by David Bloomberg
Like any other year, 1994 had its ups and downs. Sometimes the media did a great job, sometimes they needed to go back to the basics, and sometimes it was the same paper or even author! Here are some of the highlights and the lowlights.
The Chicago Tribune "wins" this award for their horrible story about Dr. Bennett Braun (V2, #12). The story is typical of many which appear in the Tribune's "Tempo" section -- long on anecdotes, short on facts. However, when I first wrote it up here, I didn't realize how short on facts they were.
Dr. Braun is one of the biggest proponents of the idea that people can undergo massive abuse and then completely forget about it (repressed memories). However, he takes it a giant step forward and claims that many of his patients have been abused as part of a giant satanic conspiracy, in which all sorts of horrible crimes are perpetrated, but no evidence is ever found.
The author of this article mentioned that Dr. Richard Ofshe devoted a good portion of his book to Braun, but apparently he didn't bother to examine it very well. If he had, I don't see how he could have put together such an unskeptical story about Braun, while only tossing skeptics a bone here and there with statements like, "such claims [of Braun's] draw sharp criticism."
Like I said, since reading this article, I have seen Braun pop up in several other books, most notably Victims of Memory, by Mark Pendergrast, and have learned more about him from researchers and "retractors" (people who recover memories, but then realize the memories were untrue). Frankly, I am disgusted that the Tribune has printed this nonsense.
Dateline NBC wins this award again for their two stories on fortune teller cons (V2, #12 & V3, #2). Last year, they won this award for their investigations into claims of alternative medicine. This time, they used similar methods in a four-month investigation to catch fortune tellers conning victims out of hundreds of dollars while claiming to remove a curse. (See also Bruce Walstad's article in this issue.)
Mike Curran made the first pseudo-scientific claim of the election season (V2, #2), when he visited Medjugorje and supposedly was in the same room while a miraculous healing occurred (not that he saw anything, mind you, but why would that change his mind?). However, this award has to go to Ellen Schanzle-Haskins, in her race for state senate. As regular readers know, Schanzle-Haskins didn't just lose to Karen Hasara, but was beaten so badly that Hasara was drafted to run in Springfield's mayoral election (coincidentally running against Curran, among others).
You will also remember that Schanzle-Haskins sent out an invitation to a fund-raiser featuring local "psychic" Greta Alexander (V2, #10 & V2, #11). Would she have lost even without Alexander? Almost certainly yes. But I know of several people who saw this support of nonsense as being indicative of somebody they sure didn't want representing them. Too bad her psychic friend didn't foresee that.
Matt Keenan (who happens to be our featured speaker at the March meeting) wins this award for his story printed by the Illinois Times about parents accused of being part of a huge satanic conspiracy. The article showed how devastating the false memory phenomenon can be and how far some will reach to find an evil conspiracy hiding everywhere.
This award also goes to the Illinois Times, for almost the same topic. In June (V2, #6), I wrote about a Times article which only gave one side of the story regarding claims of recovered memories, specifically relating to an attempt to change the statute of limitations. Since then, the Times published the Keenan article, mentioned above, an article about my FMS talk (V2, #7), and another article about a DCFS investigator who allegedly saw satanic abuse where none occurred (V2, #9).
This past year, we were told that the most famous photo of the Loch Ness Monster was actually a hoax (V2, #4). What makes this confusing, however, is that we really can't be sure the hoax claim isn't, itself, a hoax. As Robert McGrath discussed at our September meeting, there are a number of factors which come down on both sides of the hoax claim. So, the only thing that seems certain is that a hoax of some sort definitely occurred. The question is, was it back in the 1930's when the photo was taken, or just this past year?