Monday, June 26, 2006

Felony cluelessness: Aiding and abetting

Here's another grievous offense against journalism that isn't -- originally -- the copydesk's fault. It'd be nice if reporters didn't turn in this sort of crap, and if metro editors would say "no" to it, rather than "well, it could be true" or "great centerpiece" or "hey, it's a good read." But the desk can always challenge it, and upon losing, take some middling satisfaction in having done its job.

Here, though, the desk apparently didn't even put up a fight. Worse, it played along, amplifying the story's worst points rather than trying to fix them -- or at least hide them or create a distraction or something. Hence the desk is guilty of aiding and abetting journalistic cluelessness. Sentence pending, but it'd be a good idea to pack your toothbrush.

Let's start with the centerpiece-slash-reefer on the reefers-only front. Notice the way a little lie -- or in some cases, an obvious hole that the originating desk didn't bother to fill -- turns into a big lie. Start with the breakout of "opposing theories":

"It may have been a mooring stone. The Romans used circles set this way. ... The size ... might make it ancient."

"Stone anchors have not been discovered in Florida. ... I'm not surprised at all what might turn up, though."

Cripes. Not only are these not opposing, they aren't even theories. One guy says it might be something. The other guy says stuff similar to that something hasn't been found in Florida. That's observing and speculating, not theorizing -- or contradicting. But it's not the scariest of the lot. Here's the lede of the 1A tease:

A local bicycle mechanic and bartender says stones found near the Gulf Coast are ancient anchors from biblical times. Archaeologists have mocked his theories -- until now.

Skip the adjectival piling-on (what, no modern anchors from biblical times?) and concentrate on the second sentence, from which it's pretty clear that "archaeologists" must no longer mock these "theories." Which is a long way from what the story says. One archaeologists talks politely of "interesting people" and another more directly of "nut balls." And the one pictured on the front page plans to return -- but if it's because he now believes the "theories," the reporter either forgot to ask him or didn't think the point was relevant.

John Saxer had a revelation 18 months ago: Many of the stones, big and small, that he studied around Pinellas and Pasco counties were ark anchors dating back thousands of years. Think Noah's Ark or massive ships from Atlantis.

OK, I'm thinking. And I'm thinking it's been a long time since Sunday school, but aren't Atlantis and Noah's Ark kind of -- well, contradictory?

The amateur archaeologist took his theories to the scientific community, which brushed him off as a kook. Undaunted by the rejection, Saxer, 55, pressed on.

Now he has found some acceptance. A California archaeologist is studying the stones. And he's impressed by the find.

And the eager reader is referred to the Metro front, where presumably support for all this awaits. Starting with the hed:

Discovery Could Rock Archaeology

Yep. Sure could. And then again, hed writer could be laughed out of the profession. Even by the standards of "could" heds, this one's abysmally dumb. But it gets worse in a hurry:

NEW PORT RICHEY - A tireless prophet with a salt-and-pepper beard and an inviting grin, John Saxer knows that mainstream archaeologists, journalists and folks in Tarpon Springs think he's nuts.

They reject his Greek mythology- and archaeology-based theories that Tarpon Springs is the center of the biblical Garden of Eden and the Tampa Bay area coastline was the seaport of Atlantis.

It's been a tough sell, acknowledges Saxer, a 55-year-old bicycle mechanic and bartender who was homeless for much of 2004.

Saxer has been ignored by archaeologists nationwide for the past 18 months, despite offering evidence of what he claims are 6,500-year-old stone ark anchors abundant on land near shorelines in New Port Richey, Holiday and Tarpon Springs. (This is one of the worst things about journalism's perverse relationship to science. Not all evidence is equal. Not all evidence should be treated as equal. Especially not "evidence" of stone anchors from Genesis or Atlantean times. Get it?)

"It gets scary when you're in front of the field," said Saxer.

I'm sure it does. But the real fun is about to begin. Here's the bait-n-switch:

Last week, Saxer had a breakthrough. He found a believer, the type he had sought for years, an archaeologist with credentials and financial backing.

This must be the guy in the tease, right? The "acceptance" that's finally reached the front of the field? Let's give the guy a listen:

"I don't believe any of the Garden of Eden theories, or most of John's views of Atlantis, which I did my master's thesis on," Donato said before his trip here. "I'm interested because the pictures are similar to anchors found at Bimini last year and to [5,000-year-old] finds in the Middle East."

Uh, OK. So no Eden, and not much Atlantis (how much, of course, we aren't told, which may in itself be a good thing). And, by the way, the 1A cutline is starting to have a distinct ring of fiction about it as well -- unless the assertion that the rock in question, rather than the unspecific photos, looks like the Bimini ones is something else the reporter left out in his haste.

Thus, the big question goes either unasked or unanswered: What is it the visiting maverick archaeologist is impressed by? What does he believe? That there might be an interesting find here? (Certainly possible, but hardly something that would rock the world of archaeology.) Or that it's time to put away the foil helmets and welcome back our Atlantean insect-robot masters? Without that, the readers can't tell the paper is (a) wasting their time with an annoying practical joke or (b) actually as dumb as it looks.


Blogger Peter Fisk said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:23 AM, June 30, 2006  
Blogger fev said...

