Skepticism

Bigfoot Made Him Do It

Gene Morrill is a 57-year old man who was just convicted in Virginia of soliciting sex from a minor online. Prior to his sentencing, he defended his actions by stating that he was once molested by Bigfoot. This has prompted the world to wonder: IS IT TRUE?

Luckily, crack journalist Jessica Weinstein of local ABC affiliate WJLA was on the scene. First, she interviewed “folks at the gas station,” who expressed disbelief and called Morrill an “idiot.” Stopping at nothing to cobble together a complete, factually correct story, she then contacted Matthew Moneymaker of the Bigfoot Field Research Organization (BFRO). As an aside, the BFRO are the guys who fell for Penn & Teller’s totally phony bigfoot sighting filmed for an episode of Bullshit.

Moneymaker helpfully informed professional news reporter Jessica Weinstein that though Bigfoot has been spotted in New Hampshire where Morrill claims he was raped, there has “never been a report of physical contact between a Bigfoot and a person.” Jessica Weinstein’s in-depth journalism has shed some doubt over this previously credible claim. Well done Jessica Weinstein, traditional media spokesperson.

With all that Pulitzer-worthy journalism, is there anything that Jessica and her cohorts missed? Not really. Just, you know, the entire point. I know I don’t have my own cameraman and microphone and ABC affiliate, but just for fun I’ll imagine how I might have approached this story.

A 57-year old man is convicted of soliciting sex from a minor. Immediately, we can suspect that something might be wrong with him, psychologically. To excuse or defend his behavior, he claims he was raped by a mythical animal in the woods. It reminds me of the way a child might deal with a painful experience — by turning it into metaphor, confusing it with fantasy. Maybe Morrill was sexually molested by a monster in the woods. Maybe it was a monster that we can prove exists. Maybe we should consider that, before we run off to ask the expert opinion of an Internet “researcher” who can confirm a sick man’s deluded fantasies. And hey, while we’re at it? Maybe a gas station isn’t the best place to find “folks” who are trained in psychology.

I’m not in any way excusing Morrill’s behavior. He was convicted of the solicitation charge, and he’s facing a lot more. And I’m not saying we can’t laugh at people who take their Bigfoot obsessions seriously. I’m just asking that we ask for some actual journalistic integrity from our newscasters, and save the sideshow for the circus.

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Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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20 Comments

  1. Actually, the gas station just might be the *best* place to find psych majors – those who didn’t get into grad school and are working off their mountainous debt in the only job they could find with their useless degree. :)

    (It’s ok, I have a psych degree – I’m allowed to point out how useless most of us are.)

  2. I like the sentiment behind the article, but I can’t agree with it. Journalists arn’t supposed to make the news, but just report it. We have JUST as much reason to believe that he was raped in the woods, as we do that he was raped by Bigfoot.

    We have an insatiable desire to understand, and we’ll make up anything to help us provide context to events we experience. In his case, its Bigfoot. In your case, Rebecca, you create a more realistic monster, but its just that… a creation. To be fair, you might just be positing a hypothesis.

    The more appropriate stance is to withhold judgment about what caused his kookiness, and let the evidence lead us to conclusions, rather than hypothesizing and trying to find the evidence that supports our hypothesis.

  3. I’m just asking that we ask for some actual journalistic integrity from our newscasters, and save the sideshow for the circus.

    As long as it’s more profitable for news corporations and their newscasters to do freak shows, I’m afraid that journalistic integrity won’t be their number one priority.

    I do agree with your statement though; we the viewers should be the ones demanding better news.

  4. I don’t like some of the mocking tones being used to describe this incident. Being molested by a cryptid is a series problem that effects even us skeptics.

    When I was little….I…I….I was swimming in Loch Ness when something reached up….and touched my…my…. penis. I thought it was just a fish but *tearing up* but but no! It was Nessie. There, I said it. Nessie touched me in an inappropriate way. Nessie looked at me and smiled as it rubbed it’s flipper between my crotch! *sobs*

    I told the authorities but they did nothing. They called me a stupid American and then gave me a T-shirt and a Nessie shaped lighter to try and cover up what I went through! I’ve been silent too long! Nessie is a horrible creature and I demand that it be sent to jail!

  5. Has anyone written to WJLA about it? It sounds to me like it’s a broadcasting branch of the Justice League of America, and superheroes are supposed to have integrity.

    But seriously, I’ve written to a few media outlets in my day, and I normally get a reasoned response from them. It could be something as simple as Jessica trying to do a tongue-in-cheek piece, but any hints of that got lost when an editor not in on the joke trimmed it down for broadcast.

    Or it could have been shoddy journalism. It’s not like that never happens. If the viewers out there don’t at least send in the occasional “give us a break, guys” note, even the media people who care won’t have any leverage for ding something serious.

    But on the off-chance that Jessica hated doing the bigfoot story, she could wave Rebecca’s note in front of her editor and say “See? I told you I looked like an idiot for taking that child molester seriously!”

  6. The thing that troubles me most is that Bigfoot has always been so gentle with me.

    I think this deserves to be quote of the week. Thanks for making me laugh out loud on my first day back in the office after two days trapped in the house with a toddler with stomach flu.

  7. It could be something as simple as Jessica trying to do a tongue-in-cheek piece, but any hints of that got lost when an editor not in on the joke trimmed it down for broadcast.

    Well, the report certainly begins like a tongue-in-cheek piece. By interviewing the local yokels and letting them scoff at this man, the viewer gets the impression that it’s all in fun.

    But when they introduce the darker aspects of the case, and talk to the undercover cops involved, it morphs more toward a serious piece. It becomes material that should be handled in a much different way; possibly the way Rebecca suggests.

    I think it’s just an example of a poorly conceived news report by the reporter, her editors, and the station.

    And to address something philosophile pointed out:

    Journalists arn’t supposed to make the news, but just report it.

    This is true. And I know what philosophile is getting at. But it’s ignorant to think a good journalist doesn’t (or shouldn’t) find an angle for a story and pursue it accordingly, thereby shaping the news.

  8. I’ve been a regular back country hiker for decades in the northwest and while I’ve never seen Bigfoot I’ve met a lot of smelly hairy loggers who could have been mistaken for the big guy… . Perhaps Morrill had a hairy north woods logger type encounter in his youth???

  9. In a tavern, In Virginia
    Searching a goodtime
    Trolling for a minor to sixtyniner
    All because of bigfoot time.
    Oh my yeti. Oh my yeti.
    Oh my yeti raped one time.
    Thou are lost and gone forever
    And the sex was so sublime.

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