Will CBS Realize the Error of Its Ways? : The network finally admits ‘The Incredible Discovery of Noah’s Ark,’ was flawed but does more harm to its credibility by refusing to run a correction.


Hear a whooshing sound? It’s the credibility of CBS falling like a brick hurled from the top of its Black Rock headquarters in New York.

Bulletin! Bulletin!

* George Jammal did not , as he had claimed, visit Turkey’s snowy Mt. Ararat.

* Thus, the hunk of wood he displayed during a two-hour CBS television program last February was not , as he had claimed, a piece of the legendary Noah’s Ark.

* The wood was not , as he had claimed, a “gift from God.”

CBS finally acknowledged to Times reporter Daniel Cerone on Friday that it had been duped. It did so only after Cerone had confronted the network with Jammal’s admission that the story he told on a CBS prime-time documentary-style special, “The Incredible Discovery of Noah’s Ark,” was itself an incredible hoax.


Yet no more incredible than the behavior of CBS through all of this. After appearing to stonewall this months-old controversy almost since its inception, the network told Cerone that it had no plans to inform its viewers (“The Incredible Discovery of Noah’s Ark” drew an estimated audience of 20 million) that at least some of what the independently produced program presented as truth was untrue.


No on-the-air correction? CBS, whose own storied history encompasses the history of U.S. television itself? Where is its sense of fairness? Where is its integrity?

C’mon, now, just a teeny, weeny correction.

“A, there’s no format to do it, and B, it’s just going to attract more attention to this,” CBS spokeswoman Susan Tick told Cerone. And C, she added, “the show never purported the wood was from the ark, only that this person on the show said it was.”

Come again?

* A. No format for a correction? Let’s see now, “CBS This Morning” has no trouble finding time to relentlessly plug the network’s entertainment programs. Surely, it could find time to correct just one.

There’s also “Late Show With David Letterman,” where CBS performers regularly turn up to advertise their shows on the network. You can bet that good old Dave would love to spend a few seconds setting the record straight on Noah’s Ark.

What’s more, there’s always “The CBS Evening News.” Dan Rather recently made a speech in which he savaged non-news reality programs run by networks. He included the Noah’s Ark special without naming CBS as the offending network.


So why not put the correction on Rather’s newscast? He loves a good story. And a major television network getting hoaxed by a man passing off some railroad timber (that’s what Jammal now says it was) as a piece of Noah’s Ark is a great story.

* B. It would just attract more attention? Well, shouldn’t that be the idea, to make sure no one is misled by misinformation appearing under the CBS banner?


* C. The show didn’t purport the wood was from the ark? If so, why wasn’t its title “The Alleged Incredible Discovery of Noah’s Ark”?


It was eight months ago that CBS aired “The Incredible Discovery of Noah’s Ark,” which looked like and pretended to be a documentary, even if CBS now says it wasn’t. Produced by Sun International Pictures of Utah, it was immediately accused by some scholars of being a sham. CBS apparently wasn’t listening.

It was four months ago that Time magazine published an article disclosing that much of the program--which used testimony from “expert” witnesses to buttress the creationist theory that Noah’s Ark existed--was untrue. Within two weeks, the Time article was followed by others from the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times that also questioned the validity of portions of the program.

Time, the AP and The Times quoted Gerald Larue, a USC professor emeritus of biblical history and archeology, as saying he had coached Jammal on how to fool the producers into believing that he had really returned from Mt. Ararat with a piece of Noah’s Ark. The purpose, Larue said, was to expose the “sloppy research” of Sun International Pictures, whose previous documentary-style programs were also accused by some specialists of being substantially false.

After months of defending Jammal, who did not speak out publicly until recently, Sun now says it was, indeed, fooled by him. It’s “impossible to defend against that kind of well-planned and well-thought-out deception,” said Sun President Allan Pederson.

Oh, stop it. One way to do it is to have these alleged artifacts examined by real authorities. Suspiciously, Sun did not even bother to verify the authenticity of Jammal’s wood by having it tested by experts. And the brain trust at CBS never bothered to ask for verification of the wood. To say nothing of closely examining other components of this fishy-looking program that many viewers probably thought came from the network’s news division.

In an ideal world, it would be CBS News, not some cockamamie outside production company, that would be getting two hours of prime time for a documentary. But the world ceased being ideal a long time ago.


So, despite getting stung by Jammal the Imposter, CBS is not immediately severing its relationship with Sun. Although CBS says it will not air two previously planned Sun programs, “Revelations” and “The UFO Confessions,” it will telecast a near-completed third Sun production, “Mysteries of the Ancient World.”

The program covers such phenomena as the Sphinx, Nostradamus, the Bermuda Triangle and the Shroud of Turin.

Not to worry, though, says spokeswoman Tick, because CBS has checked it for accuracy. So listen up, you would-be hoaxers, you’re not dealing with Beavis and Butt-head here.

However, if anyone happens to come across Atlantis, the CBS number is. . . .