Posts Tagged ‘bad reporters’

Please buy our useless junk so you can find nothing

October 26, 2010

Last year around this time of year I made fun of a Sun article which was essentially an advertisement for a theme park which was allegedly “haunted” by the “spirit world.” Since I am apparently very un-creative, I am going to do pretty much the same thing again this year.

But there’s a twist! This year’s Advertisement For Ghost-Related Business Disguised As A News Article (AFGRBDAANA) is from what’s supposed to be a more reputable newspaper, the Boston Globe.  The first problem here is with the headline:

So the obvious question here is this: Why do these gadgets only seem to work for those who already believe in wandering spirits? If they really did reveal evidence of ghosts, then they should help both believers and skeptics alike to find them. The fact that the headline needed to be qualified to apply only to believers implies that these gadgets only provide rationalizations for what the ghost hunters already decided to believe instead of real evidence which would then inform a belief one way or the other.

In the evolution-creationism “debate,” no scientist offers evidence for evolution on the condition that the audience already believe in evolution. The same is true for any other similar controversy. The evidence is supposed to be the basis for belief, not something you search for only after founding an opinion based on emotional whims.

Amateur ghost hunters hope these gadgets, which typically cost less than $100 each, will help them spot ghosts in haunted houses.

Gosh, they’re “typically” less than $100? What a bargain!

That quote above is factually accurate. People who call themselves amateur ghost hunters (as opposed to the really seriously professional ones) really do hope that the equipment will help them spot ghosts. But it’s still another example of a journalist not investigating far enough for fear of appearing “biased.” The job of an actual reporter assigned to a story like this should be to actually find out whether or not the products do as they claim. When Mark Baard puts that question aside, as he does in this article, he steps outside of journalism and into the field of advertising.

“I don’t believe that they detect ghosts, per se,”’ said Belanger… “But they might detect something that’s happened before, during or after a paranormal event.”

Really? How do you distinguish between the two, Mr. Salesman? Baard fails to follow up on this distinction. He just uncritically accepts it at face value. But seriously, why hold back here? Is he seriously trying to inject nuances into his ghost hunting business? I mean, come one, let’s not be ridiculous and claim that we’re detecting ghosts here. That would be nuts! But yeah, sure, events leave paranormal evidence behind which my products can detect. Everyone knows that, right?


Ugandan newspaper lists their 100 most fabulous gays

October 21, 2010

A Ugandan newspaper called Rolling Stone (no relation to the real, i.e. American, one) published a front-page article listing the 100 most fabulous gays in the country. There’s an unfortunate typo where it says “HANG THEM,” when obviously it meant to suggest that the reader hang with them. That’s why they print the address of the “top homos,” so people can go and hang out with them if they want.

You might remember Uganda as the country which was considering criminalizing homosexuality with capital punishment in some cases, possibly based on interaction with US politicians. So now it’s nice that they’ve put that behind them and are starting to embrace their teh gheys.

What’s not so clear is how the esteemed publication researched the matter insofar as they quantify being a “top homo.” The immediate implication is that they’re referring to those who prefer to “pitch” instead of “catch,” but I’m guessing that’s probably 50% of all teh ghey in Uganda and there’s got to be more than 200 of them in the country.

So they must mean something else by “top homos.” It must be that these guys are really good at it or something, I guess. That must mean the reporters did a lot of research (buttsecks!) in order to compile their list. It’s a good thing that the anti-homosexuality bill isn’t law yet, or else all of their research could be punishable by death.

Astrology-based politics

October 19, 2010

The 2010 mid-term elections has been a massive coming-out party for all kinds of crackpots. HIV deniers, creationists, anti-condom activists, and every other brand of conspiracy theorist have been nominated by their party to run for alarmingly high public offices. Journalists usually try to use reasonable methods to understand this unreasonable trend. At the very least, they try to make it sound like that’s what they’re doing.

But the innovative folks at AOLNews are taking a different path in their political reporting today. A guy who works there (I’m deliberately not calling him a reporter) talked to an astrologer named Shelley Ackerman about the elections and called it an article. Here’s how it begins:

Some swear by astrology. Others scoff at it.

That’s the beginning and end of Barry Weintraub’s investigation into the validity of astrology. It’s not like it’s his job to find out whether or not astrology actually works. That would be biased.

