There’s a certain fellow sharing my last name, apparently a distant relative though I’d never heard of him until a few months ago, who just loves to send email. Every day. Sometimes I’ll get five or six a day, forwards of forwards of forwards. Almost all of them contain nutty rumors, vicious smears or childish jokes about one or more persons named Obama. He evidently assumes that (a) I actually enjoy reading such stuff, and (b) I can’t get it anywhere else.
I’ve actually read a few of these to see if they’re as idiotic as they appear. They are. Most are too silly even to comment on, but a few possess the added distinction of mind-blowing stupidity. The other day, he sent me the one about President Obama’s dog; and this one, I just can’t resist.
You may have heard about the Prez’s pooch already. The story has gained traction thanks to the blog of Michelle Malkin, one of an endlessly breeding army of vitriolic pundits who get paid handsomely for ignoring whatever brain cells and scruples they own. You may recall that Malkin impugned the patriotism of those who dared question Arizona’s so-called immigration law – apparently not realizing that under its provisions, she herself could be detained as a suspected illegal because she “looks foreign”.
According to a post on her blog (she didn’t write it herself, but it bears her stamp of approval), the Obama family took a vacation to Maine and the first mutt, Bo, was flown on his own plane. Oh, the shame of it – wasting all that money when banks and oil companies are hurting so much. Accordingly, the right-wing blogosphere went apeshit, and the emails have been flying furiously ever since.
As with many Internet rumors, there is less to this story than meets the eye. And as with many bits of popular fiction, it resonates in part because it’s based on actual events. The Obamas really did take a vacation to Maine. And Bo really did fly on a separate plane. But the key word here is separate. He did NOT fly on his OWN plane. It was a plane that was already being used to transport White House staffers. Landing at an airport too small to accommodate a large plane, the presidential party traveled in two smaller ones instead. Transporting the canine did not, contrary to Malkinoid rumor, entail any added expense. And the suggestion that it did betrays, at best, an utter lack of research.
This rumor is especially instructive because it illustrates how drastically a fact can be altered by omitting or changing just a word or two – and that’s a tack you’ll see polemicists using over and over again. Take a perfectly accurate statement like “Michelle Malkin blew it on Obama’s dog.” We could Malkinize it by omitting just two brief words and end up with “Michelle Malkin blew Obama’s dog.” Interpreted in one way, this claim would imply an action that we could neither verify nor discredit. Yet read another way, it’s just a condensed version of the original statement, and so is still perfectly true – which makes it more accurate than the Malkinized story about Bo. So hey, why not forward it to everyone on your contact list.
But while rumors often get started with an omission, they tend to get embroidered with new details as they gain momentum. The version of the shaggy dog story that landed in my inbox, for instance, included the explanation that Muslims consider dogs unclean. (And we all know that Obama is a Muslim/socialist/Nazi/terrorist/atheist/Kenyan/Anti-Christ.) Similarly, one might embroider the Malkin rumor with the observation that some Asians find dogs very tasty.
Whenever I hear from my distant relative, I can’t help thinking of him as a useful idiot. I know, it’s not nice to call people names. But the phrase isn’t mine, it’s a very old coinage (falsely attributed to Lenin) to describe a gullible person whose passions are easily aroused to serve a manipulator’s cause. The Malkinizers have a cause of promoting bigotry, and they have no shortage of useful idiots to do their bidding. Combating the misinformation they spread online is like taking on a whole nest full of hydras.
For my part, when it comes to taking the word of Michelle Malkin, or taking the word of Obama’s dog, I’ll take Bo any day.