Sea was once an isolated freshwater lake surrounded by farmland, until it was flooded by an enormous wall of water from the rising Mediterranean Sea. The force of the water was two hundred times that of Niagara Falls, sweeping away everything in its path. …

The theory goes on to suggest that the story of this traumatic event, seared into the collective memory of the survivors, was passed down from generation to generation and eventually inspired the biblical account of Noah.

The story goes on to discuss the fact that the Black Sea appears to have had a different coastline than it does now. Yet again, however, this is not news. It’s well-known. This also seems to be the linchpin of Ballard’s theory … which, by itself, is neither novel nor unreasonable — even though ABC News is reporting it as a “new” discovery.

But as I said, this means we’ve actually drifted away from the original Noah’s Flood story, and are in different territory. The Great Flood described in Genesis was a global flood that wiped out all of humanity and all the world’s fauna except the refugees aboard the Ark. An inundation from the Mediterranean into the Black Sea, as colossal as it may have been to those who were near it, was not the global event recorded in Genesis! It could not have wiped out any person or animal beyond the Black Sea basin.

What Ballard and his religionism-satisfying sycophants in the mass media have done, is to take a localized event for which there is some genuine evidence, and stretched it far beyond what’s actually there, in order to make it appear to support the Bible. Logicians know this as shoehorning, and ultimately, it’s a lie.

Look, I get that ABC News and the mass media feel as though they need to pander to religiosity. The majority of people in the US are Christians, and the majority of them like hearing their Bible has a basis in fact. But lying to them in order to curry their favor and make them feel more secure in their beliefs, is still lying, and it’s still wrong. Journalists like Christiane Amanpour have no excuse for lying to people just to make them happy. The cold fact here is that there is no evidence — zero, zip, zilch, nada, none, not a speck of it! — that the Great Flood tale in Genesis happened. Ballard ahs uncovered nothing that supports any such event. And ABC News had no business suggesting he did.

Photo credit: ABC News.

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Hartford Courant / Photo page / CNN Breaking News tweets 'Supreme Court strikes down individual mandate portion of health care law'Folks, I’ve said it before and will say it again: It pays to be skeptical. Of everything. This morning offered a great example of why caution is in order. As the Hartford Courant explains, two major media outlets — CNN and Fox News — both published erroneous information on the Supreme Court decision released this morning (WebCite cached article):

For CNN and Fox News, among other news organizations, the twitter frenzy proved to be a source of embarrassment. Both news organizations falsely reported that the bill had been struck down, as did those who repeated the error.

A tweet by CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) containing the incorrect report was retweeted over 1,100 times. For example, Huffington Post tweeted “We jumped the gun in following them (Fox and CNN). Apologies for the confusion.” …

CNN originally tweeted that the Supreme Court struck down the individual mandate for health care and displayed the information prominently on their website. Their blunder also unfolded on television, where Wolf Blitzer said the network had received conflicting reports. The network was forced to publicly issue a retraction.

Fox News also displayed incorrect information, as they displayed a television banner reading, “Supreme Court Finds Individual Mandate Unconstitutional.” The network changed it’s message soon after re-reading the court’s decision.

Note that this is eerily similar to something that played out, nearly as famously, some 6 months ago, when former Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno was prematurely reported dead. The same impulse, it seems, was at play here … CNN and Fox News were so eager to release a story — any story! — on the highly-watched case, that they didn’t take a few moments to check and see if what they were spewing was factual. They may well have had a story “pre-written” and launched it, without even taking the time to be sure it had any relation to the decision itself.

It’s nice that the Courant reported this error, but I note — with chagrin — that they did so within the framework of a different faulty journalistic trope, that is, “news-that’s-not-really-news.” The article’s lede is:

Twitter activity around today’s Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act peaked at more than 13,000 tweets per minute at 10:17 a.m., significantly more than the 900 TPM that was tracked during the oral arguments in March, reports Rachael Horwitz, a representative from Twitter.com.

The article adds that lots of Google searches were made for the story, too. Listen, reporters, I don’t need to be told that “people use Twitter” or that “people use Google.” Nor do I need to be told that Twitter use and Google searches spike when a big story breaks. Those are both things I already knew, without having to be told. What on earth made you think that’s “news”? It’s not. You guys really need to stop already with that trope. OK?

Update: Media critic Howard Kurtz at the Daily Beast has pointed out that not only did some media outlets get the story factually wrong, initially, but they had also had made what turn out to have been inaccurate predictions of the results of the case (cached). Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20, so perhaps it’s not fair to condemn legal pundits like Jeffrey Toobin for not having gotten it right … but isn’t that a reason for them just to refrain from making predictions at all? The mass media are now jammed full of yammering, talking-head “pundits” who present themselves as prescient and all-knowing, and prattle endlessly about things they cannot necessarily know with as much certainty as they claim. Yet, they continually do it. Even after they’ve been proven wrong about things, on multiple occasions.

I would love for there to be a “pundit-prediction database” in which every prediction made by the talking heads is collected up and then evaluated to see if it came true. Then we might be able to hold these jabbering windbags accountable for their nonsense and gibberish. We already have something like this — informally anyway — for politicians, in the PolitiFact and FactCheck projects. There’s no reason this principle can’t be extended to media figures too.

Photo credit: Hartford Courant (cached).

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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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