Knowing Human Psychology

A few years ago, during my night-time car journeys, I used to listen to the French radio station “Rires et chansons” (“Laughs and songs”). One regular section of the programme on the air then especially caught my attention. Entitled “La Rumeur” (“The Rumour”), its scheme was as follows: an accomplice would enter a pub and tell the people there of a sensational event that had supposedly just happened nearby involving a name from the world of entertainment, sport or politics. Then he would leave. Naturally his story was false from beginning to end. Soon afterwards, a phoney team of journalists would arrive in the pub to garner testimonies concerning the “event”. Only too happy to gain some kind of importance, the people would report, as if they’d seen it all themselves, what the team’s accomplice had told them. And the longer an interview lasted, the more new details they would invent to answer the supposed journalists questioning them. I particularly remember a sequence where the false news concerned the footballer Zinédine Zidane. The accomplice had told some people, without elaborating, that the international player had been arrested that morning in a neighbouring building by the police on suspicion of drug use. When questioned a short time later, one pub customer confirmed the news as if he’d seen the incident. Asked about the expression on Zidane’s face as he was being led away, the rascal gave details that were pure fantasy.

In the book by father Desbois, three photos show an interview of three particular women being filmed (pp. 34-35). One needn’t be a great psychologist to know that in such conditions, “witnesses” will be ready to enrich a story and say what’s expected of them in order for their account to be considered important.

[To point up his remarks, Vincent Reynouard cites the case of Anna Tchouprina who, when interviewed by father Desbois, told of how the Germans pulled the gold teeth from the mouths of still-living Jews… Earlier in his study, Reynouard had briefly gone over the history of the Ukraine, recalling the famine of 1932-1933, many victims of which were buried in common graves, recalling as well the executions carried out during the Stalinist purges (at Vinnitsa, for example). It’s easy to talk of ditches full of Jewish remains in the Ukraine, especially when the sites are not dug open to allow a forensic inspection that might tell who the dead were, and whether they’d in fact been shot…]

(Source: Vincent Reynouard, “Le Père Desbois: champion du bidonnage” in Sans Concession n° 36, January-February 2008, p. 43)

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