A few weeks ago, most of the news media in the western world swarmed on the story of a 68-year-old woman called Joan Carra, a “top psychic”, who accused Bob Dylan of grooming, sexual abuse, and battery some 56 years ago. I must confess that when reading the articles I felt like living in the day of the locusts.
I immediately spotted another morbid excitement and shameless attempt for clickbait headlines.
Is the world of the press falling so apart for its superficiality?
One newspaper after another in a most robotic way repeated the same spicy allegations. It was a tragicomic monologue of a broken record producing a litany of hisses and rattles.
For instance, in my home country, Italy, the reporting sounded like a miserable copy and paste job. It often occurs when they cover the US news.
I have to stress that as a journalist myself and a connoisseur of Dylan’s literary and music opus, I was shocked to read the mud thrown from the house when there has been no discovery, research into the accuser, or court findings.
A few days later, the Zeus News Now team revealed the accuser’s identity and her profession, together with the stature of Joan Carra’s attorneys, Peter Gleason and Dan Isaacs. How did the press behave, then? Did the newspapers follow up with so much as a mere update?
Why didn’t they say: “Wait a minute, this story smells a bit odd. How come this lady, allegedly a psychic, files a lawsuit at the very last nanosecond before the New York Child Victim’s Act window closes? And why waiting more than half a century?”
I once investigated the murky Italian world of astrologers, fortune-tellers, and all sorts of psychics claiming to be blessed with supernatural powers who are thriving on a variety of small, private TV channels. A woman who fell victim to an infamous television healer named Wanna Marchi (or “Vanna” Marchi) said: “I told her my son had cancer. She gave me a private consultation for a big sum of money. She said that the case was severe, so she needed to quadruple her fee to ease the progress of my son’s illness. If I did not pay, my son’s fate would be tragic. I told her firmly that I wouldn’t give her any more money. She replied that I didn’t love my son”. Later, Marchi was arrested, and her TV show was canceled.
Italian journalist Massimo Giletti often interviewed families who confessed heartbreaking stories of their ruin: “We are up to our necks in debt for trusting these swindlers,” one victim said. “The best advice is not falling into their net.” That poor victim was referring to the Italian charlatans, of course.
But going back to the ethical responsibility of the press, once Mark Twain said: “There are laws to protect the freedom of the press’ speech, but none that are worth anything to protect the people from the press.” He pronounced those words during a talk he gave in 1873 before the Monday Evening Club at Hartford Connecticut titled License of the Press.
Twain, the father of American literature and a witty journalist himself would knock the state of the popular press.
“It is a free press — a press that is more than free — a press which is licensed to say any infamous thing it chooses about a private or a public man or advocate any outrageous doctrine it pleases,” Twain said.
And he added: “It has become a sarcastic proverb that a thing must be true if you saw it in a newspaper. That is the opinion intelligent people have of that lying vehicle in a nutshell. But the trouble is that mentally challenged people do believe and are molded and convinced by what they get out of a newspaper, and there is where the harm lies. Among us, the newspaper is a tremendous power. It can make or mar any man’s reputation. It has perfect freedom to call the best man in the land a fraud and a thief, and he is destroyed beyond help.”
I end, however, on a positive note: luckily in this case, most readers, including my fellow Italians, commented on this news that makes no sense (if it can be called ‘news’) involving Bob Dylan: with a laugh. “Gee, that sounds so ludicrous. What joke is this?”
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