“The huffy, judgmental statements about journalistic ethics and how things really work in the biz are very clear indications that someone does not know their ass from a hole in the ground, certainly not about investigative reporting.”
~Investigative Journalist, George Knapp
By Joe Murgia
Recently, an online blogger/debunker attacked the integrity of investigative journalist, George Knapp. This person, who I’ll call “Mr. Debunker” because I don’t want to give him any publicity – is a true believer. Like most debunkers, he believes that no matter what the data shows, UFOs are nothing more than misidentifications. And any paranormal events – like what allegedly occurred at Skinwalker Ranch – are impossible. To the debunker, the eyewitnesses are either mistaken, lying or delusional.
In one of his recent blog posts, Mr. Debunker claimed that a PR firm representing the Jeremy Corbell documentary, “Hunt for the Skinwalker,” offered him an interview with Knapp. Mr. Debunker also claims that Knapp declined because he avoids interviews with anybody who challenges or is skeptical about, the paranormal events surrounding Skinwalker Ranch.
Other criticisms Mr. Debunker leveled at Knapp focused on his “unethical” handling of his relationship with Robert Bigelow and his supposed lack of journalistic integrity by accepting off the record information from a source (Bigelow) with the agreement that it wouldn’t be shared with the public. Mr. Debunker also chimed in on what constituted paranormal activity at Skinwalker Ranch.
Knapp responded strongly in a private forum that I frequent and it’s so good that I felt the need to share it. I’m posting it here with permission from Knapp. To me, it’s up there with Stanton Friedman’s debunking the debunkers. Please share far and wide.
George Knapp: How to Handle a Debunker
It seems like [Mr. Debunker] is a formidable, much-feared debunker…sorry, I mean skeptic…one who is to be avoided at all costs because of his ferocity, and maybe someone who is trying hard to get my attention. Ok. I do not have a PR firm. I did not authorize a PR firm to offer interviews with me. I did tell Jeremy Corbell I would do some interviews to help support his film but made it clear I did not have the time to do very many of them–I think I have done 6 or 7 in the week since the movie was released–and in light of my schedule, he agreed it would be best to do the ones that would have the largest reach so that more people would hear about his movie.
I have to agree with [Mr. Debunker] that none of those interviews were conducted by die hard skeptics, but the reasons for that are not too tough to figure out. Debunkers are not exactly the target audience for the film, and I doubt many of them would pay to see it since they already know in advance that the material can’t possibly be credible. Also, the list of debunker-themed radio shows or periodicals which have large audiences is not very long. To be absolutely clear, I have had zero requests from any PR person to do an interview with [Mr. Debunker]–perhaps he can share the emails that went back and forth?
I most certainly did not duck an interview with him based on his massively intimidating reputation but willingly admit that IF I had been asked, the answer almost certainly would have been no…for the simple reason that it would not have been a productive use of my time. He might be very well known among his fellow skeptics, but that is not exactly a mass audience. I do not care what his opinion is about the Skinwalker Ranch, or UFOs, or paranormal topics in general. He is welcome to them. They make no difference to me, and after 30 years chasing these crazy subjects, I would add that they are not exactly original.
Skepticism is absolutely valuable and important. I think it is equally important to have an open mind. The debunkers I have known over the years have their minds made up and are every bit as rigid in their beliefs as any priest or fundamentalist or hopelessly gullible saucer nut who thinks every glob in the sky is from another planet. The scientists who studied the ranch were skeptical but open minded, Their first steps were to look for prosaic explanations for the strange events that were reported to them, and which they witnessed themselves.
From the comfort of his home thousands of miles away and many years later, [Mr. Debunker], who does not have a PhD in front of his name, seems to know more about science and the events on the ranch than the PhD’s who were actually there, day and night, for several years. That is one benefit of this brand of skepticism– one does not require actual expertise or hands-on research, or to even leave the house to reach firm conclusions about what is real and what is not.
As for the tenets of journalism….
I do not know what experience [Mr. Debunker] has as a journalist, but it doesn’t sound like it goes much beyond blogging on his own time. The news stories I pursue and write are not some kind of social media hobby or part time Facebook plea for attention or relevance. It is my profession, my job. These days, where everyone with a keyboard and a computer is a journalist, we tend to forget that there are actual journalists, working for journalism organizations and companies, and that there is accountability. Someone can sit in mom’s basement and bang out a fervent screed, ranting about people they don’t know and subjects they know even less, and they have no oversight other than the decision of when to press the Send button.
I have worked for a respected, mainstream news organization. I work hand in hand with producers, a managing editor, a news director, and a general manager. I work under a signed contract which holds me to certain standards and if I violate those standards, I lose everything. My employers and managers trust me, even when I delve into these kinds of strange topics. I am responsible for everything I do and write, even if it does not air on KLAS TV.
The huffy, judgmental statements about journalistic ethics and how things really work in the biz are very clear indications that someone does not know their ass from a hole in the ground, certainly not about investigative reporting. Reporters make agreements with sources every day. They agree to conditions about how and when sensitive information can be released. If you think otherwise, then you have never worked as an investigative reporter or have never tackled a long range, long term project.
I do not work for Mr. Bigelow. I have no financial relationship with him. I agreed to conditions he established as a way to get my foot in the door at Skinwalker Ranch and with NIDS, and I kept my word. Because I kept my word, I’ve been able to break many other stories on related topics because people who HAVE the information being sought by others have learned to trust me. There was always an understanding that I would make the information public. It is why I brought along a photographer and cameras on each trip. The only question was when would it be made public. I was willing to wait, and would do it again. If I did not agree to the conditions, then there would be no public information about the NIDS study of the ranch. Someone else may have made a different decision, but for me, it was not difficult at all. Anyone who says serious journalists do not make these kinds of agreements every day is simply not familiar with how news works and how information gets released.
I’m not Woodward and Bernstein–obviously–but they had parameters in their dealings with Deep Throat. They could not identify the source, they had to get independent confirmation, and there were conditions imposed in exchange for the information they were given— before they could go forward with what they had learned. It is not rocket science. It is pretty basic. Their editors and managers oversaw it. They reported to someone else. So do I. Now, if I were, say, a blogger, sitting in the basement, I could write whatever I want. I could lecture real scientists about how science should be conducted and I could admonish actual journalists about what is ethical and what isn’t, and there would be no one looking over my shoulder to suggest an edit or two.
So, I have responded to some of the more arrogant and ignorant assumptions written by someone I do not know. It is likely a mistake on my part to comment at all because it provides a few dribbles of attention to someone who so clearly craves it.