Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Debunking The Debunkers

By GARY BAUMGARTEN
Paltalk News Network


There's a chain email letter going around that attempts to "uncover" who is really behind Snopes.com.

The folklore busting website - run by a California couple - investigates email missives like the one I got and checks for accuracy. This one, purportedly written by a software programmer, takes great pains to point out that the folks that run Snopes are Obama-supporting liberals. So of course, the Snopes research into alarmist rhetoric about the president can't be trusted, according to the letter.

Interestingly, the email credits Wikipedia for finally revealing those behind Snopes:

"Only recently did Wikipedia get to the bottom of it - kinda made you wonder
what they were hiding."

But as far back as 2001, CNN did a story featuring Barbara and David Mikkelson, the creators of Snopes. So it's a bit hard to believe that they have been, as the email argues, "hiding."

As for the purported Mikkelson liberal political leanings, the same Wikipedia source cited in the discrediting email, says otherwise:

Snopes receives more complaints that it is too liberal than that it is too conservative, but insists that it applies the same debunking standards to all political stories. FactCheck reviewed a sample of Snopes' responses to political rumors regarding George W. Bush, Sarah Palin and Barack Obama, and found them to be free from bias in all cases. FactCheck noted that Barbara Mikkelson was a Canadian citizen (and thus unable to vote in American elections) and David Mikkelson was an independent who was once a registered Republican. "You’d be hard-pressed to find two more apolitical people," David Mikkelson told them.

Not that Wikipedia is the ultimate authority on anything - but it is, after all, the source cited in the email. (For further on what FactCheck, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center found about the email go to http://www.factcheck.org/2009/04/snopescom/.)

It's no wonder that anyone who his an avid consumer of alarmist statements about President Obama would want to discredit anyone who actually researches and references those allegations - proving them wrong.

Which leads us to the bigger issue here. If President Obama is so toxic to the nation, then why does it become necessary to make things up to further malign him? Why not just stick with the facts?

Getting back to the email that snipes at Snopes. The email, which has been circulating since 2008, urges people to discard Snopes as a reliable source for fact checking in favor of Truth or Fiction - another Internet site that investigates rumors and claims. Well, if the author wants us to believe Truth or Fiction, then, let's see what that site has to say about the anti-Snopes email:

Snopes.com is an excellent site that has become an authoritative source for information about urban legends and forwarded emails. We regard David and Barbara Mikkelson, the founders and operators of Snopes.com, as colleagues and professional researchers who have earned a good reputation for what they do.

Finally, I phoned the purported author of the email, a computer programmer by the name of Alan Strong, and left a message. As of this posting, he has not returned my call.

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Talk to Gary at 5 PM New York time weekdays on News Talk Online on the Paltalk News Network at www.paltalknewsnetwork.com. Just click on the Join the Chat button. There is no charge.

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