Don’t believe every rumor you hear
November 23, 2008
The election is over and I should have written this months before, but there will be other elections and other situations where the same thought applies.
In these days of amateur bloggers (and pros, for that matter) and ranting radio extremists, you might want to weigh carefully about what you hear or read. Let me give you an example.
Before the election I was lunching with the usual suspects when the friend with the conservative views said, “I see ACORN says that Obama lied twice about his work with them.”
In case you’ve forgotten, ACORN is a nonprofit “get out the vote” organization in Chicago. It was investigated for fraud in signing up new voters but never charged. Obama had a relationship with ACORN while working in Chicago, and the GOP had jumped on the FBI investigation, tying it to Obama.
As ACORN was in the news then, I perked up and thought I’d not heard that and as a news junkie I would have thought it would have gotten big play. So I asked my friend where he had heard that about Obama. He could not remember, so I figured I’d check it out. Later that day I started searching the Web, going first to the Obama site, then the ACORN entry. Nothing about Obama and lies.
So I went to the newspaper sites ” the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, the Washington Times. Nothing.
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Then to The Associated Press and Reuters, the French news wire AFP, the television network Web sites. Still nothing. Then the Huffiington blog, a usually solid source. Zero. So I e-mailed an old Associated Press friend in Washington, and got back another negative.
Frustrated, I e-mailed ACORN with the query about Obama and truth. It took a while but I got an e-mail back saying the organization knew nothing about it.
If not there, then where?
So I started running over some of the more right-wing blogs but found nothing. I even looked up Rush Limbaugh on the Web, plenty there (including his rant about Colin Powell endorsing Obama strictly on the basis of color) but Rush hadn’t heard about it. Time, Newsweek, the National Review had nothing.
Finally while just surfing the Web I found a comment about ACORN and Obama and lies. It was just an open question: “Did j’ hear something about Obama and ACORN and lying?” So I finally gave up. I could only conclude that my friend must have heard it on some radio talk show, most of which are notorious for half-truths and no truths.
So what’s the point of all this? Don’t accept a rumor just because it fits your political orientation. Check it out.
Whenever you hear or read some story that sounds a little off base, stop and track it down. First, do the national media have anything on the matter? The wire services and TV network newsrooms will jump on anything like the ACORN-Obama story. So if the rumor you come across doesn’t make it with the biggies, it’s probably false.
Don’t let the claim that the media is left-wing fool you; the media is first and always concerned about making money, and if a good story slams the Left, it will make the news reports.
The media keeps tabs on bloggers because sometimes they are good sources for tips as they don’t worry about libel or accuracy. The blogs are constantly monitored and if any blog story checks out the media cover it. But check the bloggers anyhow; sometimes they can make meaningful comments on stories.
Also, for any rumor check and see how it matches the general facts as you know them. Is it reasonable, considering everything else you know about the subject? (That’s part of the way the military checks things.) Also, consider the source. Radio talk show hosts rarely can be held for accuracy checks; they claim and move on with no factual backup.
Keep looking until you are confident the rumor is true or false.
Something else you might want to do in this world of information glut, try to find a contrary source from your usual reading or listening.
If you’re liberal, read some conservative publications or listen to right-wing shows. Or, just the opposite. I know that after 50 years in the news business I tend to take the AP and New Yorker as gospel. But lately I’ve been reading the other side, too.
But I’ll confess, I haven’t made it to Rush yet.
– Sam Bauman can be reached at email@example.com