Arizona Republic (10/09/2009): More turning to psychics for economic advice. When the going gets tough, Valley residents apparently go in search of the metaphysical. Local psychics and astrologers say that while they’re seeing some decline in business as longtime clients cut back on discretionary spending, the recession is bringing them many new customers.
Even though it’s shrinking along with all metropolitan newspapers in America, the Arizona Republic remains by far the biggest news organization in Phoenix and the state of Arizona. It still helps set the agenda for public discourse, and claims to be a responsible operation.
The story quoted above, which ran on the front of its local/state section, demonstrates serious irresponsibility on the part of the newspaper. It’s a textbook example of why smart readers are tuning out the press.
Consider the way the story starts. The word “apparently” is a tip-off that the piece is based on no actual data. Who’s the source for this alleged mini-flood of new customers? Why, the people selling the product. Makes sense to me: In I-can-see-into-the-future territory, we can just take their word for it.
Not a single customer is quoted. We hear only from the people who are claiming to be getting this influx of new customers. Can’t the newspaper find even one client?
Look. Newspapers run astrology columns — something I’d ban if I ran a paper, because I’m old-fashioned — with no disclaimers that there is no scientific basis for what these planet- and star-gazers tell us. But the astrology columns run, typically, near the comics, which is the fiction section of the daily paper.
No newspaper, as far as I know, gives its pages over to self-described psychics. Yet the Republic’s story quotes several, along with the astrologers, with a straight face.
It even provides a helpful sidebar explaining the difference between psychics, astrologers, fortune-tellers and mediums (in each case with the same level of “here’s what they say, never mind what science says” logic). For example, we learn that a psychic is “sensitive to non-physical or supernatural forces and influences, able to see into the future and into the events in a person’s life. Often uses tools such as tarot cards, crystals or tea leaves.” Gosh, thanks the the deeper insight.
I have to note that journalists spent much of the last decade quoting with a straight face the people from the financial and real estate industries who sold inflated goods to suckers, pulling big fees from the transactions. (Note: I do not indict the entire industry. I have a financial advisor who works for one of the big banks, an old and close friend who’s never, ever steered me toward something that was aimed at enriching him, and someone who’s comfortable with my tendency to buy and hold.)
The peddlers got rich, and then disclaimed culpability for the bubble or the financial catastrophe it spawned for those average folks (many of whom, we should noted, played the markets like insane gamblers who lose their kids’ college money at Las Vegas casinos). Maybe a responsible story would have contrasted the slimy advice from the past with the advice people now seek — foolishly, in my view — from the self-professed seers.
Had this story appeared on April 1, I’d have applauded the piece as droll satire. Running with scarcely a hint of reality, it only satirizes the condition of the newspaper industry, or at least this corner of the trade.
(Note: The updates to this include some or all of the 3rd, 4th 7th and 8th paragraphs. Also please understand that the post update will make some of the earlier comments feel out of place. This is my doing, not the commenters’. Anyone who commented early on and wants the comment removed, please email me.)