x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

A slow news day

In Texas, a "psychic" claimed there were many bodies buried at a modest private home. We don't know why police acted on such doubtful evidence, but we do know what so many media outlets reported this non-story: it was what news professionals call a "slow news day".

The local media ran to cover the scene as soon as the rumours spread. State, local and federal agents were raiding a one-storey brick house in the small town of Hardin, Texas, after a tip-off to police claimed a mass grave at the property. Some said 25 bodies were found; the toll rose to 30; and then, it was whispered, children were involved.

Except this Texas massacre all took place in somebody's mind.

Slow news days happen all the time. Local TV stations scramble to report on UFO sightings, firemen saving kittens up in trees, or a supermarket's grand opening.

But even by those standards, the Texas "graveyard" should have aroused some scepticism. The crime, as it turned out, was reported by a woman who claimed to be a psychic. Why the police believed her, we are not quite sure, but any cynical journalist should be ashamed to be so gulled.

Surprise, the tip-off proved to be somewhat less than prophetic. But by then it was too late, the story had spread like wildfire despite the evidence to the contrary. "I haven't killed anybody," home-owner Joe Bankson told The Houston Chronicle. "And I have a lot of friends, but I haven't helped anybody bury any bodies." Who do you believe?

Falsely reporting a crime can lead to serious charges. We wonder if our psychic investigator could see those coming.