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‘Zombie news’—fake reports, repeated

/ 10:44 PM December 23, 2013

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine in Camiguin posted an item on his Facebook profile (via a third party) about a so-called news item that purportedly appeared in the Daily Mail: “Food flown to Philippines from UK ends up in shops hundreds of miles…” This drew a few comments from a few astounded, gullible people, including yours truly, who said this might “make some people think twice next time.” Why was I so easily conned into believing the worst of other people, when the facts are usually otherwise?

INQUIRER.net columnist Jose Montelibano responded, on Facebook, saying that this story was a lie put out by those wishing to run this country down. Montelibano’s word is enough for me, his reputation is aboveboard.

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As it was, the lie took on a life of its own; call it “zombie news,” if you like.

The story mentioned shops in Manila’s affluent suburbs, but failed to name which shops.

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Reading through the report once more, one could not help but conclude that this so-called “news” was based on unverified, unconfirmed and uncorroborated rumors from third-hand sources.

Further, the Daily Mail is not what one might call a sober broadsheet; it specializes in scandals, headlines flagrant sex (the weirder, the better) and is owned by a magnate who is usually in the eye of controversies for questionable journalistic practices. One may as well read Canada’s Beaverton or America’s Onion for straighter news, with at least the saving grace of satire.

There is a 15-minute TV show in Australia: “Media Watch.” This regularly skewers media of all sorts for sloppy, sensational and sordid and inaccurate zombie news. It’s a pity there is nothing of the sort here in the Philippines, where “suspects” are regularly paraded before the cameras and entertainment tends to be blurred as news.

There have been a few other items on Facebook lately that made me slow down and not jump aboard, including one about a couple of Brazilian inventors who claimed to have come up with a device to bring energy into the home that could possibly drive the fossil fuel industry out of business. This was so outrageous and beyond belief that even I had to stop and say, “Ha, this sounds like another version of the perpetual motion machine, its last one being the cold fusion scam of about 20 years ago.”

One book I can thoroughly recommend to dampen anyone’s gullibility is Martin Gardner’s “Science: Good, Bad and Bogus.” Gardner was the mathematics editor of Scientific American for a good many years, and delighted readers with his math puzzles and tricks, but he was savage on hucksters, scammers and con artists, especially those who covered themselves in scientific headdress. He writes with wit, humor and erudition, and is worth studying at length.

Finally, the only tune that comes to mind with this whole silly sordid stuff is Procul Harum’s “Souvenir of London,” a song you’ve probably never heard on the Top 40 or MTV (for obvious reasons), but easily found on YouTube. It is a gentle satirical send-up, a rare sort of song that is very difficult to write at any time, let alone sing. And it’s done ever so well.

The truth, as Jesus Christ once famously said, will indeed set you free.

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 —WALTER PAUL KOMARNICKI,

  [email protected]

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TAGS: Jose Montelibano, Journalism, Media, supertyphoon ‘yolanda’, The Daily Mail
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