It was recently pointed out to me that the spiraling down in the quality of reporting can at least partially be laid at the feet of the introduction of the GST (Goods and Services Tax) in 2000. From that time on, the sole measure of success has been revenue as most major media outlets were taken over by bean counters, with quality investigative reporting being the first and biggest casualty.
The growth of the internet and the nature of the news cycle has only quickened our rush to Salem. The Shouting of "witch" is all the evidence anyone needs. Post-truth meets the Inquisition. The balance between protecting alleged victims and protecting the rights of the accused is one that must be set at the right level. We are in danger of going from too far one way to going too far the other.
Early this year, an alarming story broke that highlights the issue.
It was widely reported, and picked up internationally, that a circus training school in the Blue Mountains had been involved in kidnaps, rapes, tortures, exploitation and ritual abuse of 3 boys aged from 3 to 7. This all allegedly happened between 2014 and 2016 and involved 4 members of the one family and 3 others who at the time of the alleged offenses, were still under 18.
The mass media lapped it up and printed anything and everything it could get on the story. By and large, reports seemed to be based on the assumption of guilt, even when using the essential qualifiers. Social media lapped it up, with whole groups ready to grab pitch forks to mete out justice on the by now named adults who had been arrested (and who are still behind bars awaiting bail hearings). It was simply click-worthy, and that means dollars! And the more bizarre, evil and depraved the allegations, the better. Come and get yer daily does of righteous anger!
Here is just one sample of what was being published in early February.
Police said the seven alleged offenders were involved in a New South Wales circus training school called The Arcade Circus that catered to children with and without disabilities.
The charges include rape, kidnapping and assault occasioning actual bodily harm. It is alleged that members of the group also used the young boys to produce child pornography material.
Some trainers are accused of performing sadistic "blood rituals" on the young boys, the Daily Telegraph reported.
The circus school owner and carer, Therese Ann Cook, 58, is listed to appear in Penrith Local Court on Tuesday.
Cook has been charged with 43 offences, including aggravated sexual assault of a child under 10, sexual intercourse with a child under 10 and aggravated kidnapping
The allegations had a familiar ring - think Pizzagate and the VIP pedophile ring in England. Neither true - both stories filled with horror and depravity.
But it was also reminiscent of something more local - in fact a 2012 story from the very same Blue Mountains.
It involved an adult female in 2012 who was taken in by a religious cult which specialized in bringing out alleged suppressed childhood memories. Or put another way, they used typical cult techniques to induce what is known as False Memory Syndrome.
Written by a variety of people, the papers are at once bizarre, comic and sinister. Some appear to document Kylie's "treatment" - regression sessions, mainly, where she would relive childhood traumas and write in an infantile scrawl details of unimaginable abuse, including being showered in a purée of human body parts, being sexually assaulted and forced to drink blood.
The documents also indicate that the group believed themselves to be engaged in spiritual warfare with witches - both in the Blue Mountains and in Sydney - some of whom are identified by their name, age, employment and "coven status". "One of them is my aunt, who lives in Harbord," says Nathan.
The documents also confirm the group's involvement with a man named John Darnell, who is the pastor of a church in Canberra called Shepherd's Heart. Darnell is the author of Satanic Strategies in the 21st Century, which explains how Satanic cults have infiltrated the "highest echelons" of government and mainstream churches. On a US Christian radio station last year, Darnell said he believed it was possible that the British royal family were actually shape-shifting reptiles.
The stories do have certain similarities, for example, in the above, the "victim" is forced to drink blood. In this latest case, the kids were allegedly forced to drink their own blood in hints of the Satanic practices the cult claimed to be at war with. Here, we have a free-living circus family. Perfect if you are looking to point and shout "witch" and "find" the work of Satan.
If this family is innocent, then the media has sacrificed them in search of revenue by providing the trial by media the police seemed eager to produce by leaking the case to reporters like a sieve - including the now denied (and at this stage, seemingly false) allegation that some of this abuse was filmed for child porn. In fact, the evidence may be nothing more than the statements of the alleged victims. Police do not encourage trial by media unless the case they have is not strong.
If these people turn out to be guilty, even of a single one of the over 100 charges laid, they deserve everything the criminal justice system can throw at them. But if they are innocent, heads should roll for those involved in the police investigation and their media assets. No amount of money could possibly compensate them, so any payout should be huge.
There are as yet some unanswered questions, such as why, if these very young boys were kidnapped 2 to 4 years ago, there was no media coverage at the time? Child kidnap cases are always big stories. That it was not in the media suggests there is something about this particular allegation that is being withheld. I also await some news on the background of these very young boys. Were they by any chance, children of members a certain secretive religious group looking for witches to burn? If so, maybe they will claim the shape-shifting alien lizards told them to do it.