Conspiracy theorists a real pain

SEAN PLUNKET
Last updated 05:00 24/11/2012

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Sean Plunket

Let kids make their way Royal roadshow back in town Meeting a transgender 8-year-old Supermarket shopping may become patriotic Shifting house mainly a relocation of clutter and memories To the culture minister, I say 'chur' and keep up the good work Internet party amateur and vain Grateful for no smart phones in days of youth Sticky subjects at the dinner table Avatar deal first step to prosperity

OPINION: I wrote back in September about the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon which resulted in Neil Armstrong being the first human being to set foot upon that satellite of Earth and boldly declare that "One small step for man" was in general a whopping great leap for mankind.

In writing that piece I hoped to capture a sense of nostalgia for a truly momentous event in my childhood and draw some parallels with the all too tawdry exposure of Lance Armstrong as a drug cheat.

Hopefully most of you got it but one reader, whom I will not name because I suspect that will feed his ego, didn't. Indeed this person filed a complaint to the Press Council against my column on the grounds that: The column was untrue because the Moon landings did not happen and it was improper for The Dominion Post to suggest otherwise. He claimed that the columnist and The Dominion Post editor knew the Moon landings were a fiction and they were propagating "false propaganda".

The complainant also alleged the column breached six Press Council principles, including accuracy, fairness and balance. He also cited principles covering children, discrimination, subterfuge, conflicts of interest and corrections.

To give the publishers of this paper their due they treated this bizarre complaint utterly seriously. I was asked to provide confirmation that it was my honestly held opinion that Neil Armstrong did walk on the Moon. I dutifully complied and in doing so rejected the notion that I was part of a massive conspiracy spanning several decades which involved filming of bogus Moon landings at some secret location in the Nevada desert.

As a result, Dominion Post editor Bernadette Courtney told the Press Council the column was clearly labelled opinion and was my honestly held opinion.

She said the complainant was entitled to express another opinion and the newspaper had published at least one letter in the past year claiming the landings were a hoax.

God bless her, Bernadette even went as far as to say my view was shared by many others and was far from extreme.

Having received the complaint and the Dominion Post response the Press Council then proceeded to discuss the matter at its November meeting.

I don't know how long this panel of eminent legal and journalistic minds spent pondering the validity of the complaint but here is what they posted on their website.

"It is widely accepted that Neil Armstrong did land on the Moon and The Dominion Post's column is reflecting many reports over many years that have assumed the Moon landings to be fact. (The complainant) believes the reports to be propaganda and The Dominion Post a willing vehicle for that propaganda.

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"The difficulty for the Press Council is (the complainant) has not supplied any evidence to convince it that the Moon landings did not happen - except his own opinion."

The upshot of all that was the complaint was not upheld.

Bloody good job too.

It is my honestly held opinion that complaints and complainants like this shouldn't be given the time of day.

Those who claim the 9/11 attacks were a neo-conservative plot to wrest control of the world's oil supplies, that no plane ever crashed into the Pentagon and that the Twin Towers were brought down by controlled explosions are (in my honestly held opinion) at risk of being described as nutters.

They are the sort of people who believe fluoride in water is a global conspiracy when it's actually designed to reduce tooth decay; that the Freemasons are an ancient order seeking global domination when they are actually secular apolitical community clubs like Rotary and Lions; that energy and car companies are deliberately hiding the existence of alternative engine technologies, when they are actually spending millions to develop them; and that our entire society is based on some intricate web of global conspiracy when it is actually just as chaotic, unpredictable and random as it has ever been.

Most conspiracy theorists I know (and I stress I have not met the Moon-landing complainant and so cannot speak to his motivations) are fundamentally unhappy people, often quite intelligent, for whom life has not worked out as they might have hoped.

Blaming the woes of the world on unseen forces and plots is a wonderful cop-out for those who don't feel in control of their own lives, but for most of us who try to live in reality, it can be a real pain in the proverbial.

To read the full Press Council decision go to presscouncil.org.nz

- The Dominion Post

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