Rocket science

TV reporters will be among the first to admit they aren’t rocket scientists. With their Journalism degrees and their slightly-above-average IQs, they succeed because they are just smart enough to look under rocks, grasp the obvious, write clean copy and produce ninety seconds of television. The good ones are quick studies, with a broad smattering of knowledge. They may know politics, the courts, or government. But most would admit they are rarely experts at much of anything except TV news.

With that background, it may have made perfect sense for Adam Murphy to produce a story on WGCL about a system that purports to use water to enhance the gasoline mileage of automobiles. The piece ran several weeks ago. Murphy’s bio says he’s a journalism major from UGA. He’s not a scientist.

Murphy’s story showed a couple of Mason jars connected with a rubber tube. There was a motor of some sort attached. And he interviewed a guy who claimed that it works. Turns out, it was the same guy who sold the contraption.

(Since our first draft of this post, Murphy’s piece has disappeared from WGCL’s website.)

Murphy’s story drew the attention of David Dagon, a Georgia Tech researcher and doctoral student. Dagon writes to LAF:

Let’s not mince words: Mr. Murphy (a consumer reporter) was duped by a popular “water for hybrid” scam…. This particular variation of the scam claims that hydrogen, oxygen, and “charged molecules”, are added to the engine– all due to the miracle of “engine vacuum pressure”. (Other versions of the scam claim that steam added to the engine will increase pressure and improve engine horse power.) This of course is complete nonsense.

Murphy has plenty of company. KRIV in Houston also did a story about a local guy producing fuel from water. Were they scammed?

Murphy made an effort to get “the other side” of this story. He visited a mechanic at a Precision Tune. The mechanic’s note of caution: Attaching this gizmo to your engine may void the car’s warranty. Dagon makes this point:

The CBS 46 offices are just a few blocks from Georgia Tech (a world-renowned engineering university). There, he would find Nobel winning researchers and distinguished professors, eager to describe what happens when you add water to an internal combustion engine.

(The auto industry), which is writing down billions of dollars in inventory, has evidently overlooked a way to improve mileage by 50% in its SUV line. If we are to believe Mr. Murphy, he is sitting on the story of the century: a technology that would likely end all of our foreign oil imports, using just tap water.

Meantime, Dagon notes, the companies that are producing these gizmos are showcasing these local TV stories on their websites and in their press releases, adding an air of legitimacy to the stuff that they’re selling.

If Murphy got scammed, he wouldn’t be the first. In 27 years of TV news, there are a few stories I wish I could take back. One of them was a cute feature I produced on a dog kennel. A year later, WAGA’s I-team produced a piece showing the owner abusing animals. Go ahead, call me a dumbass.

So I have some empathy for Murphy, a TV reporter trying to produce a deadline story on which he has no personal expertise. Perhaps this entire concept should have raised a red flag, the one that says “if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.” Perhaps he should have efforted a comment from Tech (and maybe he did).

Murphy concluded his piece by telling viewers that the vendor of this contraption would be available the following day, making sales at a hotel parking lot. Wonder how their gas mileage is now.

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About live apt fire

Doug Richards is a reporter at WXIA-TV. This is his personal blog. WXIA-TV has nothing whatsoever to do with this blog, under any circumstances, in any form. For anything written herein, Doug accepts sole credit and full blame. Follow him on Twitter: @richardsdoug. All rights reserved. Thanks for visiting.

9 thoughts on “Rocket science

  1. Scott Hedeen

    “If Murphy got scammed, he wouldn’t be the first. In 27 years of TV news, there are a few stories I wish I could take back. One of them was a cute feature I produced on a dog kennel. A year later, WAGA’s I-team produced a piece showing the owner abusing animals. Go ahead, call me a dumbass.”

    Ok Dumbass. I did a feature story on that same kennel. Slick Rick…. The EnterCaniner… I was really bummed out when i saw the I team report as well. I felt stupid. Honestly, though, that certainly wasn’t the first time I felt stupid though… i was in TV News. It comes with the territory.

    Reply
  2. John Bankhead

    Don’t know if this will make you feel better, but the ownership of that kennel changed. If my memory is correct, the TV stories I saw were about the previous owner who was very active in the community and in dog training circles. He would take his labs to schools and put on a show for kids. The abuse the I-Team covered came after the kennel was sold by him. I kenneled my dog there before it was sold.
    Miss you, Doug.
    John Bankhead

    Reply
  3. Pingback: Atlanta blogs today | Fresh Loaf

  4. John Q. Flack

    Having spent five years in the employ of a Georgia university doing PR work (and 10 as a reporter working for newspapers), I can say with certainty that a quick call to any of the state’s research institutions would’ve yielded an expert in short order. Every university wants their professors on the TV news speaking authoritatively; it’s good PR.

    When all else fails — if it seems too good to be true, it probably ain’t. I have sympathy for the young Mr. Murphy (we’ve all been used before), but there’s no excuse. He failed as a consumer advocate and his supervisors failed letting that crap story on the air.

    Reply
  5. Art Mehring

    I used to work with an exercise physiologist in Dallas, Texas on a Sunday morning fitness and nutrition radio show. He was doing leading edge reserach at the Cooper Institute and Texas Womens University. Many times on the program we discussed the misinterpretation of medical studies and data from reporters who had limited or no knowledge of the field they were writing about. I think the problem is more ubiquitous then most realize. I’m glad you pointed it out.

    Reply
  6. gooberpeas

    hmmm, had Mr. Murphy been versed in the mechanics of internal combustion engines he would have known that he was being had….but then, most people only know to stick the key in, turn it, put the selector on D and step on the little pedal on the right.

    Reply
  7. Missing Slot

    The guy’s PR machine is still in tact. He’s pedaling his wares on the billboard above that hotel ((the old Presidential Hotel))… web address and everything…
    The more stories get removed from websites, the more stories still have shelf-life in some manner, way, shape, or form…

    Still remember your story on the “New Mexican Embassy” for the ’96 Games ((oops, can we say that…?))- you’re missed…

    Reply
  8. Justin

    I don’t understand how you can have empathy for Murphy. He is WGCL’s CONSUMER reporter. Do you think Clark Howard or Bill Liss would be so easily duped? Isn’t Murphy supposed to be “watching out” for the viewers. Not to mention that his restaurant report card features are (sometimes merciless) gotcha journalism, and now the tables are turned.

    Restaurant owners should should remember this story and pass the information along to their peers, so if any of them should be paid a visit by Murphy asking them why their business received a low score on their health inspection they can tell him it was because they listened to him and put water in their car’s gas tank.

    Reply

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