But here’s what’s not biased, for some reason: Pretending that an astrologer’s opinion of US politics is newsworthy.

Traditionally astrologers look to the lunation just before we go to the polls on Nov. 2 (in this case, the Oct. 22 full moon) to determine which party will fare better. And it’s no surprise that the elevation of Jupiter in the chart cast for Washington at 9:37 p.m. favors gains for the GOP, but how many?

Who among us didn’t know that the elevation of Jupiter means a Republican-controlled House? If you raised your hand just now, stop reading this now – for you are ignorant in the ways of astrology. It’s like the first rule: Most gas giants are very conservative. Those of us who were following this last election cycle may recall Saturn’s 2008 racist gaffe on CNN with Wolf Blitzer which many expert astrologers say cost John McCain the presidential election.

Ackerman later turns her focus to the Connecticut Senate race:

I’m having second thoughts about this one. Blumenthal (b. Feb. 13, 1946) was practically a shoo-in before he fibbed about serving in Vietnam. Bad move.

But why didn’t the stars tell her that this was going to happen? I thought this was the whole point of having professional astrologers in the first place. I am shocked, SHOCKED I TELL YOU that this astrologer only discovered this by reading it in the news instead of reading it from Neptune’s magical aura.

Will Neptune give Blumenthal the same magical aura that it provided for Palin in 2008, or will Saturn in Libra deliver the victory that McMahon has earned (and/or paid for)? It’s Blumenthal’s to lose: One false move and he will.

Come on, Ackerman! Don’t keep us in suspense! I really want to know about that magical aura’s political leanings. Maybe the entry on Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin will provide better information:

Astrologically aligned with the United States’ Aquarian moon, and buoyed by Neptune’s transit in Aquarius since 1998, will their popularity wane when Neptune enters Pisces for the first time (since 1860) in April 2011, or will their influence hold through the presidential election of 2012?

That’s where that entry ends. And then she goes on to another issue. She wouldn’t risk all of her well-deserved credibility on the election. But what else can you expect from a Libra?

Sylvia Browne’s Q & BS

July 21, 2010

Sylvia Browne recently trolled Orange County and the local press were successfully baited into giving her free advertising for her new book about how she lived in “two worlds.”

“I want people to know that I’m a real person,” Browne says of her motivation to write her new memoir.

Oh, and also the money. GIMME GIMME GIMME!!

Q: When will we get a Big One-style earthquake?
A: Thirty years from now.

Browne is now 73. So anything that she’s predicting will happen in 30 years is a pretty safe bet for her. Hopefully we’ll be rid of her long before then.

Q: What do you say to your detractors and skeptics?
A: I say, ‘I don’t give a rat’s you-know-what!’ If you know what’s in your heart is right, and your motive is pure, it’s between you and God.

So since Browne doesn’t keep her “psychic powers” and her raga-to-riches life story between her and God, it can be safely assumed that either her motives are not pure or her heart is not right. Or is she holding skeptics to a higher standard than she holds to herself? And if so, wouldn’t that contradict the “golden rule?” And speaking of Christianity:

Q: How is being psychic not counter to God and the Bible?
A: I’ve read all 26 versions of the Bible. Where they’re getting that from is Deuteronomy: Do not consort with sorcerers. But they forget that in Kings they went to the witch of Endor (who consulted with Samuel’s ghost). And that in Deuteronomy they say Joseph has always been an interpreter of dreams. It’s not the Bible’s fault, it’s people’s fault. They pick out one little piece and they’ll beat you over the head with it.

See, if only people would stop picking out one little piece of the Bible and beat you over the head with it, everyone would understand that the little piece of the Bible which Sylvia Browne uses to beat others over the head is the really important part you need to concentrate on.

