– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own. –
Nobody ever landed on the moon, the televised images are a hoax. John F. Kennedy was murdered in a complex plot involving the Mafia and the CIA. Elvis Presley lives. Barack Obama was born outside the United States and therefore is ineligible to be president.
All these claims stem from conspiracy theories and myths born in the U.S. and they throw a question mark over the long-held view of experts that such ideas flourish most in societies where news is controlled, access to information difficult and barriers to independent inquiry difficult to overcome.
This kind of restrictive environment applies to many Third World countries – conspiracy theories are particularly abundant in the Middle East and Africa — but not to the technologically and economically advanced United States. Yet there is a parallel universe inhabited by millions and millions of Americans immune to facts, logic and common sense.
Some of the myths are harmless, such as the notion that rock-and-roll king Elvis Presley did not die in 1977 and instead went into hiding. (The reasons vary depending on who tells the tale).
There have been thousands of supposed Elvis sightings and a 2005 book says there’s DNA evidence that he is still alive. While the Elvis-in-hiding theory appears to fading (though it is far from dead), the hoaxed moon landing continues to run long enough to prompt a Newsweek magazine article that debunked the story on the 40th anniversary of the Apollo mission to the moon in July. Perhaps not surprisingly, early skepticism about the moon landing came from the Flat Earth Society, based in California.