a follow up on ABC's beyond belief

Regarding ABC's Primetime Nightline Special: Beyond Belief, aired last Wednesday night (8-17-11):

The last report on that special featured reporter David Wright's encounter with two "psychic" mommies, Alison DuBois and Rebecca Rosen. Each "psychic" did a reading for Mr. Wright who claimed he was "naturally and professionally skeptical." His skepticism quickly disappeared when Rebecca Rosen hit him with some pretty specific (although her technique looked like standard cold reading) information.

Such as, his mother's na
me (she guessed it was an Ann or Anna and he told her it was Deanna), that she was dead (Wright stated he had not told either woman about that), that his wife was Irish (she said she was seeing clovers and wondered who was Irish, he told her it was his wife), his wife's name (she said she saw a V as in Victor and he told her his wife's name was Victoria), she claimed to feel a strong connection between his oldest daughter and his late mother (he told the audience that daughter was named Deanna after his mother), and so on.

David Wright: naturally and professionally skeptical?

David Wright, the natural and professional skeptic, was "hooked" and he specifically said that none of that information can be found on the internet. Well, it turns out that the personal information alleged psychic, Rebecca Rosen, "psychically" gleaned from the beyond CAN BE FOUND ON THE INTERNET! (My thanks to the skeptics on Twitter who bothered to look for and found this information mere minutes after the program aired.)

You can find the information about his daughters here. This item is dated 2008.


You can find the name of his mother, the fact that she is dead, the name of his wife and the fact she is Irish here. This item is dated 2005.

Remember, the reporter said none of that info could be found online. So, either Mr. Wright is just plain lazy or he was being disingenuous, figuring most people won't do the search and he wanted his report to give the impression there may actually be psychic abilities.

Rebecca Rosen: a psychic or a cold reader who knows how to use the internet?

For some reason, the networks are under the impression that skeptical and/or scientific programming is a ratings killer. They think that the paranormal draws more viewers. This may be true, but I think if a program is done well enough in its writing, production and presentation any topic will grab viewers. 'Cosmos,' the science series presented by Carl Sagan did spectacularly well for PBS in 1980. It can be done.

But the networks, especially the cable networks, just keep trotting out the tired old mystery mongering, paranormal, ghost hunting schlock. Those programs are less than a dime a dozen these days and the science content of all of them combined is close to zero. They may feature a skeptic (usually edited to appear cynical) who will provide some science to the proceedings.

I stated in an earlier blog that I give credit to ABC for getting most of that program right, as far as its presentation of skepticism toward psychic abilities went. But they just had to abandon the skepticism completely for that last report by David Wright. There may be a couple reasons for doing that.

One reason might be the need of the news media to give some balance. They had given the skeptics a pretty good shake for 90% of the show, so give the psychics that 10% for some balance. Ok, maybe.

The other reason might just have to do with the fact that it appears ABC will be running their own mystery mongering series on the paranormal. They don't want to spoil that series by being too skeptical on this special program, do they? That might explain why they chose to run the most credulous report on psychic abilities last, leaving millions of viewers with the impression that Rebecca Rosen and Alison Dubois might actually be psychic. In my opinion, the way ABC ended that special tainted all the proper skepticism that had gone before.

So, the networks think there are big ratings in mystery mongering, paranormal, ghost hunting schlock. And it's the skeptics who are called cynical!

1 comment:

  1. I rarely get as worked us as I have gotten over this. I can absolutely understand Mr. Wright being taken in. Many people have fallen for the same song and dance many, many times. I can understand his desire to know of a connection between his mother and his daughter. As a father, I can absolutely empathise.

    Here's the thing though. David Wright is supposed to be a journalist. He is supposed to TRY to get to the facts. Will he make mistakes sometimes? Sure. We don't expect perfection. We expect a reasonable attempt at truthful reporting.

    Was this a reasonable attempt? Not even remotely close. His outright abdication of any journalistic responsibility is a slap in the face to those journalists who take their jobs seriously. It's a slap in the face to viewers who put their trust in him.

    Is it okay for him to believe in the psychic powers of Rebecca Rosen? Sure. Is it okay for him to specifically state that something could not have been found online without even checking to see if that statement was truthful? It's not okay. Given the stakes here, it's disgusting.