Thursday, August 03, 2006

So much for the journalism of verification

CSI: Turning from Science to Psychics

But what happens when psychic powers are used for much more important and practical purposes, such as solving crimes? Psychic detectives have a long and glaring track record of utter failure in criminal cases; from Elizabeth Smart to Laci Peterson to Chandra Levy, Jimmy Hoffa, and countless others, psychic information has been worthless in leading police to missing persons. Still, when crimes remain unsolved and families are desperate, psychics will offer to help. And sometimes entertain.

Following the success of Court TV's series Psychic Detectives, the network launched a new "reality TV" program titled Haunting Evidence. California "psychic profiler" Carla Baron and two other investigators spend 24 hours revisiting real-life cold case murders in the expectation that their powers will succeed where police have failed. Oddly, the team doesn't tackle obvious missing persons cases known to many Americans, such as the 1996 murder of JonBenet Ramsey, or Natalee Holloway's 2005 disappearance. Perhaps those cases are too high-profile, and might cause the public to wonder why America's top psychic detectives hadn't solved those long ago

I don't understand how Court TV can promote garbage like this. The more interesting question is how the network can crank out such slimy bilge and and still be seen as a place where serious journalists work.

They are not alone in this sort of thing. ABC, to take one example, was willing to suspend their skepticism to flack for a psychic in their search for ratings.

So is Prime Time a news show? Is it just fluff? Don't they use the same respected television journalists who show up on Charlie Gibson's news broadcast?

If this sort of thing just tarnished a network's reputation, that would be one thing. But hyping the bona fides of "paranormal investigators" has two other effects.

1. It increases the credibility of all parnormal practictioners. This makes it easier for the unscrupulous to exploit the hurting. (See this)

2. It encourages dingbats to flood police hotlines in high profile cases.

Salt Lake City Police Chief Executive Officer Lieutenant Chris Burbank. Lt. Burbank says that of the 18,000 specific tips the department received on Elizabeth Smart during the nine months she was missing, half of them -- 9,000 -- came from either proclaimed psychics or people using psychic-sounding language (e.g., “I had a dream,” “I had a vision”). While Lt. Burbank could not accurately say how many of these people predicted Elizabeth Smart was alive, he knows there were a number of them, because many of them called back after Elizabeth was found to say, “I told you so.” Lt. Burbank added that it is "more difficult to focus your efforts” with all these kinds of phone calls that require “many police hours” to field and follow up on. Needless to say, this leads to wasted police effort at taxpayer's expense.

No comments: