Caveat Emptor

Art Bell’s deep voice called out a familiar late-night invitation, “East of the Rockies, you’re on the air…”

“Hello, this is Chuck calling from Houston.  Well, I was out in my back yard looking at the comet through my telescope and I was wondering, does anyone know what that thing is next to it?”
“I’m assuming you mean the Hale-Bopp comet, Chuck?  What is it that you see?”

“I’m not sure, Art.  Astronomy is a hobby of mine and I’m always out looking whenever there are events like this… There’s a very bright light next to Hale-Bopp that, as far as I know, shouldn’t be there… it has sort of a ring around it, like Saturn… but it’s not Saturn and it’s not a star… it’s very large.”
“Chuck, this is the first I’ve heard of this, perhaps if I had a picture to look at, I might be able…”

“Oh, I’ve got a picture, Art.  I can send it to you.”
“By all means, please do and I’ll put it up on my website, Chuck.  Interesting… an object traveling along with a comet…”

Finger-pointing and argument continues today as to just who bears what blame for the tragedy that ensued several months later.  A radio host had given forum to an amateur astronomer with a question; who was responsible for vetting the hoaxers that turned it into something much bigger?  Charlatans have been pushing conspiracy theories on the gullible for fun and profit for many years prior to this, was this instance any different?
After all, Marshall Applewhite, leader of the Heaven’s Gate cult which committed group suicide on March 26, 1997 in hopes of being reincarnated onto the UFO hiding in Hale-Bopp’s wake, had already purchased Alien Abduction Insurance a full month before the photo was even published.