August 18, 2008

Why CNN covers things like this Bigfoot nonsense

Posted: 12:16 PM ET

There's been a tremendous response from CNN Readers and Viewers on our reporting on Mr. Bigfoot.  As you may discern from the subtle hints in the title of this blog as well as other reporting on our website and on CNN TV, we're not buying it.  But we are reporting it.  And from the top of the organization to the bottom, we're comfortable with that, because that's what we're supposed to do.

Bigfoot "hunter" Tom Biscardi displays photographic "evidence" of the mythical creature's existence. IAN SHERR/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

There have been many comments on this blog about how CNN should be "ashamed" for acknowledging this story.  There have also been many others critical from the other side.  Some say we should wait till the scientific verdict is in; others have already stamped Bigfoot's passport and declared all of this to be real.  Others have labelled CNN as "lazy" for not going out and finding Bigfoot for ourselves.    A special thanks goes out to the several people who took the time to write and complain that CNN was wasting their time.

I've had a great time reading through the (mostly) very smart comments from all sides on this.  Thanks.  Even to those of you who've declared me an "idiot" for my extreme skepticism about the tribe of Bigfeet that live one menacing Georgia Congressional District away from me, my children, and my pets. Here are a couple of facts about this story that I hope will clarify what CNN's role in this story is:

1) CNN is responsible to make its own decisions on what news is, but we're also beholden to report on what our audience is interested in.   In the six-month life of this blog, Bigfoot has gotten more page-views and comments than all but two of the 250-plus stories we've reported.   It would be irresponsible to impose a blackout on reporting this, given the demonstrably strong interest in the story.  It would be just as irresponsible, given the track record on reports of the finding of previously undiscovered mythic beasts in the wilderness, to report in a way that makes this seem like it's a reality. 

I have no problem sharing with you, on this blog, my personal impressions:  The Bigfoot "discovery" is a crock.  But we have an obligation to report the facts as they come out, for the benefit of a public that clearly cares about this, for whatever reasons. 

2) For those who think we've been a bit tough on the seven-foot-seven, 500-pound fella and his human handlers, it's important to acknowledge that a heavily-publicized announcement just took place with no firm evidence whatsover presented.  The impresario who ran the show has a track record of promoting at least one past proven hoax, and the two discoverers had, to put it very charitably, a very tough time accounting for themselves.  All this on top of a century-long history of phony-but-lucrative sightings of Fierce Creatures.  Many commenters have indignantly reported that Bigfeet have been spotted in nearly every one of the United States.  None have mentioned that anyone, anywhere, has produced a single Bigfoot bone, or shred of flesh.  Elvis sightings have as much forensic evidence.  That's where the evidence starts.  For all practical purposes, including the legacy of proven hoaxes, the evidence, or lack thereof, pretty much doesn't end.

CNN has reported on this story in a way that gives strong weight to the likelihood that Bigfoot is as real as mermaids and leprechauns because that's what the preponderance of evidence says.   Those of you who agree or disagree are welcome to voice your opinions here.  Thanks.

Peter Dykstra  Executive Producer   CNN Science Tech & Weather

Filed under: Animals • Hoaxes • myths

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August 15, 2008

Bigfoot's First Press Conference

Posted: 04:18 PM ET

I just watched the coming-out party for Bigfoot at a news conference in Palo Alto, California. Bigfoot did not attend. The participants included a publicist; veteran Bigfoot hunter Tom Biscardi; and the two alleged discoverers of a Bigfoot carcass in the state of Georgia - prison guard Rick Dyer and police officer Matthew Whitton.

Biscardi showed a photo of the tongue and teeth of Bigfoot (as one blog commenter pointed out, Bigfoot obviously practiced awesome dental hygiene!) and an indiscernible photo of another Bigfoot said to be alive and walking away from the camera. That's it. They released a purported DNA result, although it was uncertain if the DNA info was supposed to be compared to other primates (it certainly couldn't be compared to other Bigfoot - or is it Bigfeet?).

Audio quality for the press conference was poor; there was no explanation of why the announcement would be made thousands of miles away from Bigfoot's location (he's in a freezer, somewhere here in the Atlanta area), but there was an assertion that access to Bigfoot would be very selective.

Biscardi, the professional Bigfoot hunter, did most of the talking. He promised to involve credentialed scientists, and dropped the name of Richard Klein, a Stanford University anthropologist. Dr. Klein was conveniently out of town, even though the press conference was held down the block from Stanford. I've left him a message inquiring if he's really involved with this.

The whole affair had a familiar ring to it:

Nearly six years ago, there was a media frenzy around the reports of the first cloned human. "Eve" was born the day after Christmas, fortuitously appearing during a dependably slow news week. Who unveiled that fantastic development? A cultish group called the Raelians, who believe that space aliens created life on earth, and who said a second cloned baby was on the way. But after a barrage of skeptical questions and a refusal by the Raelians to show us the baby or allow outside inspection (citing respect for privacy - not exactly a logical follow-up step if you've just held multiple press conferences), the Raelians disappeared. So did talk of a second baby, and the first baby hasn't been seen to this day.

The Bigfoot hunters, Biscardi, Dyer, and Whitton, certainly aren't cultists. Whitton and Dyer seemed like nice Georgia boys. But they're following a time-honored tradition of hucksterism, for which there's a voracious public appetite.

Okay, boys. Show us the proof. Let the experts establish the proof, and the stage is yours. Otherwise, put a sock in it, and go hide in the woods. Maybe you'll grow into a legend.

Peter Dykstra Executive Producer CNN Science & Technology

Filed under: Animals • Hoaxes • myths • sarcasm

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Bigfoot discovered! Large, historic bridge for sale.....

Posted: 10:05 AM ET

On Friday at 3pm ET, a press conference in Palo Alto, California will announce the discovery of the body of Bigfoot.

I got the press release, and quickly checked eBay to see if the Brooklyn Bridge was for sale again.

But let's play along for a minute, and drive a bit of web traffic to the Searching for Bigfoot website. Bigfoot was discovered in north Georgia (the U.S. state, not the besieged former Soviet Republic). He stood seven feet, seven inches tall, weighed over 500 pounds, and yes, he was a he.

The Searching for Bigfoot site belongs to Tom Biscardi, a veteran bigfoot tracker. But it was two relative newcomers - a local cop on longterm leave, and a former prison guard, who found Bigfoot right here in Georgia. They have a website too, and you can not only learn more about Bigfoot, but you can buy a Bigfoot T-shirt, a Bigfoot coffee mug, or, for up to $5,000, a guided expedition to the place where Bigfoot was found.

Unlike the intrepid Bigfoot hunters, who have been on the job for years, I'm new to the facts and specifics of all this. So as a journalist, it would be unseemly for me to spout off an opinion on what I think of all this. For that, you'll just have to read my mind.

Of course this is far from the first cottage industry to spring from shady sightings of mystical, mythical beasts. There's a dinosaur that's been hanging out in a lake (a loch, actually) in Scotland. Hanging out for over a hundred years in a relatively small, intensely well-watched and photographed loch. But Nessie, with its presumably walnut-sized brain, has been smart enough to snatch tourist dollars and escape undetected for a long, long time. Click on this link if you want to make travel reservations and grab a Scottish bed & breakfast.

Kenneth Wilson, a gynecologist and amateur dinosaur hunter, snapped this picture of the Loch Ness Monster in 1934

Kenneth Wilson, a gynecologist and amateur dinosaur hunter, released this picture, purportedly of the Loch Ness Monster, in 1934. It was later admitted to be a hoax. The photo was snapped by Wilson's friend, Ian Wetherell.

Then there's Sasquatch. It's normally presumed to hang out in the Pacific Northwest, although there was a Sasquatch sighting in Ontario last month. This big fella also has a web following, with Sasquatch merchandise a part of the overall plan.

Nepal's more enduring version of Bigfoot is the Yeti. There's a site that even has a page of Yeti humor for your Yeti-related speaking engagements. Be advised that most of the jokes are Abominable.

Mexico can offer the Chupacabra (translation: "Goat Sucker"). It's a hairless, dog-sized night prowler blamed for mysterious livestock killings. A chupacabra head was recovered in Texas last year. Upon further review, it turned out to be a coyote with a bad case of mange.

In my native New Jersey we had the Jersey Devil, a mystical creature that prowled the Pine Barrens. We named our pro hockey team after them.

All this exists (or not) in the animal kingdom, but let's not forget that years after their alleged deaths, Elvis and Tupac Shakur are also still routinely sighted.

What the moral of this blog? There's a slightly charming, mostly sad tendency for people to abandon science and reason while they fall for romantic or scary mythology, and there's a vibrant business existing to separate those people from their money. Many politicians, Professional Wrestling promoters, faith healers, and Nigerian email scammers have made a handsome living off this.

Anyway, they're presenting "DNA Evidence" at Bigfoot's coming out party. If any of this convinces any credible scientist anywhere, I'd be happy to eat a big plate of crow. Or chupacabra.

Let us know what you think about all this. Thanks!

Peter Dykstra Executive Producer CNN Science and Tech

Filed under: Animals • myths • sarcasm

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