If you were to look at the passage Sylvia refers to in context (which is actually in 1 Samuel, not Kings), you’d notice that it’s perfectly consistent with the prohibition of using mediums in Deuteronomy. You see, once the Witch of Endor raises Samuel from the dead on behalf of King Saul (this all sounds like the D&D crap it really is), Samuel’s ghost complains about being woken from his rest and condemns Saul for disobeying the Deuteronomic necromancy ban:

And Samuel said to Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up? And Saul answered, I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams: therefore I have called thee, that thou mayest make known unto me what I shall do.
Then said Samuel, Wherefore then dost thou ask of me, seeing the LORD is departed from thee, and is become thine enemy?
And the LORD hath done to him, as he spake by me: for the LORD hath rent the kingdom out of thine hand, and given it to thy neighbour, even to David:
Because thou obeyedst not the voice of the LORD, nor executedst his fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore hath the LORD done this thing unto thee this day.
Moreover the LORD will also deliver Israel with thee into the hand of the Philistines: and to morrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me: the LORD also shall deliver the host of Israel into the hand of the Philistines.

As it turns out, Saul died in battle three or four days later, not the next day as Samuel’s ghost predicted. But this is a strange kind of mixed message with nuances which are obviously lost on someone like Sylvia Browne. As it turns out, sorcery actually works. Sure, you can raise a ghost or two, but their predictions about your death might be off by a few days.

Journalism pet peeves, part 1

June 1, 2010

Anthropomorphizing large institutions

This is something you see all the time. Here is an example I found at random just now from the lede of an article in Business Week (emphasis mine):

U.S. envoy George Mitchell returns to mediate a second round of Middle East talks this week after Israel said it is through making gestures and a Palestinian negotiator said he’s ready for the “endgame.”

The problem here is that Israel doesn’t really say anything. Israel’s a country. Like any country, it has political leaders. They’re the ones who say things. They have names. They have titles. All of these things can be reported instead of pretending that tens of millions of people within an artificial border are just shouting one thing in unison.

In fact, Business Week seems to have discovered who they were quoting in the next sentence. But what’s the point of burying that information?

You hardly ever see reporters (real reporters, that is) talking about what “America says” and what “America wants.” You only see that sort of thing coming from snake oil-selling  hucksters who want to identify their own political ideology with all 300+ million of us living here in the US. If real reporters framed issues in that way, we’d all be insulted. How dare they pretend that America is some rigid monolith where everyone has the same opinion?

But on the other hand, those same reporters have no problem telling you what Saudi Arabia said or what China said or what South Korea asked China, to which Russia responded (trifecta in that link). It’s insanity. Either you know who actually did the saying and asking – in which case you should report more specific information, or you don’t – in which case you need to do more research before publishing.

So this problem is probably due to pure laziness and a cheap appeal to the audience’s need for a superficial narrative with ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys.’ It’s easy to support policies like the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq when countries are personified instead of represented as they actually are. Who would you rather bomb: 100 million Mahmoud Ahmadinejads, or 100 million people ruled by someone like him who all have their own wildly varying views on politics, religion, science, and culture?

And speaking of Ahmadinejad, he’s appealing to the same kind of over-generalized, blanket view of Americans in that government’s treatment of the hikers who accidentally crossed the Iraq/Iran border and are now being held without charges on suspicion of ‘espionage.’ These are three lefty kids from Berkeley who went to Iraq to study Middle Eastern culture. But Ahmadinejad seems to think they’re tools of the Pentagon because, hey, they’re Americans.

So even if you’re not moved by the need to get rid of this idea of national persons in our media for the sake of accuracy in reporting or for the sake of internationalism, you’d at least have to admit that this same kind of propaganda weapon can just as easily be turned against us here. And when that happens, things can get very ugly.


May 4, 2010

It’ just surprising this wasn’t written by Rick Sanchez:

It sounds like a Hollywood movie. An impending disaster — think the disabled spacecraft in “Apollo 13” or the asteroid hurtling toward Earth in “Armageddon” — prompts a daring intervention by engineers to save the day.

It turns out that Apollo 13 was a real mission and the movie was based on a true story. Armageddon, not so much.

Comedy is tragedy plus idiots

April 21, 2010

Over half of the “news” is just planted press releases

March 16, 2010

But this is an Australian study, so obviously it has nothing whatsoever to do with our press here in America, where journalists ask tough questions in order to get to the real truth behind the spin and are truly inde-HAHAHA.

OK, I knew I couldn’t even type that without laughing.

