Newsweek has always been America’s second newsmagazine, though the recently resurrected version of the magazine is a pale imitation of what the storied brand once was. But like its competitor Time, Newsweek is prone to sensationalized “special editions” that are essentially coffee table books masquerading under the magazine’s name. Their most recent is Secret Societies: Penetrating the Inner Circle, a 100-page pseudo-book composed of articles on the Illuminati, the Freemasons, the Knights Templar, and more, and promising conspiracies and more conspiracies. The cover, for example, says they’ll be “exploring Illuminati influence [and] revealing Masonic rituals,” probably because the Illuminati don’t exist and therefore can’t sue for libel like the Masons could if Newsweek were to declare them secret genocidal maniacs.
What’s interesting is that the “special edition” is edited by James Ellis of Topix Media Lab, which by complete coincidence I’m sure is also the credited publisher of the volume. Newsweek farmed out production of the whole thing to Topix Media Lab, a company that produces branded content for publishers such as TV Guide, CBS, Reader’s Digest, Newsweek, and more, targeted to “fanatical fan bases.” The company, according to their website, has recently rebranded as The Media Lab and/or Media Lab Publishing. In other words, The Media Lab creates content for the brand as well as the layout and design. This can be a problem when the content doesn’t match the parent publication’s usual journalistic standards.
Ellis has been an editor for three entire years, according to his LinkedIn profile, making him completely qualified to expose the vast conspiracies behind the veil of reality for one of journalism’s oldest names from his extensive experience as an intern at Thrillist and as the editor of the Official John Wayne Way to Grill. In this issue, Ellis is the author of a piece on the Rosicrucians that contains less insight and information than the subject’s Wikipedia entry. And in terms of journalistic inexperience leading to poor results, get a load of this line from Ellis. He writes that “Frances Yates, the preeminent scholar on the subject, urges all ‘sensible people and sensible historians’ to put away ideas of Rosicrucianism as a shadowy secret society…” Doesn’t that make it sound like Ellis interviewed Yates? Or that this happened recently? The present tense would suggest it, but Yates wrote those words half a century ago in a widely reprinted article, unmentioned by Ellis. Yates, sadly, cannot be the preeminent scholar of Rosicrucianism in the present tense, nor can she speak in the present tense, because she has been dead since 1981.
Note to media companies: Try me sometime. I work fast and know a hell of a lot more about the subject matter. I can also cite sources.
As part of the volume, Newsweek posted an unsigned article from Ellis’s Media Lab issue about the team from Curse of Oak Island that demonstrates why you need to have actual subject matter experts writing your articles rather than farming them out to a company that describes its editorial process with the word “manufactures”: “The Media Lab manufactures best-in-class mass-market consumer magazines and distributes them across North America to all leading retail chains where magazines are sold.” (Note: Shortly after I accessed their About Us page, Media Lab removed all links to pages on their website. As of this writing, I cannot access the pages to link to them here.)
Anyway, enough about the cynical economics of the supermarket checkout lane branded magazines.
The “article” passing under the Newsweek name is a profile of Marty and Rick Lagina from History’s Curse of Oak Island, and it offers only one point of view; namely, that offered during Curse of Oak Island S02E07 “Trail of the Templars,” which it summarizes more or less point by point, passing off an episode summary as a news article.
In this interview, Rick Lagina explains why he feels that Oak Island was most likely a hiding place for the lost treasure of the Knights Templar: “The connection with the Templars has always been there, since the original discovery of the Money Pit, which supposedly happened in 1795.” I’d like to see him prove that. I have been able to find no mention of the Knights Templar in connection with the Money Pit of Oak Island prior to 1988, when Michael Bradley wrote Holy Grail across the Atlantic and introduced the Templars into a modern legend that had previously been associated with the Freemasons. The most important step was Andrew Sinclair’s 1993 book The Sword and the Grail, widely distributed by a major publisher (Random House), and therefore key to spreading the false claim that Henry Sinclair and the Templars took the Holy Grail to Nova Scotia. Following this volume, the number of references to the Templar treasure at Oak Island grew exponentially, from dozens of books in the 1990s to hundreds of them today.
As I have demonstrated many, many times, there is not a shred of evidence that Henry Sinclair or the Knights Templar ever traveled to Nova Scotia, and the entire claim is based on a hoax (the Renaissance-era Zeno Manuscript) and a lie (a “confession” under torture that some Templars escaped their suppression in eighteen small galleys). The author chooses not to reveal this to readers (if indeed it is known to our author), nor does the author explain that Henry Sinclair lived many decades after the Knights Templar were disbanded—and no record of him having left Europe exists anywhere.
But our author chooses to rely on the Lagina brothers as the only major source, giving objections to their claims only in unsourced asides to “most historians” and “most researchers” who disagree with them. At one point, the author uses our dear friend Scott Wolter to support the Lagina brothers’ assertion that the Narragansett Rune Stone, which most researchers (see, I can do it, too!) believe to be a hoax, shows “connections” between the Templars and Oak Island, though not definitive evidence.
Get a load though of the steaming pile of falsehood that the Laginas and our author pass along to their readers as though it were fact: “One of those bits of evidence is the fact that the flag of the island’s native peoples, the Mi’kmaq, bears a striking resemblance to the Templar’s battle flag: a red cross on white with a red crescent and red star.” Note the use of the word fact. The trouble, of course, is that the Templars did not use any such battle flag (the battle flag usually claimed for them, the Beauceant, was a black stripe over white), and the Mi’kmaq flag, used only for the Grand Council (not the Mi’kmaq nation itself), is of relatively recent design. According to the Encyclopedia of Native American Legal Tradition, the Grand Council adopted the flag around 1721, during a period of heavy influence from French Catholicism. Indeed, we know exactly when the Mi’kmaq first started using a red cross as a symbol since Marc Lescarbo, writing in the contemporary Conversion of the Savages, recorded in 1610 that the Mi’kmaq had begun using the Christian cross on their clothes in their public displays in imitation of the French priests.
The interview finishes with the Lagina brothers explaining their belief that stylized flowers at Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland can only be American, though this beggars belief, as I wrote in reviewing these claims on their show, since the stylization makes species identification impossible, if indeed they were ever meant to be a specific species at all.
While Media Lab and Newsweek would likely dismiss my complaints as unfounded since they intended the interview to be a “fun” puff piece promoting a TV show, audiences turning to a publication promising an insider’s view into the inner workings of secret societies are primed to accept what they read as likely to be true, especially when it comes with the endorsement of the once-prestigious Newsweek brand. This is redoubled when this article is published out of context as representative of the publication. The lack of balance in the article and the complete lack of research to investigate what the Lagina brothers (and Scott Wolter!) assert shows that Newsweek and Media Lab prefer journalism by stenography, taking the easy way out and appealing to the audience’s ignorance rather than doing the hard work of trying to offer a more thoughtful analysis that might explain why the Lagina brothers endorse wild ideas and whether there is anything more than hot air holding them together.
Sadly, for that you need someone who knows the subject matter rather than someone who “manufactures” content for market.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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