Tnx for stopping in, and "Golden Books treatment" is herewith nominated for a place in "Copydesk: The Movie."

"Charticles" is an informative addition as well. That's the scariest translation of Maestro I've heard in a bit, tho.

12:27 PM, June 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is Me ... Saxer your not seeing the whole picture. 500 ark anchors have been catologued and examined for artificial markings. As I see it thre was a large fleet here and Atlantis was the only one written about that could fit the massive find. So go on with your doubt but at least speculate your answer to this evedence.

4:43 PM, July 03, 2006  
Blogger fev said...

Thanks for checking in, John. I'm inclined to propose a null hypothesis: The 500 stones in question are not a supernatural phenomenon.

Best of luck with your research.

11:28 PM, July 04, 2006  
Blogger Paul Kuhlmann said...

I live in New Port Richey, Florida. I have lived here for 7 years. Your story about the guy who studies the odd stones was a fun read, but I wish to add that these large stones with perfectly cut holes are found all over the place. I've long wondered about them myself. The guy is an odd fellow, and his 'Garden of Eden' ideas are goofy, but the stones do exist, and the holes are obviously man-made.

12:35 AM, July 05, 2006  
Blogger Paul Kuhlmann said...

I live in New Port Richey, Florida. I have lived here for 7 years. Your story about the guy who studies the odd stones was a fun read, but I wish to add that these large stones with perfectly cut holes are found all over the place. I've long wondered about them myself. The guy is an odd fellow, and his 'Garden of Eden' ideas are goofy, but the stones do exist, and the holes are obviously man-made.

12:36 AM, July 05, 2006  
Blogger fev said...

This just in from the job postings:

"The Tampa Tribune newsroom is a place where you will be
encouraged to raise questions and concerns about stories."

Anyone positioned to comment?

(Paul, I don't doubt that there are stones with signs of human workings; my concern is with how we get from there to Rocking the World of Archaeology, and from there to Atlantis and Eden.)

10:22 AM, July 06, 2006  
Blogger Peter Fisk said...

"The Tampa Tribune newsroom is a place where you will be encouraged to raise questions and concerns about stories."

Anyone positioned to comment?

That’s generally true. I was referring only to some pieces that are collabbed in advance and then put on the page without additionally going through the standard rim and slotting processes. Many newsrooms fall into the trap of thinking that if a copy editor or two have been involved in the development and collaboration stages, the piece has “already been copy-edited.” The mistake in that thinking is not realizing that when copy editors are detached to help “Maestro” something, they are filling the role of backfield editors, not copy editors, and the thing still needs to go through fresh eyes on the copy desk and be subject to challenge.

No one should be scared off from applying to the Trib just because I don’t personally like the Maestro approach. A lot of papers use it in one form or another. There are many really fine people on the Trib’s desk who know what they’re doing and are a joy to work with, and the news editor who placed that ad is one of them.

3:07 AM, July 07, 2006  
Blogger Peter Fisk said...

I've deleted my initial comment because it may have been misconstrued. My point was that you can’t always assume the copy desk is to blame for dumb things getting into the paper. Copy editors can’t be accused of dropping the ball if they weren’t allowed to handle it.

2:31 AM, July 09, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Tribune is not Archeology Today. I thought it was an interesting article with local colour.

I met Mr. Saxer once on his boat. He's a nice guy. We didn't discuss the anchors though I would have liked to hear his theories regardless of how "out there" they may be thought of.

9:44 PM, February 12, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Saxer,
I have been trying to contact you with no luck. Where can one find your contact information (phone, email, etc.)? I live in New Port Richey and would be interested in discussing your research with you.
Gavin Callaghan

8:06 PM, December 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I met this moonbat quite by accident when I stopped in Neptune's bike shop a couple weeks ago. He had a bunch of far out theories about running and cycling to kick things off, then went into the Atlantis, Garden of Eden thing. My wife and I were not sure if he was serious, but apparently he was. Scary. Not the guy I want working on the breaks on my bike, if you know what I mean.

2:47 PM, April 25, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've known John Saxer for 30 years. He based a lot of his earlier theories - about the missing capstone of the great pyramid being the communication device to the mother planet, etc., on a novel published in the 70s. Can't remember the name of the novel. The guy's bonkers. I think he did too much mda or something...

9:09 PM, May 23, 2008  
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11:06 PM, December 30, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's me Johann christian von Sax (SAXER)
I believe that I have found Eden from not only the anchors but the landscape of Eden descibed by plato matches the landscape of Tarpon Springs .%6 ft. elevation , underground river spring that was a fish hatchery the spring of rejuvinating life also the mircoscope that indians would not be able to construct. I am your Prince of Switzerland as well as the merovingian heir as well as the Judaic King of Israel and the davidic lineage you doubters . recheck your bibles and see who it is that GOD said was suppost to locate Eden in Revalations! So check for yourselves or salvation may elude even the elect. Johannes = the highest Christian = annointed von Sax = from Isaac the father of Jacob(Israel) wake up people for the end may be nearer that you thought!I found our dark star ,brown dwarf, have any of the rest of you doubters done any thing with your pitiful lives. I doubt it .

8:58 PM, July 26, 2011  

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