Mysterious Ways
By Adam Hunter

An Ode to Hoaxes

Earlier this week, Charlie Bothuell, a father in Detroit, Michigan, pled for the public's help finding his missing 12-year-old son.

This morning, just as Charlie appeared on television to speak about the search for the boy, Headline News' Nancy Grace revealed breaking news–the boy had been found… in Bothuell's basement.

It's too early to tell if the boy's disappearance was a publicity stunt or something far more sinister–authorities are investigating accusations of child abuse, and frankly, all the details are sketchy–but if indeed the father knew his child's whereabouts all along, it’s only the latest is a spate of high profile hoaxes that have fooled the media.

No, KFC did not ask a disfigured girl to leave their restaurant because she was "scaring away the customers."

No, a New Jersey couple did not stiff a waitress because of their religious beliefs.

No, a six-year-old boy was never in danger of floating away in a weather balloon.

It doesn't feel good to feel duped, tricked, or betrayed. As my friend on Facebook wrote about the KFC hoax, "If this is true about it being not true, it reaffirms my hatred of people over 3 who I don't know." A little harsh, but I understand the anger.

That's why Mysterious Ways does our best to verify everything we can when we publish a story. There's no way to know if Evangelina Garza was telling the whole truth about her visions of heaven–but we do have the document from the hospital that proves the doctors believed she was dead.

If it turned out she was there for a dizzy spell, well, that would undermine her story just a bit.

It surprises me that more established media outlets don't do the same basic sleuthing. I mean, is it that hard to call up the KFC and get some evidence before going public? Then again, in the competitiveness to “get the scoop,” a lot of online publications don't take the time.

Still, I don't believe, as my friend does, that these hoaxes reveal a bad side to humanity. On the contrary. I think it says something that so many of us found ourselves engrossed in these stories, clicking through articles for more details, leaving outraged comments–"I'll never eat at KFC again!"–and discussing our reactions with friends.

These stories pushed our buttons, tugged at our hearts, and got us to reach out and engage on an emotional level. Bottom line–these stories showed how much we care.

When it turns out it was all fake, sure, we get a little mad. But we shouldn't ignore what these hoaxes revealed about us. Hoaxes are so effective because they target something elemental about human nature.

We always stand up for the little guy. The disadvantaged. Those with disabilities.

We believe love, not hate, is the best way to resolve our differences.

When someone is in danger or needs help, we take action, and pray for miracles.

Look, for instance, at how KFC responded, even after they learned the girl's grandmother was lying about the story. They insisted they would still donate $30,000 to help cover the girl's medical bills–a need that was real.

If a hoax reveals our goodness, our optimism, and our faith now and again, I don't think that's a terrible thing. I would rather live in a world where people respond passionately to injustice and evil, rather than one where everybody ignores or doubts its existence.

Feeling fooled? Don't let your passion turn into anger. There are plenty of real problems facing people in this world. Put your passion to work solving them.

Adam Hunter is a senior editor for Guideposts magazine and Managing Editor for Mysterious Ways. He’s edited Mysterious Ways since October 2006, and is continually amazed by the astounding stories shared by readers. Follow him on Twitter: @MMysteriousWays

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Your Comments (2)

Wow. Thanks for this post. Helpful perspective. And (being an English major) I love the title. I read many an ode in my college years!

Thanks for pointing out the bright side of these disturbing hoaxes that so easily undermine our trust in each other and increase the apathy that already exists. Your point of view is really inspiring. Instead of feeling hurt and "an idiot" for believing in and helping people who lied, we can choose to feel thankful that we are still capable of being moved to sympathy by others' distress and suffering. In the wounded girl's case, her need for help is only greater now that she has went through all these. But from another point of view, all the authors of these public stunts need help: economical, psychological and spiritual. They did these dishonorable things either because they desperately needed money(like the girl's family), or because they felt insecure or perhaps unloved and could only make up stories to get attention from others (the waitress seems to be like this), or perhaps both. They have acted selfishly and dishonestly when they chose to further their ends by slandering others and making up emergencies, but that does not mean they don't need help or sympathy. The scriptures tell us that God makes the sun shine on both the righteous and the unrighteous alike, and Jesus repeatedly stressed that he has come not for the righteous, but the sinners, the sick, those whose souls are suffering illnesses. Let's pray for all people who are tempted to do a immoral deed and those who, sadly, have already done it, that they will be saved from their crooked thoughts or ways, and find peace and love and salvation. (Of course, this prayer have to include ourselves, doesn't it?) And let's remember that none of us can be called "righteous" in God's standard. So let's refrain from condemning others and our first impulse of sympathy. Amen!