Investigating The Earthquake Hoax

Larry Price
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Wednesday - December 06, 2006
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Military intelligence experts know the power of hoaxes, propaganda, misinformation and rumors. They know not only how to find the origin, they know how to use them to their best advantage. Since the Civil Defense authorities in the state are quasi-military, they should have no problem squelching a rumor going around town that they are investigating the origin of the recent earthquake hoax.

The media is probably the least qualified to research the source of a rumor or hoax, but would be highly qualified on the subject of the lethal use of gossip. In the news business, journalistically speaking, a reporter is not supposed to submit anything that cannot be verified by two independent sources. Courts have ruled that a tip from a police officer is not considered a legitimate source of information, unless it can be verified by another source other than another policeman.

“Who, What, When, Where, Why and How” is the battle cry of most serious journalists. That is not to say that all news reports are pure - there is a big difference between the “whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God,” kind of facts, and editorial opinions.

There are also several key Supreme Court rulings about the print media’s right to deliberately present information, in a special section of the paper, that is slanted toward their special interest or hidden agendas. In the broadcast media, news and commentaries allow them to get away with the same deception.

Some of the people born in the early ‘40s will remember during the World War II years when the media was patriotic and in full support of the military’s efforts overseas. They used to print headlines warning the American public that “Loose lips sinks ships!” The suggestion here was that gossip and rumors where very hurtful to the American cause.

My, how times have changed. Here locally, society is encouraged to be “whistle-blowers” and “question authority” relentlessly. The motive is simple, because it generates huge headlines. The media even has a law passed to give it the right to gain information, The Freedom of Information Act. It comes under the public’s right to know.

So now, like magic, the Civil Defense authorities are going to investigate what started out as a rumor and has been recently labeled a hoax. What’s that all about? The answer is in the definition of media words like gossip (like a gossip column), rumor (like a Hollywood reporter) and a hoax (like in legal intervention).

A hoax is an act intended to deceive or defraud. A hoax is deliberately false and punishable by law, which makes it a more interesting media story. A rumor is a story or statement in general circulation without confirmation or certainty as to facts, while gossip is idle talk or rumor, especially about the personal or private affairs or others. They are not necessarily false, but are usually unconfirmed. The difference between rumor and gossip involves specificity. Rumors may be about any topic, while gossip is usually about something personal or private.

Hawaii media has a long history of using gossip and rumor to sell papers or enhance television ratings.

That’s why it’s interesting to read and hear rumor escalated to hoax in one day. Chances are that no person or agency will find the source of the hoax, simply because it spread like gossip and graduated to an unconfirmed report that was fueled by the anxiety of another earthquake striking Hawaii just weeks apart.

If you are wondering what kind of a person is prone to spreading gossip and rumors, there is much research on the topic.

Consider the psychological disorder known as “histrionic personality disorder” of which so many media people suffer. The description goes like this: “The essential of Histrionic Personality Disorder is pervasive and excessive emotionality and attention-seeking behavior. This pattern begins in early adulthood and is present in a variety of contexts.”

These people are prone to wanting to be the center of attention, the life of the party, or to always do something dramatic like making up stories or creating a scene.

The deduction is simple, isn’t it? This so-called hoax did not originate in Australia, it originated in Hawaii because we have a lot of severe weather to worry about. A hoax from Australia would more likely have something to do with kangaroos hopping into Hawaii.

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