If something seems too good to be true, it’s probably false. That’s something most journalists learn back in j-school.
As one of my professors said, “If your mother says she loves you -- check it out.”
There’s nothing more frustrating than getting a salaciously meaty tip only to have it lead to -- pfft -- nothing. Despite these disappointments, journalists still follow those juicy leads, hoping to land by chance on a really good story. And every so often, something totally outlandishly wonderful gives them hope.
Remember when Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot someone during a weekend quail hunt? I doubt that the wounded man, 78-year-old Harry Whittington, thought it was so wonderful, but the jackals of the media had a field day. The incident provided heady fodder for the late-night talk show hosts, and is now turning up in “Best of” end-of-year lists for 2006.
After all, the whole thing seemed like a joke. And it just got even better as the facts rolled in. Whittington is an attorney, and who hasn’t wanted to shoot one of those? He’s also one of the top Republicans in Texas, and he contributed to President Bush’s 2000 and 2004 campaigns.
I rehash this old turkey in an effort to explain why I am so disappointed to learn that employees at the Grand Canyon National Park aren’t being pressured by Bush administration appointees to lie. Let me explain.
It all started when someone posted an item on one of my favorite forums that included a link. The link led to www.peer.org, the website of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
According to a press release posted by PEER, the National Park Service was telling Grand Canyon employees they weren’t permitted to give an estimate of the canyon’s geologic age.
“In order to avoid offending religious fundamentalists, our National Park Service is under orders to suspend its belief in geology,” said Jeff Ruch, PEER executive director. “It is disconcerting that the official position of a national park as to the geologic age of the Grand Canyon is ‘no comment.’”
I was flabbergasted -- and so intrigued. Like the Cheney saga, it seemed to get even better as the “facts” rolled in.
Ruch said the park bookstore is selling Grand Canyon: A Different View, a book by Tom Vail that claims the Grand Canyon was created by Noah’s flood, not geological changes over millions of years.
“As one park geologist said, this is equivalent of Yellowstone National Park selling a book entitled Geysers of Old Faithful: Nostrils of Satan,” Ruch said. “We sincerely hope that the new director of the park service now has the autonomy to do her job.”
Wow, my blood was boiling. I was ready to start a petition drive, write letters to my legislators, and by God, write a column.
Normally, PEER is a very reliable source, a watchdog group that works to protect our public lands. But someone dropped the ball big time on this one. Only the part about the book is true.
According to dailykos.com, the rest of the story has been debunked. That website referred to the National Parks Traveler, a blog hosted by Kurt Repanshek.
“This would be like shooting fish in a barrel to any reporter who likes to skewer the current administration,” Kurt wrote. “I was already rearranging my day to plunge into this baby.”
But, as all good reporters do, Kurt double-checked the facts. And that’s when he learned that the story, sadly, just wasn’t true.
He contacted David Barna, the NPS chief of communications, who told him that the rangers at the Grand Canyon focus on the geologic story behind the canyon, not the Noah’s flood one. “Restrictions about what they can say just is not true,” Barna said. “It’s in our management policies that we teach the scientific method.”
Unfortunately, many other blogs ran with this story without first checking the facts, as Kurt did. Why did so many of us rush to believe it?
Well, I can’t speak for those other writers, but as for me, I wanted it to be true. Yes, I like to skewer the present administration. Yes, I jumped through my house with glee as the returns from the recent election came in.
And, most of all, I believe that attempts to stymie knowledge in our school systems happen every day, and this conspiracy is headed by creationists.
There, I said it. The gloves are off.
Yet another website, religioustolerance.org, says residents of the United States take the scriptures far more seriously than do residents of other developed nations. In fact, a British survey of 103 Roman Catholic priests, Anglican bishops and Protestant ministers/pastors showed that 97 percent do not believe the world was created in six days. That’s the clergy, folks.
I happen to believe in God and I also happen to believe God created the earth, but not in just seven days. In the meantime, PEER stands by its story, insisting that the NPS is lying.
Not me. I realize now the whole thing really was just too good to be true. Too bad I can’t get a column out of it. ç
Linda Sickler is News Editor of Connect Savannah.