The Importance of separating fact from fiction
By Richard Zowie
Sometimes, dealing with e-mail when you work in media is a lot like opening that proverbial box of chocolates. To quote that great philosopher Forrest Gump, "You never know what you're gonna get."
Every day, spam e-mail makes up a third to half of the new messages. I often wonder how these kooky people got our e-mail address and how they have so much free time on their hands.
On early July 30, I received an e-mail that, as I read it, made my dark hazel-green eyes roll. The e-mail bothered me, because whoever sent it showed a glaring lack of effort to research or double-check their facts. This e-mail contains quotes falsely attributed to Democratic Presidential nominee John Kerry. In part, here's how it reads:
It's get-even time!
John Kerry speaks:
"The vast majority of our imports come from outside the country."
"If we don't succeed, we run the risk of failure."
"The future will be better tomorrow."
"We're going to have the best educated American people in the world."
"I stand by all the misstatements that I've made."
"It isn't pollution that's harming the environment. It's the impurities in our air and water that are doing it."
If you're the kind of person who believes everything you read or see on the Internet, then the conclusion would be that John Kerry is an absolute buffoon who belongs in the White House like a fox belongs in a henhouse. After all, these quotes suggest a very dense man-even one who went to Yale!
Two small problems with that. First, none of these quotes have a source, meaning there is nothing to guarantee Kerry actually said them. Second, many of these same quotes have in the past been attributed to (drum roll, please):
The late President Ronald Reagan.
Former President George "The Father" Herbert Walker Bush.
Former Vice President Dan Quayle.
Former President Bill Clinton.
Former Vice President Al Gore.
President George "Dubya" W. Bush.
As an independent conservative who will vote for President Bush even though I'm not in agreement with him on everything (such as immigration and faith-based initiatives), I find it flabbergasting that anyone would take this recycled urban legend as gospel truth. It shows a serious inability to really be able to think, to discern fact from fiction.
By no means am I perfect, but it's my strong feeling that Americans will never be able to effectively debate the issues and progress as a society until we learn to investigate the issues. As a reporter and columnist, I make a very concerted effort to dig down and ensure that when I use a quote or a statistic, that it's from an original or ironclad reliable source and that it's not being taken out of context.
This was my response to the lady who sent me the e-mail of Kerry's ALLEGED quotes:
"First things first...I'm a staunch conservative. I adore former President Reagan and even share a birthday with him (February 6). I voted for Bush the Father in 1992, Dole in 1996 and Bush in 2000. I voted for Bush as governor in 1994, 1998 and for Rick Perry in 2002. I am voting for Bush this time and find myself praying John Kerry doesn't get elected.
"But please, please, please, please, please get your facts straight before sending out nonsensical e-mails like this. These same quotes have been in the past attributed to Dan Quayle (whom I like also), Al Gore, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. (Go to www.snopes.com or to www.truthorfiction.com for more information). Sending out e-mails like this makes conservatives look very silly. It is likely that someone who sees this e-mail and knows better will vote for John Kerry out of spite.
This election year it is especially imperative to get the facts when studying the candidates and the issues. It takes effort sifting out all the nonsense, but it's worth it.
Richard Zowie is a reporter/columnist for the Times Guardian. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and include your phone number if you want your comments published.