Demonologist story was not responsible journalism
To the editor:
I’m writing to protest the biased reporting of your November 2 article “A demonologist is coming to Aroostook to banish a curse.” It is irresponsible journalism to write about the notion of possession from a purely religious perspective, without mentioning the scientific consensus that there is no evidence that demons exist.
The only “authorities” quoted in the article are the self-described demonologist (who’s profiled extensively, with what seems like obvious esteem), a pope, the Catholic catechism and a representative from a comparative religions website. Stories of supposed hauntings are presented uncritically by the writer. Words such as “superstition,” “folklore,” or “unverifiable” are never used. While the idea of “detractors” is raised, only the self-described demonologist himself is quoted in relation to them; he is permitted to summarize their arguments and to answer them. Perhaps the article was meant to be a touch tongue-in-cheek. However, the story is presented as fact, and at no point does the Star-Herald provide the reader with the viewpoint of a person who doesn’t believe in demons.
Think it doesn’t matter if a newspaper publishes a story about possession? Think people won’t take it seriously? A quick internet search of “demonic possession” yielded this: “Delusions of Possession and Religious Coping in Schizophrenia: A Qualitative Study of Four Cases” (Pietkiewicz, Kłosińska, and Tomalski, 2021). The abstract states, “This study explores how patients with schizophrenia came to the conclusion that they were possessed, and how this affected help-seeking. … In each case, attributing problems to possession was supported by the local environment and media, led to seeking spiritual help, and delayed diagnostic assessment and treatment.”
I’m NOT suggesting that everyone who attributes symptoms or phenomena to possession has schizophrenia. I’m stating the obvious: Media plays a large role in shaping people’s understanding, and to publish approximately 750 words presenting demons as real can have real consequences. People are of course free to believe in whatever they want, but journalism has a responsibility to the public good to separate fact from opinion. The story itself wasn’t the problem; presenting demons as an undisputed fact of life, however, is misinformation.