Ghost Hunters 5.14: "Little Drummer Boy"

This was one of those old-fashioned meat-and-potato episodes, where both cases were chock full of debunking and a dearth of physical “evidence”. In other words, this was the kind of episode that I like the most, and that I wish they were doing as often as they had in the past. It’s saying something when investigators claim to see a black figure running around, and that seems like old hat. Back in the first couple seasons, that would have been a startling turn of events!

But first, a little discussion on the recent controversies: the “apparition” video and the MacNeill diatribe. I’ll start with the easy one: the video from Union County Courthouse. Believers and skeptics alike continue to debate whether or not the figure was a person just out of the range of the IR illumination or something more. For the most part, the discussions have been calm and respectful, with all parties simply interested in the truth. At worst, TAPS has been accused of some understandable misinterpretation, so it is a healthy, constructive process. The bottom line, as I said in the previous review, is that the footage was worth careful study and follow-up, and that’s what is happening.

The MacNeill situation is a lot more complicated. In essence, the MacNeills contend that the positive atmosphere of the actual investigation, including some affirmation of potential paranormal activity from TAPS themselves, was not accurately represented in the final cut. In fact, they felt like the episode made them look foolish. And rightly so: that case was edited as a classic debunking exercise, which is designed in the structure of the show to bolster TAPS’ credibility as scientific thinkers.

Setting aside the questionable nature of the debunking that was done, this issue has exploded among believers and skeptics, and in my opinion, the plight of the MacNeills has been exploited further by those with extreme perspectives on both sides. Initially, the MacNeills placed the blame on TAPS themselves, not the editors for Pilgrim Films. Diehard skeptics immediately leapt to the conclusion, even when the matter was clarified, that the MacNeills were exposing TAPS as faking circumstances to further their own agenda. When Jason did clarify the matter and smooth things over with the MacNeills personally and publicly, every word and innuendo was parsed to interpret the matter in the most negative manner possible.

Unfortunately, that was not the worst reaction to the controversy. TAPS supporters have long been in contact with clients featured on the show, usually in a constructive fashion. After all, the vast majority of clients features on the show are happy enough with the final product, and only want to clarify information that didn’t make the final cut. When the MacNeills aired their grievances, however, the more ardent TAPS supporters ridiculed and insulted them. Regardless of the tone taken by the MacNeills in their frustration, the response was completely out of order, and only added fuel to the fire.

My personal take was a familiar one: that Pilgrim Films was responsible for the editing, and therefore they were primarily responsible. That interpretation matched the facts as offered by the MacNeills. And I saw that as an extension of the outright fraud that has been committed by production personnel in the past (“Manson Murders”), the past issues with editing and presentation, their strong push for TAPS to use equipment that is “camera-friendly” (even back in the first season), and the likelihood that Jason and Grant have been more and more pressured to accept certain “evidence” as paranormal when there are viable and more technically-supported alternative explanations, all for the good of the entertainment value of the show.

This goes beyond simple presentation. There are a number of questionable events in the history of “Ghost Hunters”, and critics have longed pointed to TAPS (specifically Grant) as the culprit. To be clear, there is no definitive proof that TAPS has ever staged anything. And they are surrounded by up to 20 production personnel during an investigation, all of whom have a vested interest in making sure the show succeeds. That said, not every questionable situation lends itself to that explanation, and even some believers will accept the possibility that Jason and Grant staged the questionable events of the most recent Halloween event in 2008 at the insistence of Pilgrim Films and Syfy.

I mention all of this because, as a result of the debate, a very good point was made. It is simply this: if TAPS is aware of the issues surrounding Pilgrim Films, the presentation choices and the fraud they have committed, aren’t they aiding and abetting all of that by signing every new contract each season? To some, that implicates TAPS in every incidence of client mistreatment and fabrication that might take place. And it certainly implicates Jason and Grant, who pushed to be executive producers so they could make more money from the franchise. (They certainly don’t seem to want or exert much creative control over the show.)

This is a particularly compelling argument when taken in context with GHI. Say what you will about GHI, but they have yet to generate an incident where “evidence” is thought to be staged. Incorrectly interpreted, perhaps, but not fabricated wholesale. More than that, they also tend to be more technically competent, and they know the strengths and weaknesses of their instruments. Considering that both shows are produced by Pilgrim Films, this suggests that Jason and Grant, at the very least, were more willing to bend for the sake of success.

If “Ghost Hunters” is meant to be more than entertainment, perhaps it is a cautionary tale. I see a lot of groups, even some fairly new ones, jumping at the chance to get their own show. My group has been contacted twice, and I personally know of two shows in development with investigators I’ve worked with, all in the space of three years. There’s no limit, it seems, to the current interest in the field. But along with the bigger investigative budgets, the travel, and the exposure comes the price: the need to serve the interests of the entertainment industry. Control over content is rarely part of the deal.

That said, I’m not going to turn to the self-serving argument that once a person lies or accepts deceit, everything they do is a lie or deceptive. Everyone lies, and everyone deceives. It’s human nature. And people will always make bad judgment calls and rationalize the consequences. Despite all that, people can also try to be as honest as possible within the circumstances they find themselves in, by their own hand or otherwise, and strive to strike a balance. In the case of TAPS and “Ghost Hunters”, as always, it all comes down to what one chooses to believe.

Case #1: Church of St. Andrew, NY

Despite some of the personal experiences, I think they made the right call. At best, they had some subtle hints of potential activity, and it would make sense to come back and get more information.

In terms of debunking, my only quibble with the explanation for the chimes and candle was the lack of verification: the air handling system wasn’t on and they didn’t verify that source first-hand. But the theory is a good one. Less effective, I feel, was the explanation offered by Steve for the figures in the upstairs window. While it’s true that it’s impossible to identify who might walk past the window, leading to confusion and misinterpretation, the theory still requires that someone be physically present and walking past the window in the first place. Wouldn’t the client know if that were the case?

Case #2: Benton House, IL

Similar to the first case, there was a lot of debunking work, and a personal experience that led them to believe something is happening, even if it couldn’t be proven. The explanation for the door seemed obvious, and the test with the starter log was about as direct as it gets. That said, I think this is the first time I’ve heard them tell a client that, even without evidence, they have a presence in the house and it’s clearly positive. That could be simple client management, but that leap felt like it came completely out of nowhere.


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