Incredible Mysteries of Sun Pictures by David Bloomberg Over the past few months, CBS has

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Incredible Mysteries of Sun Pictures by David Bloomberg Over the past few months, CBS has shown several specials produced by Sun International Pictures, Inc. These shows have all dealt with the Bible in one way or another and have been biased towards the pro-literalism, pro- creationism side. Skeptics are included for short segments that believers then seemingly tear apart, along with acting clips supporting the stories as they appear in the Bible. REALL has reported on the most recent two of these shows, The Incredible Discovery of Noah's Ark, which aired on February 20th ("REALLity Check", March 1993; "REALLity Check", July 1993) and Ancient Secrets of the Bible, Part II, which aired on May 15 ("Logic Abuse and CBS", June 1993), but new information makes it necessary to take another, much closer, look at Sun and their methods. As reported in the July "REALLity Check", Time magazine and the Associated Press (AP) had stories claiming that George Jammal, one of the people who appeared on the Noah's Ark show to tell his story about finding the Ark, has actually fabricated the entire story to expose Sun's shoddy research. This he allegedly did with the help of Dr. Gerald Larue, a professor emeritus of biblical history and archaeology at the University of Southern California, who had appeared in an earlier Sun production. Jammal's story, as told on the Sun show, was that he and a companion had gone to Mt. Ararat to search for the Ark. According to the story, they found it and took a number of pictures, but Jammal's companion was killed and buried in a landslide, along with all the photos. Jammal had one piece of evidence to show for his trip, a piece of wood that supposedly came from the Ark. This was the story that Larue claimed had been fabricated by Jammal and himself. Sun fired back with a six-page response to the Time article. CBS has remained mostly silent. The Sun response seeks to address four issues: Who is making the claim that Jammal fabricated his account? Did Sun perform due diligence in its research of the Jammal account? Was the piece of wood alleged to have come from the Ark authentic? Is Mr. Jammal's account still factual? In answer to the first question, the response talks about Dr. Larue. They bring up the following information: "Dr. LaRue (sic) is probably conducting some type of a vindictive campaign against Sun. This may be the result of his appearance as a skeptic in our show, Ancient Secrets of the Bible I which aired on May 15, 1992. According to Time magazine, Dr. LaRue felt he was `set up as a straw man.'" They go on to say, "Since 1982, Dr. LaRue has served as chairman of the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion, a group dedicated to refuting Bible claims; was the consulting editor (1987-1989) and Emeritus President of the National Hemlock Society, a euthanasia advocacy organization; and is the senior editor of Free Inquiry, a humanist magazine published by the U.S. Council for Democratic and Secular Humanism, another group with goals of removing religion from society and Bible oriented programs from public broadcast." But what does this have to do with whether or not Larue coached Jammal? Apparently Sun is trying to imply that because Larue is a secular humanist and is upset at Sun, his claims of having aided Jammal are automatically suspect. Rather than trying to defend against his claims or find out the truth behind them, they begin by attacking the man making those claims. The Sun response then goes on to defend their research of Jammal's story. They say they interviewed Jammal, looking for flaws and inconsistencies in the story, and then gave the interview tapes to a psychiatrist, Dr. Paul Meier, who served as the field physician on an earlier Noah's Ark expedition. Meier told Sun's Chief Researcher, David Balsiger, that he found the accounts "totally believable." Meier recorded an interview that had to be cut from the show, in which he said of Jammal, "we would call him an `obsessive-compulsive with histrionic features.' What this really means is that he's a perfectionist performer." Later in the interview, he says that Jammal wept while discussing his alleged companion who had been killed by a rock slide. He uses this show of emotion as evidence to support the reality of the story. But earlier, he had already admitted that Jammal is a "perfectionist performer"! He knew Jammal was an actor, but apparently ignored the possibility that Jammal was acting. In that interview, Meier also admits that he does not know Jammal personally and has only studied him from the tapes. So, there is a psychiatrist who is certainly not unbiased, working from tapes of an interview done with an actor, giving testimony that it is accurate. This is what Sun considers research? In addition to the psychiatrist, Sun claims they analyzed a map Jammal gave them showing expedition routes. According to Sun, "it could not have been drawn by anyone who did not have experience with the mountain." Sun does not, however, explain why this is so. The third portion of the response deals with the piece of wood Jammal showed, claiming it was a piece of the Ark. Sun begins by bluntly admitting that they do not know whether it is real. However, con-tradictions then appear in their response. They say, "It has not been the practice of Sun or other production companies to spend money or time testing and documenting artifacts shown on the air by interviewees." That sounds fine, until it is compared with Balsiger's comments in the AP article. He said, "We couldn't test the wood in time for our deadline." On one hand, Sun is claiming it is not their practice to test such things, on the other, they are claiming they didn't have time to test it. The remainder of that section defends Sun's refusal to test such things