The Australian Centre for Independent Journalism is releasing a study, the first finding of which is that more than half of our news is pretty much just copy and pasted press releases. Press releases are basically just advertisements that corporations, government agencies, other organizations, and individuals send out to news organizations in hopes that they will cover their story in a way that will further their interests. You know how in lots of local newspapers there might be a character or two who always write in letters to the editor about such interesting topics as the dogs who walk on his front lawn too often? This is basically the same thing, only slightly more sophisticated.

Ideally, the point of journalism is for the reporters themselves to find the story instead of having it pretty much hand-delivered to them. But there’s only so much time in a day and a lot of whitespace to fill, so it’s not surprising that some of the lazier reporters would just base their copy on something fed to them through a tip line of some sort. What should be surprising – and yet someone isn’t, at all – is the proportion of bullshit in our news.

the ACIJ is releasing the results of their six month investigation gradually over the next two weeks through a website called (and I’m not making this up) Crikey. This was just the kickoff, so if you need to be more depressed be sure to catch up.

CNN knows where Hawaii really is

February 27, 2010

So there was another big earthquake today near Chile. The Boston Globe already has a ‘big picture’ photo feature for those who might want to get an idea of how bad it was/is. Doctors Without Borders is also on the job. But that aside, the really important angle of all this is how it’s affecting AMERICA – like Hawaii, which was under warning for a tsunami resulting from the earthquake, and what that can tell us about our media’s skills in geography.

Nepalese communist worships Buffalo (the animal)

February 16, 2010

They kind of buried the lede in this one, I think. It starts off with some standard back-and-forth about rivaling political factions’ leaders deciding to maybe put their differences behind them – but then, it’s Oh yeah… by the way:

“[Astrologer] Madhu Sudan Rijal told [Nepalese Unified Maoists’ Party Chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal] Prachanda- ferocious leader of the past, that his Rashi (Zodiac) is being heavily influenced by negative effects of the Shani-the Saturn planet.
He thus suggested the atheist communist leader to perform Griha Shanti Puja of Shani planet (worship of Saturn)…
To appease the Saturn Planet, Prachanda also performed Puja to the water buffalos.
It is also believed that donating or worshipping a buffalo and donating black oil (sesame oil) would make Saturn happy which would in turn do away with the negative effects of Sani.”

Communist writing is so funny – “ferocious leader of the past” sounds like it’s straight out of Pygmy. And it just goes to show you (again) that just because someone doesn’t accept one particular kind of superstition, like religion, that it doesn’t mean that they won’t fall for other, even sillier ones.


December 16, 2009

More great TV journalism:


Florida news anchors implicated in gang rape

November 28, 2009

Click above pic for story

From the article:

“[T]he owners of WPMI, have suspeneded General Manager Shea Grandquest and News Director Wes Finley for one week, without pay.”

So why did they suspend the GM if it was the anchors doing the gang raping? Not to mention that they’re totally unrepentant for their crimes. They look so happy about it!

Re-writing history at Fox

November 25, 2009

This is even crazier than the 9/11 “truthers.” At least they acknowledge that 9/11 actually happened, unlike Perino here.

I also love how the very next sentence is her saying that she hopes that Obama’s administration is “not looking at this politically.” Yes, there’s nothing more apolitical than pretending that there were no terrorist attacks during Bush’s terms in office.

CNN’s “expert” advice on ghost hunting

October 26, 2009

It is available here.

I will go through the main points and translate them into normalspeak.

First tip:

“Nighttime is good for ghost-hunting because the absence of noise, people, and other distractions of the day helps your sixth sense stay in tune with your environment.”

-Garrett Moffett, tour guide and author

If you are reading this, your ancestors were good at Hearing Things Go Bump In The Night. Earlier in human history, it was better in terms of survival and reproduction that someone be more sensitive to sensory input than to be indifferent. Those hominids were better at hunting prey and escaping predators, and they were able to pass on their genes more successfully than others. There was no evolutionary consequence for overreacting to a faint noise or something in one’s peripheral vision, but failing to react to such stimuli could have life or death consequences. Because our species has lived for so long as basically nomadic hunters and gatherers in the wild, there is an asymmetry in our psychological evolution where instant fear pays off in the historically wider sense where critical inquiry does not.

