Long Beach Man Admits Ark Hoax
Date: Wed, 3 Nov 93 15:14:52 PST
Subject: Long Beach Man Admits Ark Hoax
From: vangogh.CS.Berkeley.EDU!bostic (Keith Bostic)
From: L.A. Times
LONG BEACH MAN ADMITS ARK HOAX
Television: The out-of-work actor who claimed on a CBS special to have
located the biblical craft now says it was just a big setup.
By Daniel Cerone
L.A. Times Staff Writer
(Pages F1, F17)
The man who said he discovered the snow-covered location of Noah's Ark
high on Mt. Ararat in Turkey, and who displayed what he claimed to be
an ancient piece of wood from inside the ark as proof on a CBS special
earlier this year, now says it was a hoax.
George Jammal, an out-of-work Israeli actor living in North Long
Beach, admitted in an interview this week that he made up the story to
expose those who produce and broadcast what he considers to be poorly
researched religious propaganda.
Presented with this information by The Times, CBS decided Friday to
scrap two projects that were in development with Sun International
Pictures, the Salt Lake City-based production company that made "The
Incredible Discovery of Noah's Ark," which CBS broadcast in February
to an estimated 20 million viewers.
Part of the network's decision not to move ahead with the Sun
programs "Revelations" and "The UFO Phenomenon" stemmed from the
tactics Sun used several months ago to try to pry a confession from
Jammal, including threats that CBS was going to sue him -- which the
network adamantly denies.
"All of this has clearly made us re-examine our business
relationship with Sun, and we won't be going forward with those
projects," network spokeswoman Susan Tick said Friday.
But "Mysteries of the Ancient World," another program from Sun
examining such phenomena as the Sphinx, Nostradamus, the Bermuda
Triangle and the Shroud of Turin, has essentially been completed and
will air on CBS. That program has been carefully reviewed for
accuracy by the network's legal department and program practices
department, Tick said.
"Incredible Discovery" came under strong criticism because its case
for the existence of Noah's Ark, as described in the Bible, was said
to be based heavily on the views of creationists who oppose the
scientific theory of evolution.
"We're a motion-picture producer, and we don't take a point of
view, creationist or otherwise," countered Sun President Allan
Asked whether Sun planned to revise its research techniques to
prevent similar hoaxes, Pederson said that such safety measures have
always been in place.
"We certainly will be as conscientious as we can and scrutinize
sources as closely as we can in the future," he said. "But frankly,
we took the same due diligence before all this. My stance is that
it's just about impossible to defend against that kind of well-planned
and well-thought-out deception."
From Jammal's perspective, the deception was painfully obvious.
The "sacred wood" from the ark was actually from some railroad tracks
in Long Beach, he said, and he has never set foot in Turkey.
"This is a scam that has been pulled on the American public, and
it's gone too far," Jammal explained from his three-bedroom home this
week, holding the scrap of wood that he hardened by cooking it in an
oven. Referring to Sun and CBS, he said, "They're foisting religious
propaganda on Americans and making them believe it's true. So I
hoaxed the hoaxters."
CBS does not plan to run an on-air correction.
"A, there's no format to do it, and B, it's just going to attract
more attention to this," Tick said. "Plus the show never purported
the wood was from the ark, only that this person on the show said it
When national news reports first surfaced in June that Jammal might
have been lying, Sun stood firmly behind Jammal, who held to his
story. Jammal's original plan to reveal the stunt in his own time was
ruined when a friend of his who was in on the hoax -- Gerald Larue, a
USC professor emeritus of biblical history and archeology -- began
talking to the press.
Sun producers called Larue the hoaxter, retained a lawyer for
Jammal, presented an eight-page defense to CBS and wrote letters to
Time magazine, The Times and others to defend their production. CBS,
in turn, launched its own internal investigation.
Now, even Sun admits it was wrong.
"We were obviously duped, and all I can do is admit to that,"
Pedersen said. "We'll take the portion that concerned him out of the
picture for any future airings." That won't be on CBS, though, which
will not repeat the program.
Jammal contends that Sun knew all along he was an impostor. After
"Incredible Discovery" was broadcast, numerous scholars and critics of
creation science, including Larue, wrote to CBS and Sun insisting that
the show was bunk.
"This was a dishonest program," Larue said. "Look at the very
title: 'The Amazing Discovery of Noah's Ark.' They didn't even
Robert S. Dietz, a professor emeritus in geology at Arizona State
University, even asked Sun for Jammal's piece of wood so he could run
a Carbon-14 test to determine its authenticity -- something Sun
producers say they did not do, even though Jammal gave them a chip of
the wood. Sun did not provide it to him, and Jammal said that a Sun
researcher told him not to show his wood to Dietz.
" 'Do not show him the wood,' I was told," Jammal said. "Doesn't
that mean they know the wood is fake?"
An atheist who was raised by Catholic and Greek Orthodox parents,
Jammal concocted a story about how he visited the ark and then sent a
letter to the institute, riddled with inside jokes, to see if anyone
would believe him.
Jammal resisted admitting the hoax for a long time; he never
returned the calls of CBS attorneys. Nor did he cave in when a Sun
representative kept calling him in June and July, leaving intimidating
messages on his answering machine. One message said: "There's talk of
a serious lawsuit against you, George, and I don't want to see that
happen, because the resources of CBS would just wipe you out."
"We never considered a lawsuit," network spokeswoman Tick said
So why did Jammal finally fess up, after all this time?
"When I heard that CBS was going forward with more phony,
religious, documentary, pseudoscience programs, that's when my volcano
erupted," Jammal said.
When told Friday that his tactics budged the CBS network, he let
out a belly laugh. "Prof. Larue and many other scholars wrote letters
of protest and nobody listened," he said. "Well. now they're
listening and they're talking. I feel I made a difference."
[picture on page F17. Caption: "George Jammal shows wood that he once
claimed was from the ark."]
© 1993 Peter Langston