by saying their shows are "entertainment" and that they would have been creating news if they had run the tests. This brings up the question of why they tested Jammal at all, through the psychiatrist and the map. Where does Sun draw the line? How much research is too much? The final section deals with the question that sums it all up, "Is Mr. Jammal's expedition account of seeing the Ark still factual?" Sun says they still stand by the account as being accurate, even in the face of the evidence given by Larue. "Our position is not expected to change unless there is an admission by Mr. Jammal of an elaborate hoax, and how he managed to execute such a clever hoax to convince a professional psychiatrist and several experienced Ark-Ararat explorers that he was telling the truth...or until third party collaborating evidence can substantiate Dr. LaRue's (sic) account of the hoax." So what does Jammal have to say about all this? According to the AP article, he refused to talk to reporters. According to Skeptics Society Director Michael Shermer, and Dr. Larue, Jammal is not saying anything because he is afraid of getting sued. When REALL contacted Mr. Jammal, he said that, under his lawyer's advice, he had no comment at this time. But the September 1993 issue of Freethought Today has as its cover story an article saying that Jammal will be speaking about the story at the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) convention on October 23. Larue adds that Jammal will lay out the entire story at that convention. The story identifies Jammal as an actor and mimer, and an FFRF member since 1986. When REALL asked Sun's David Balsiger what would happen if Jammal came out and admitted that the story was fabricated, Balsiger said that there may be legal implications to hoaxing a network. He also said, "CBS attorneys were trying to speak to Dr. Larue and he would not get back to them." Larue said that he has never been contacted by CBS or their attorneys. Balsiger added that he has talked to Jammal's attorney, and that Jammal won't make any statements until he sees what legal ramifications might result from Sun or CBS against him and Larue. But even without a direct admission from Jammal, there are questions about Sun's methodology in writing and producing these shows. For example, as the Time article stated, Larue does believe that he was set up as a straw man by Sun. In an interview with REALL, Larue said that when Sun came to him for their piece on the fall of the walls of Jericho, they brought a statement and asked him to read it. He said it wasn't exactly the statement he would have made, but it was mostly in accord with his views. He went on to say, "I read this and was given the opportunity to expound on why I didn't believe it was a genuine historical happening." However, all of that was cut out, and all that was left in when the show aired was the original statement that Sun had brought to him. This was followed, according to Larue, by Dr. Bryant Wood, who went on to give a lengthy discussion of his point, which countered Larue's and favored the Biblical interpretation to which all three of Sun's shows have been slanted. Farrell Till, editor of The Skeptical Review, feels the same way of his own appearance on Ancient Secrets of the Bible, Part II ("Logic Abuse and CBS", June 1993). Sun came to Till with a script, the same way they came to Larue. Till was told he could change it, and he did so, with the understanding that his changes would remain in the show. Instead, his time was cut down to very little, mostly representing what had been originally scripted, and he was dropped altogether from one scene, replaced by Carol Dickinson, a professor of psychology who simply read the script. In his interview with REALL, Sun's Balsiger discussed the interviews. "Being entertainment, it's a scripted show," he said. "But when it comes to the experts, they have the liberty and the rights to [put] what they're saying any way they want, the only requirements being that they cannot be excessive on time, make [their] point fairly quickly, and [they] can't go off on a tangent where [they're] going to get five minutes, because it doesn't happen. Most of our experts always changed something in the script." He said they try to base the script on what they think the expert will say, based on research that they've done, but they don't hold them to it. In the case of Farrell Till, Balsiger said, "he had three scenes and wrote a better argument for all three scenes and that's the way we shot it." But, he said, "even though we shoot an interviewee doesn't guarantee it's going to get in the show, it doesn't guarantee that their piece may not be shortened, it doesn't guarantee that it won't be edited in some way." Why is the editing necessary? Again according to Balsiger, "the show was over 2 hours too long. We haven't done a show yet that hasn't been at least an hour [too] long. What happens is that we attempt to keep as many interviewees in as possible, [so] we have to shorten their pieces. Maybe they were speaking for a minute, they get shortened to 30 seconds. A sentence or two is cut off the end or somewhere, not to change their point of view or anything, but to let them make the longest point they are making in shorter period of time." "I'm not sure exactly what happened in [Till's] case. It may not have been the duration of what the interview was. We also have some other requirements that we attempt to meet in each show: What is our ratio of women in each show? Also, does a person make more than two appearances? He could have been dropped on his third appearance because he already had two appearances and another factor may have been that ... we were way down on our females. There's a lot of factors that go into these shows, and to the viewer it looks like we're rigging something." Indeed it does. For example, if they only allow a person in twice, why shoot three scenes