The worst thing we saw last week in the bigfoot press conference was the absolute decline of American hucksterism. Two Georgia men, Matthew Whitton and Rick Dyer, and Tom Biscardi, an oily California bigfoot seeker, unconvincingly explained how they had found a yeti corpse and live family of bigfoots in roughly the area where the movie Deliverance was set. Even the cryptozoologists, who want to believe in these things, were appalled at the lack of evidence.
We can celebrate how sophisticated we now are in detecting hoaxes, but we should also lament how our country's long history of finely crafted spectacles has been lost. P.T. Barnum wrote a book debunking what we used to call a "humbug." That was after he did a few himself, including presenting a slave named Joice Heth as the 161-year-old nanny to George Washington, according to Matthew Goodman's The Sun and the Moon, Goodman's fascinating book is about a newspaper convincing New Yorkers that an astronomer found prancing creatures on the moon.
To anyone who has an alien cadaver in their fridge or chupacabra in a kennel, here are some hoaxing tips.
1. The first rule of making money off a mythical creature is not to talk about making money off the mythical creature.
Reporters asked how much money they expected to make off the corpse. Biscardi replied: "As much as I possibly can." Later Rachel Maddow asked the finders if that gave them pause or if they had the same goals. Instead of backing out, they agreed wholeheartedly. Much better was their purported desire to save the species.
2. Don't maintain a website that contradicts your own backstory.
The men claim they weren't bigfoot hunters at all, that they just stumbled upon a clan of bigfoots. But they kept up their old website Bigfoottracker.com that offered four-day $499 tours to look for bigfoots. And claimed they originally saw big foot on a mountainside near Helen, Georgia. They seem to have taken the site down, but I saw it up there yesterday.
3. Don't be so sure that merely being interviewed will dispel all doubts.
It must seem that reporters will believe anything. But that can't be your only strategy for a press interview. Call it the lesson of John Edwards. Sometimes if you show up with a flimsy story, people notice. Confidence men have to induce confidence in others, not just have inflated self-esteem and confidence in themselves.
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