For the past seven years I’ve worked in the media intelligence field, tracking and analyzing news and entertainment media — mostly broadcast news, though the last year I’ve spent working with text and web content as well. In the past, in other outlets, I’ve criticized the manufactured nature of broadcast news and have complained about poor science reporting and credulous reporting on pseudoscience. My working experience has done nothing if not destroyed any faith I might have had in news media outlets.
After so many years, one might think that I had seen it all, that nothing remained to surprise me, and for the most part, I think that’s true. A common phrase among my friends at work is “dismayed, but not surprised,” and that’s generally how I feel when I come across news segments credulously reporting on nonsensical topics. I’ve learned to never underestimate the absurdity possible on the news, but it still perturbs me. Today, I came across a few segments that reinforced these feelings.
WTTE’s Good Day Columbus provides the first segment, in which reporter Johnny Diloretto has his toes read by a low-rent reflexologist. Yes, that’s right: he has his toes read, live on air. The video is below. My apologies in advance for the poor quality; it was all that was available.
If you don’t care to watch, it amounts to two minutes or so of the “reader” explaining that somehow — no explanation offered, of course — certain physical characteristics of our toes reflect aspects of our personalities and/or “blockages” in our lives. It is completely nonsensical and looks like nothing more than a new spin on cold reading, an update on palmistry, using the same techniques that play on the subject’s inclination to believe, confirmation bias, and selective and subjective validation. Statements are made with no explanation or evidence; it would be no different to see someone doing simple card tricks and claiming with sincerity to be some kind of powerful warlock.
What’s more problematic for me than simply the fact that this made it to air is that the reporter never once questions anything about the process. He plays right along, making little jokes and generally behaving as if it’s all genuine and not at all abnormal. Whether or not he believes in it or is just acting — I suspect the latter — he gives the viewers the impression that this practice has some validity. That’s bad enough, but the whole segment is really, at the base, just an advertisement for the seventh annual Gift of Light Expo, a perfect storm of every type of woo and pseudoscience one can imagine.
This is time that could have been used to talk about real science issues or breakthroughs. Instead, it’s spent advertising a hucksterism convention. Science and health reporting have been suffering in recent years. Science reporting is disappearing, and health reporting is too often reduced to oversimplifications or new studies or outright advertisements for new treatments. It’s a sad comment on our society that we allow real, meaningful news to be supplanted by blatant advertising for what is at best entertainment and at worst a scam meant to serparate the gullible from their money.