with him? If they base the script on their research of a particular person's views, why did the psychology professor who replaced Till read the exact remarks that Sun presented Till? Did their research indicate that she had the exact same views as he, and would express them in the same way? Why were both scenes with Till and Larue cut down such that essentially only the original statements, scripted by Sun, were left, even though Balsiger admitted that Till came up with better arguments? Why doesn't Sun ask the interviewees ahead of time which of their arguments should be cut first, if necessary? Balsiger said that they have NEVER done a show that hasn't been too long, so shouldn't they think about editing ahead of time? Why give the interviewees the impression that most or all of what they say will be in the show when it simply doesn't happen? Sun needs to answer all of these questions about their procedures if they expect viewers to stop wondering if they are "rigging something." So Larue did feel that Sun was setting up a hoax upon CBS viewers, and his friends and acquaintances knew of his feelings. George Jammal knew Larue for approximately seven years, so when Sun came to him about his Noah story, he contacted Larue. According to Larue in his interview with REALL, Jammal started his Ark tale several years earlier to expose faulty research by religious organizations, and had been interviewed by a creationist organization then. Sun saw this interview and called Jammal when they decided to put together their show. Jammal saw this as a perfect opportunity to expose Sun's lack of research. To help in this endeavor, Larue says Jammal got a piece of wood from his backyard, soaked it in various juices, baked it in the oven, accidentally charred it a bit, scraped off the charred material, soaked it in soy sauce, and put it back in the oven. Thus he had his chunk of Noah's Ark. Jammal concocted the story about his companion Vladimir, who supposedly fell to his death, to account for his lack of photos. Again according to Larue in his interview with REALL, Jammal has never been to Mt. Ararat. He was coached by Larue on what to say to help back up his story. Larue said, "Jammal's part was designed to expose the hoax that Sun International was pulling on the people. We felt that the whole CBS program was a hoax." Larue went on to say, "It talks about the discovery of Noah's Ark. That's a lie. They never discovered Noah's Ark." He said that calling it "The Search For Noah's Ark" or something similar would have been much more honest. Larue was very blunt in describing his views. "There was no discovery. The title is a lie. The idea that it was a documentary is a lie. The third lie is that they are now explaining it as entertainment only. That was never given clearly in the text." In fact, the host of the Noah's Ark show, Darren McGavin, stated at the beginning that this was a "non- religious, scientific investigation." To the average viewer, this makes them think of a documentary, not an entertainment show. But Balsiger said all of Sun's shows are contracted under the entertainment division; they're not news, nor documentary. He calls them reality TV shows and says they are "actually not allowed to create news. I personally have gotten in trouble over this issue in the past. Being a researcher, it is my inclination to check this or check that, but on an entertainment type show, we are not mandated, and matter of fact we [cannot] make news or create news. On an entertainment show, we are actually forbidden from doing that and instructed not to do that. I did it on another occasion and when it was discovered that I had tested an artifact, [which] proved what the interviewee was trying to make, it ended up getting not used, period." When asked about the narrator calling it a "scientific investigation," Balsiger said it "may be splitting hairs on something that was said by the host, but it should have been pretty clear that our show was an entertainment." Asked how this should have been clear, he indicated that it should have been obvious from the context. He said that news shows and documentaries are produced by the network news side of the network, while this was not. He added, "We've only done entertainment shows over the years. Reality TV shows are entertainment. Always have been, always will be." Balsiger said that he considers shows such as Unsolved Mysteries to also be reality TV shows. However, Unsolved Mysteries makes a point of telling the audience before every airing of an episode, "This is not a news broadcast." According to Balsiger, we can look forward to more "reality TV" from Sun and CBS. Even though the AP story says that CBS claimed they had no other Sun programs scheduled, Balsiger said that they have a show, Ancient Mysteries of the World airing on CBS in November, which is presently in production, and one on UFOs that will probably air in December. He said there are others under development with CBS. Why didn't CBS mention these in the AP story? It seems that there are a number of unanswered questions regarding Sun and CBS. L.A. Times TV critic Howard Rosenberg has called for an explanation from CBS (July 7, 1993), but has gotten none. He called their stance an "incredible double standard regarding truth in news and entertainment programming." So where are the answers? If Jammal admits to having made up the story, will Sun and CBS retract the story publicly and admit that they need to check into their research procedures? Or will they both continue to say that, as "entertainment," they don't need to do any research, and can just present claims? The line between news and entertainment is getting dangerously blurred. When a narrator calls a show a "scientific investigation" but the viewer is expected to somehow realize that it is just "entertainment," that line has been removed altogether. - 0 -


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