Newsweek is a National Embarassment

Via /nev/dull, The $10,000-a-Month Psychic | Print Article |

“When Seagate Technology, the $11 billion-a-year maker of hard drives for the Playstation 3 and Microsoft Xbox, went searching for a consultant to run one of its management workshops in the fall of 2006, it bypassed the usual list of Silicon Valley gurus. Instead, Seagate’s executive director of software engineering, Gabriel Lawson, invited Laura Day—a stylish New Yorker with no tech experience—to train his Colorado-based team. ‘She was amazing,’ Lawson tells NEWSWEEK, recalling Day’s quick insights into the poor coordination between the company’s research and marketing teams. ‘Anybody who can afford her will get 100 times their money’s worth.’ What exactly is Day’s expertise? While she likes to downplay it as mere ‘intuition,’ her clients prefer another explanation: she’s a psychic.

Tony Dokoupil manages to write 1,200 words in Newsweek about professional psychics without once telling his readers the single most relevant fact: Psychic powers don’t exist. Would Newsweek run an interview with the Easter Bunny? Would it let Jane Bryant Quinn suggest investing in perpetual motion machine startups? Would it print travel tips for hitching a ride on a flying saucer to Neptune? But here it is, an article whose sum and substance is that hiring a psychic could do wonders for your business.

This article is professional malpractice. No competent journalist would ever write something this brazenly, obviously, mendaciously misleading. If Dokoupil’s editors are responsible for the credulity, he should have taken his byline off of the article. By putting his name to it, he told the world, I, Tony Dokoupil, am unfit to commit acts of journalism. If this is what passes for professional reporting, what right does anyone have to complain about the quality of blog-based reporting?

News magazines have a basic duty to distinguish between things that are plausible and things that are not. If Newsweek isn’t going to fulfill that duty—and it’s not hard, as duties go—it should do the public a service and close its doors. People who read the June 30, 2008 issue of Newsweek will be negatively informed. They will know less about the world when they finish reading it than they did when they started.

Trash like this is why we let our subscription lapse.

I applaud your outrage at Newsweek’s negligence to call out the implausible. I’m curious, does your outrage extend out to include all sources that don’t question other superstitions and popular implausibilities such as, say, god?

I can’t speak for James, but mine sure does.

my subscription is free. I consider it a nice window into the world of the average American — it’s sorta like how Robert Anton Wilson used to take peyote and attempted to honestly believe everything he read in the Weekly World News. Except without the peyote.

Still, most professional news sources seem fast and loose with the truth. They’re telling a story; and a story has to be interesting — as opposed to facts, which are often boring. fair and balanced is and has always been a lie, from what I can tell. I don’t believe anything I read is the full account anymore.

Eh, I’m not feeling the outrage on this one. It obliquely hints at how embarrassed clients would be to be outed, says that psychic powers are “impossible to verify,” and suggests that this current enthusiasm for psychics comes from desperation in the business world. (It even compares her to Bush and Chertoff — that equals an anti-endorsement to me). If it were about some medical quackery, I’d be angry if it didn’t give greater weight to reputable debunkers, but I’m not sure who is being harmed here.