What I don’t understand about ghost stories is why this alternative story I just explained doesn’t seem to be catching on as more satisfying in just about every possible sense, because it really gets down to who we really are. Sure, we sometimes hear stories about the dead closing doors and turning lights on and off and stuff like that; but it’s so much more interesting to learn about why we find those kinds of stories compelling in the first place.

A tour guide in Savannah, GA named Roger Edgerly pretty much made the case for an evolutionary psychological explanation for allegedly paranormal claims himself, but doesn’t seem to realize that any possible explanation for his hauntings other than OMG ITS A GHOST are possible:

“You feel a presence, your hair stands on end, you hear sounds or feel a touch, and then you turn around and nobody’s there.”

That presence you feel is a false positive, and the reason your hair stands on end is because you appear to be larger when that happens.

So CNN’s “expert” advice is to wait until nighttime when you’re tired and more subject to hypnagogia. You will be surprised how many things you will see which you wouldn’t otherwise notice. And make sure to be somewhere very quiet, where every little noise and motion will make you jump. That’s right, we really do have souls and they survive our physical death in some form – but it just happens to manifest itself in this half-assed way that appears to be nothing more than people hearing things going bump in the night and pissing themselves over it like they were primitive cave dwellers or something.

“When I go to a historic (and therefore possibly haunted) spot, I’m fascinated and ready for anything. I believe the ghosts sense that you’re sincere, that you want to see them.”

-Robert Edgerly, tour guide

I find it very difficult to believe that, with all the wildly diverse types of human personalities just amongst people I happen to know, ghosts of all persons who have ever lived would cling so tightly to this particular personality trait of only wanting to make contact with people who already believe in ghosts. Isn’t there even one who wants to prove us smart-ass skeptics wrong? Houdini said that he would try to break through from the other side, at least to contact his wife. But he never did. Maybe he got distracted at a really great party in Afterlifeland. Or maybe all people go through some personality shift when they die so that they suddenly don’t want to prove the existence of ghosts anymore. But if that’s the case, it would be difficult to say how Harry Houdini could be said to be the same person he was when he was alive.

And why is it that only historic places are “therefore possibly haunted?” Don’t people who live boring and mundane lives get to become ghosts too? Why do all these hauntings have to be by someone with a tragic life and death? Why are some ancient and “historic” places haunted while average places aren’t? People die everywhere, so the distribution of ghosts and hauntings and whatnot should be more or less uniform. With all the white trash rednecks who have lived, you’d think at least one of these ghosts would have left an old Buick on cinder blocks on someone’s lawn by now.

“Digital recorders are a really good, basic tool. Cheap ones are great because they generate white noise, which spirits speak within.”

-Nick Groff, Travel Channel TV

Wow. Yeah, he really said that. Make sure to buy the cheapest audio recorders possible because the ones that don’t generate white noise and really do record what’s actually there don’t seem to pick up the “ghosts.”

This is an example of something you see often with these people. As they’ll tell you, ghosts and other alleged paranormal phenomenon are limited in the physical world in one way, but not others – and the distinction is made post hoc in order to justify the evidence as compelling even though it’s pure failure. On the one hand, ghosts can speak in an audible (and therefore materialistic and detectable) manner, but they have to do it through noise generated by cheap audio recorders. A psychic can tell you the color of a kidnapper’s hair, but they can’t give you an address where the missing child can be found.

“You’re not hunting rocks. You’re not hunting seashells. Provocation is very serious. Things can follow you home.”

-Zak Bagans, Travel Channel TV


Expecting “things” to “follow you home” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s vague enough that it could apply to pretty much anything, and so whenever you notice some “thing” – whatever that might be – and remember that “things can follow you home,” you’re likely to put the two together.

Anyway, if you’re really planning on hunting “ghosts,” try to incorporate a realistic perspective into the fun of being scared of things. And don’t be a jackass who does something stupid and hurts themselves, and don’t run to the media with every little anomaly that happens around this time of year with a “ghost story.” No matter how pro-establishment they might seem (like, for instance, CNN), there is apparently no depths to which they will not sink for “news” like this.

Journalism is serious business

October 20, 2009

… in Greenport, NY:

A New York State Trooper pulls over a vehicle near the three-way intersection on Joslen Boulevard in Greenport Monday. The reason for the stop and the outcome of the investigation remain unknown.

That’s the entire article. Really.