As mentioned previously, wacky rumors are still circulated on the Internet quite frequently these days – perhaps more often than ever. Which is really bewildering since it is easier than ever to discredit them, thanks to a number of online resources, some dedicated especially to deflating myths. One of the best is Snopes.com. They do a thorough, prompt and even-handed job of examining myths, urban legends and rumors, and they do so without partisanship – therefore, not surprisingly, they’re often accused of “liberal bias”. (In fact, the site was founded by a Canadian citizen and a registered Republican.)
Snopes doesn’t just cover political rumors, though, but rumors in 41 categories. So if you read it in a forward, chances are you can see it debunked there. I can’t guarantee that the site is infallible, but I’ve never known it to err yet. At the very least, it’s an excellent place to start.
Since it was an Obama rumor that sparked this whole discussion, it’s worth noting what his coverage on Snopes indicates about the intense campaign of hatred and rumor mongering that has been waged against the current president. It’s especially illuminating to compare his “Snopes index” with that of his predecessor.
George W. Bush governed with an arrogant “my way or the highway”, “you’re with ME or with THEM” stance that is guaranteed to make some enemies. (It was the kind of chest-thumping insolent insularity that has dominated his party as a whole for the past 30 years or so- but ratcheted up a notch or two.) Even though in the 2000 election he lost (at the very least) the popular vote, he admonished congressional Democrats to get aboard his agenda or “be left behind”. After the 2004 election, which itself was rather close, he boasted, “I earned political capital, and I intend to spend it”. (He was referring to both elections, incidentally.) The media spun this hubris as “strong leadership”; and the ever-entertaining National Review, while jumping on that bandwagon, also suggested that perhaps his greatest asset was his modesty. Seriously.
Naturally, this kind of polarizing figure is going to inspire some rumors. Accordingly, after his 8 years in office, Snopes has listed 46 Bush rumors, 20 of which are true and 17 false. (Nine of them are partly true, doubtful, or undetermined.) We should acknowledge that not all of these rumors are negative; one includes the claim that Bush’s house is more ecologically friendly than Al Gore’s. (This is true as far as it goes, but there are additional facts you might want to consider before circulating it – particularly if your aim is to peg Gore as a “hypocrite”.) The vast majority of the rumors, however, are considerably less complimentary.
Now consider Barack Obama, who’s spent less than 3 years in office. Unlike Bush, he’s been quite willing to compromise and work with the opposition -just compare the boldness of the original healthcare bill with the emasculated version that barely survived. (To the spinmeisters this makes him, simultaneously, a pussy and a tyrant.) His Snopes total so far is 103 rumors – more than double that of Bush in less than half the time. Of these, only 12 are true (11% compared to 43% for Bush) and 69 false (67% compared to 37% for Bush). The number of decidedly false rumors circulated about Obama considerably exceeds the total number of rumors circulated about Bush. All of which solidly underscores the conclusion that the vendetta against Obama is based on something besides his actual performance on the job.
But the purpose here is not to defend or denounce any particular politician. The purpose is to remind you that sooner rather than later, you will be forwarded some breathtaking allegation about Obama. Or Bush. Or Hillary Clinton. Or Jane Fonda. Or somebody. And you may be so outraged that you’re tempted to pass it on, particularly if it reinforces beliefs you already hold. But you might want to pause and snope it out first. It just might prevent you from making a fool of yourself.
NOTE: (Added 11/4/11) Some Internet rumors include the claim that the information has been “verified by Snopes” when it hasn’t. In some such cases, Snopes has even discredited it. There’s no substitute for checking it out yourself.