Won’t someone please think of the children?!

Every time I think that the contemporary media can’t possibly get any worse, I am presented with yet another facepalm-inducing example of ‘journalists’ pretending that they are interested in providing information and clarity while what they really want are clicks, lots of clicks, and the ad dollars they bring.

This past week brought NASA’s Google+ hangout with prominent scientists and educators to explain (and debunk) the many common apocalyptic predictions floating about the more fetid and dank corners of the internet.  It was an informative and at times, even entertaining hour of content, and I’m happy they did it if just a bit dismayed that they needed to.  I suppose the only real tragedy is that those who really needed to see it were probably watching Mayan Apocalypse: 2012 or Armageddon instead.

The news media were thus presented with an opportunity to do a bit of public service by reporting on NASA’s effort to inform the public about threats to Earth both bogus and completely real, clear and present.  I’d like to say they rose to the challenge, but alas, no.  Nothing in the major media, at least not here in the U.S., and meanwhile elsewhere in the world the hangout, and NASA’s message more generally has been reported with winking skepticism at best and crass opportunistic fearmongering masquerading at worst.

Lowest of the low, unsurprisingly, is The Daily Mail (whose editors never met a potential threat they didn’t want to light their hair on fire and run wild with)

NASA warns Mayan apocalypse stories pose threat to frightened children and suicidal teenagers

  • The National Aeronautics and Space Administration warns that 2012 Mayan apocalypse rumors pose a real-life threat to frightened children and depressive teenagers
  • Some say they can’t eat, or are too worried to sleep, while others say that they are suicidal, according to NASA astrobiologist David Morrison
  • The apocalypse rumors began with claims that Nibiru, a rogue planet discovered by the Sumerians, will crash into Earth on December 21, killing everyone

Lest you think that this headline with its subheads reflects a real desire to alleviate the fears of children and teens everywhere, take notice that the lede is immediately followed by a dramatic piece of photographic art depicting space debris hurtling toward the east coast of the United States.  They did correctly report David Morrison’s assertion that those who stir up such fears are “evil,” though they then ran Dr Morrison’s picture right alongside that of Zecharia Sitchin who, according to crack reporting by The Mail’s Damian Ghigliotty, predicted the impending arrival of a mysterious murdering planet called Nibiru based on “Sumerian documents” which he had found and translated for the benefit of the world.  The article goes on cribbing from the Wikipedia article on Sitchin to note his death in 2010, while somehow forgetting to mention that Sitchin is generally regarded (by those who rely on experts from this planet, at least) to be a crackpot hoaxer who mistranslated much of what he says he found, ignored anything which didn’t fit with the fantasy he wanted to produce, and made up still more in order to paper over the massive gaps in his understanding.

Ghigliotty didn’t mention Nancy Lieder, presumably because she doesn’t have her own Wikipedia entry, and because his exhaustive research process didn’t include reading the actual text of the entry for Nibiru, instead of just scanning the subheads.  It couldn’t be because of the alien thing, the Daily Mail has no trouble at all reporting on aliens.

Our intrepid reporter was so focused on the welfare of those poor, credulous children and on his intensive search for information relevant to the threat that he didn’t spend much time on figuring out what those little red wavy lines were below the page of text.  What text he managed to squeeze in around the Wikimedia photographs is studded with gems like this:

“The rumors began with claims that Nibiru, a rogue planet discovered by the Sumerians, will crash into Earth on December 21, killing everyone, according to NASA’s website.”

Is it just me, or does this borderline-inarticulate text give the distinct impression (whether by design or simple lazy refusal to edit) that it is in fact NASA’s website which predicts that Nibiru will “crash into the Earth on December 21, killing everyone”?
P.S.  Hey, Damian?  That there’s an Aztec calendar stone you got yourself a picture of.  The Mayan ones weren’t quite so, you know, round.

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