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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Wednesday, March 3, 2004


Be your own
‘truth squad’

Commentary by PAT MURPHY

Before the Internet, political dirty tricks and politicians’ outrageous claims were easily exposed and readily dealt with by the few print and broadcast media on which voters depended.

Now, with virtually unlimited opportunities for anyone to float any irresponsible or blatantly untrue tale via any of millions of Internet Web sites and e-mail addresses, trying to stamp out political deceit and dirty tricks is as demanding as eliminating roaches.

But there’s a solution for those willing to take time to conduct their own searches for truth about odd-sounding claims and tales that crop up on their computer screens.

Several credible Web sites devoted to exposing hoaxes, lies and urban legends have become mainstays for serious champions of truth who’re unwilling to lap up what appears on the surface to be real or truthful.

Perhaps the most popular and frequently used and reliable debunker of myths and lies is an Internet service operated from their suburban Los Angeles home by Barbara and David Mikkelson. He’s a Web programmer for a California health maintenance organization. She’s a homemaker.

David told me last week that their Web site operation, Snopes, now is visited 200,000 times each day by the curious checking out truth or falsity of reports and stories that sweep across the Internet via e-mail like locusts, mostly malicious fictions designed to humiliate.

Although Snopes has 45 subject categories where tales can be checked, and at least 21,000 articles exploring issues, most users simply write in a key word in the Web site’s search window (www.snopes2.com) that usually leads to a list of articles on the same topic.

Take the recent attempt to place Sen. John Kerry and Jane Fonda together in a photo while speaking at a lectern at an anti-war rally.

As the Snopes debunkers discovered, separate photos of Fonda and Kerry were spitefully combined into a fake photo and spread around the Internet as a political dirty trick.

Another hoax making the rounds last week was a claim that the American Civil Liberties Union is protesting the right of Marines to pray and another alleged ACLU protest against Christian crosses in military cemeteries. Both are false and apparently designed to belittle the ACLU.

Sadly, that sort of utter nonsense is passed around by e-mail as the gospel with heaven knows what consequences to reputations and to truth. One also has to wonder about sources behind reckless myth mongering.

For checking political charges and countercharges, the newest and one of the best is FactCheck.org, hosted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, and coordinated by former highly esteemed CNN investigative reporter Brooks Jackson.

FactCheck.org is evenhanded, bipartisan and critical of Republicans and Democrats for exaggerations and outright fabrications.

This week, FactCheck.org was taking Democrats and Republicans to task for inaccuracies in public statements on the campaign trail.



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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.