There’s an old adage that used to be beaten into every journalism student’s head: “If your mother says she loves you, check it.”
Also: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
I sure wish my fellow conservatives would learn this, before they squander their political capital by sounding dumb.
There are a lot of conservatives out there who seem willing to believe anything they hear or read, no matter how ridiculous, about the Evil Left-Wing Obama Administration and Their Eco-Terrorist America-Hating Femi-Nazi Friends.
Of course, I’m just judging by the stuff that ends up in my e-mail inbox.
Did you read the one about how only 8 percent of President Obama’s Cabinet members have any private-sector experience, the lowest of any president in 100 years?
That missive, complete with a chart, appeared so realistic that Fox News Commentator Glenn Beck fell for it. Alas for Beck’s credibility, the Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-check organization PolitiFact.org exposed the charge as false.
Or perhaps you read the one about how Michelle Obama has umpteen more personal staff members than poor Laura Bush had.
Oops, that’s not true either, according to Snopes.com, also known as the Urban Legends Reference Page.
How about how President Obama is the only president in more than a hundred years to skip attending the Army-Navy football game?
False again. While it’s true he did not attend the 2009 game, he is hardly the first commander-in-chief to miss a game, and of those presidents who have attended, most didn’t go every year. Snopes reports that Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush were among the presidents who never attended a single Army-Navy game.
How about the report that the Bakken oil shale deposits in the northern Plains states contain enough oil to make the United States energy-independent for the next 400 years, but the environmentalists are blocking all efforts to extract the oil?
Um, no. The U.S. Geological Survey does say there’s more oil there than was previously known, but nowhere near 400 years’ worth. The survey also notes that the oil will be difficult and costly to extract, and that extraction would almost certainly cause serious harm to the environment.
I get stuff like this everyday. One e-mailer always includes the postscript “THIS IS NOT OPEN FOR DISCUSSION. IF YOU AGREE, FORWARD IT. IF YOU DISAGREE, DELETE IT.” Glad you’re so open-minded, buddy.
Liberals have their own dumb stuff. Remember the 2001 report from the Lovenstein Institute that then-President George W. Bush had the lowest IQ of any U.S. president? “The Guardian” newspaper and “Doonesbury” cartoonist Gary Trudeau both fell for that one, and both ended up printing retractions.
Likewise, in 2004, several major newspapers including the “St. Petersburg Times” reported on a study that purportedly showed people who voted for Al Gore in 2000 had higher IQs than people who voted for George W. Bush. Another hoax.
The great thing about the Internet is that it is so easy to check this stuff out, although verifying a recent e-mail about a Vermont legislator who wants to tax every Vermont homeowner who does not own a gun proved tougher than most.
That was because this particular tale has “gone viral,” which means it shows up on just about every right-wing blog and webpage you can find. But as a reporter, I learned early that just because two or three people tell you the same thing doesn’t mean it’s true.
The truth is, there once was a Vermont legislator who proposed taxing non-gun owners – back in 2000. His bill, which he admitted was a publicity stunt, died in committee. He was not re-elected. Vermont currently has no plans to tax non-gun owners – although given the budget woes that almost every state is facing, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone did start to take this idea seriously.
We need to be careful out there, people. When we forward an e-mail or tell a friend something we heard or read without checking the facts, we risk looking like idiots. The conservative movement doesn’t need that kind of help.
So the next time you read or hear something that’s just too good, too perfect, to be true, check it. Here are some websites to get you started:
-March 15, 2010