I almost didn’t make it into work today. I was doing my usual early morning workout of parkour and urban spelunking when I was set upon by a sprawl of feral street marmots, most likely of the genus Marmota flaviventris. Yes, it was strange to find them this far south, but in any case, I had no choice but to break their tiny necks, killing them instantly, but not before their dagger-like claws managed to leave a roadmap of pain across my neck and face. Pretty much the only thing that stood between life and death was my NCAA Zumba training and my extensive study of Captain Kirk’s fight scenes from the original Star Trek episodes. I feel terrible because I’m generally fond of large rodents.
That’s why I know exactly how SLO resident Robin Olson felt when he was attacked by a mountain lion while hiking with his son in Prefumo Canyon. Olson, a former NCAA wrestler, had to snap the cat’s neck like a No. 2 pencil, but not before the vicious cougar managed to shallowly scratch his arms and legs with its twig-like claws, leaving wounds that looked like Olson fell into a poorly-trimmed hedge or possibly a rose bush.
“It was horrible,” Olson said tearfully during a KSBY TV interview. “I love animals.”
Hey, what are you going to do? If an imaginary wild animal attacks, you must use your martial arts skills to defend yourself, go to the most gullible local media outlets, and let them spread misinformation. Poor kitty.
Not only did KSBY release Olson’s story before confirming that any of it was true—and why wouldn’t it be; who would make up such a thing?—but CalCoastNews.com also jumped on the lion attack story. What can I say? The blog site loves a fake big cat story.
Remember last August when CalCoast ran its “Mountain lion chews off Cayucos man’s hand” story? Yeah, good times. Steven Lynn Weaver died of natural causes while hiking, and by the time searchers discovered his body, one of his hands had been gnawed on—apparently by rodents—but that didn’t stop the blog from reporting that neighbors spotted “a large animal they suspect was a mountain lion” and then speculating and sensationalizing.
“Contrary to published reports, there is no indication of an animal attack prior to his death,” the SLO County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement, noting that three of Weaver’s fingers had gnaw marks, which seems a far cry from having his hand chewed off.
I hate to bash media outlets—and yes, media is a human endeavor and therefore subject to human error—but shouldn’t these spurious mountain lion claims be confirmed before you go on air or start posting stories to the Internet? When California Department of Fish and Wildlife officials looked at Weaver’s postmortem injuries, they suggested it may have been the work of a skunk or raccoon (or a marmot?). Likewise, when the agency interviewed Olson, the former wrestler quickly admitted his story was fake.
CalCoast did update its story about Olson, noting it was later “determined to be a hoax,” though I can’t seem to find a retraction (or clarification) of its Aug. 11, 2015, chewed-hand story, which is still on the Internet being wrong like a boss. At least KSBY is embarrassed about its error.
“KSBY News staffers attempted, but failed, to independently confirm his claims prior to the broadcast of this story,” KSBY said in a statement. “We sincerely apologize to our viewers and will work hard to make sure additional protocols are in place to make sure this kind of error does not happen again.”
And that, CalCoastNews, is how grown-ups do it.
Remember the Balloon Boy Hoax when the Richard and Mayumi Heene set off a helium-filled balloon and claimed their 6-year-old son Falcon was inside it? Remember the Manti Te’o fake girlfriend hoax? When media laziness intersects with publicity hounds’ attention-seeking behaviors, the public—which wants to believe like Fox Mulder—is ready to buy it. And more media outlets jump on the pile. Outdoorhub.com ran a story in its “survival news” section about Olson. Bloodyelbow.com, strikenation.com, and fightland.vice.com—all martial arts sites—also ran the story … and the subsequent retraction. Oops!
“What makes it so believable is the mention that Olson had been a collegiate wrestler, injecting just enough plausibility for everyone to fall for it,” fightland.vice.com wrote.
Well, I guess. If you’ve got a strong stomach, Google-image search “mountain lion attack wounds” and compare them to the images online of Olson’s arms and legs. Still think it’s “plausible?”
So what the hell is up with Olson? My guess is even he doesn’t know why he did it, but I bet he’s super embarrassed because, pardon the pun, the cat’s out of the bag.
As for me, I’ll heal from my marmot wounds. It may take a few days of recovery before I’m ready to resume my early morning parkour and urban spelunking routine, but I will. I will urban spelunk again! One thing I’ll never heal from, however, is the sound of those little necks snapping. Shudder.
The Shredder assures readers that no animals were harmed in the making of this column. Send ideas and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.