Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Healthy Mistrust Still the Best Protection

In a world fueled with righteous and self righteous anger the art of assassination by internet bullet has reached epidemic proportions. Few days go by when my e-mail box does not contain some kind of vituerative comment for or against something or somebody. The other day I received a typical one that claimed that President Obama has proposed a bill that would force veterans to buy private insurance in order to be treated for their war injuries.

Obama was quoted with no attribution as saying, "Look, it's an all volunteer force, ... Nobody made these guys go to war. They had to have known and accepted the risks. Now they whine about bearing the costs of their choice? It doesn't compute. I thought these were people who were proud to sacrifice for their country, I wasn't asking for blood, just money. With the country facing the worst financial crisis in its history, I'd have thought that the patriotic thing to do would be to try to help reduce the nation's deficit. I guess I underestimated the selfishness of some of my fellow Americans."

Does this sound like something any politician of any stripe would say about veterans who will some day come to the polls with a vote? Even Obama is not that far out of touch. Does this sound like Obama's tone and language even if you ignore the content? We won't even go into the irony factor that Obama ,whose health care plans have been attacked by the charge that they would destroy private insurance and substitute government insurance, would probably not want to sponsor a law to force people into private plans.

Uhg! Enter the academic who has spent forty years teaching Communications and feels he is still fighting a losing battle with media responsibility and attribution . Luckily the web does offer some self correction modules. If you put some phrases from the original e-mail into Google, it will lead you to a site called Fact Check.org You can do this yourself. At http://www.factcheck.org/2009/05/would-obama-have-soldiers-pay-for-own-war-injuries/ you will find a step by step account of how this story developed. It is an all too common pattern. Someone’s satirical comments, that were clear in the original context, begin to morph through continuously less accurate repetitions into blatant falsehoods. It’s the old rumor game we all used to play at parties, but magnified by millions of unchallenged forwarded internet messages.

This is not new just as electronic junk mail advertising (SPAM) is not new. The solution is not new either. “Don’t believe everything you read in the newspapers and magazines” and especially don’t believe everything you see on a television or computer screen. Use some caution. Evaluate the source if one is apparent and if there is no attribution, be extremely suspcious of any charges or conclusions.

Thanks for listening this morning.

1 comment:

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