Debunking Forwards: Is Snopes Unreliable?

I just received a funny email forward from both my father and grandfather, to whom I both often link to Snopes articles for debunking things. I think in this case, as I usually do, that linking to a Snopes article to debunk the falsity of a Snopes-reliability accusation would be pretty dumb, so here’s my take on it.

1. To accept the accusation at face value, we’d be relying on the credibility of one single e-mail making an accusation, written by someone we don’t even know, referencing uncited sources, lacking specific evidence and just making general statements.

2. There are some really poorly-laid claims to back itself up. I have not ever found a Snopes article that states Obama never said something, but instead offers much better context and provides direct links to major news agency articles explaining the confusion. “Never said” can both mean, “never uttered those very words” and “did not make the statements in the light you have been lead to believe he made them” often due to selective editing. Foremostly what I find in error with the rationale is that a random, uncited YouTube video is somehow of greater justification of truth than a Snopes article with an insane backstory of firm, reliable credibility.

3. The accusation that the operator is a flaming liberal is just silly. Yes, let’s boil our entire basis for truth upon a purported political stance. The fact that the descriptor “flaming” was used further brings the tone of the accusation down to banter between 7-year-olds at recess shouting, “nuh uh!” at each other.

4. By claiming that Snopes is unreliable in one realm, you’re also refuting the thousands of other articles that Snopes is actually accurate about. By proclaiming a source to be tainted in one aspect, you may inadvertently be trying to establish that all other things produced by that source may be spun in favor of that particular taint — without even bothering to check to see whether they actually are.

5. The accusation that Obama articles are more described as hoaxes while McCain articles are more defined as true — fails to consider whether or not they actually are and are addressing purely hypothetical extrapolations, without even bothering to check! The case for this trait, if true, might be indicative of deeper issues than simply Snopes being hokey — but that McCain supports are actually way better a creating a campaign of deception. I’m not saying they are, but there are at least three sides to every coin — to say that a fire extinguished means that firefighters were on the scene completely disregards the size of the fire, whether it was raining, the nature of the fire, and actual presence of firefighters.

Let’s ask way more questions about questionable credibility of a source that cites specific references than simply assigning truth based on even less trustworthy sources like a single e-mail forward making imprecise and vague accusations.

5. TruthorFiction.com may very well be a perfectly reliable source, but that is no reason to completely abandon another source for truth. The e-mail seems to imply that there is only one choice to be made, instead of both being consultable. Check both, if you like. If TOF cites the identical evidence that Snopes does, is the writer implying that TOF is a flaming liberal? Let’s think about it more carefully before jumping wildly about at the press of a send.

Debunking Forwards: Snopes Truth About Michelle Obama Thesis

Another Obama-critical email has been circulating that has an edited version of the Snopes.com logo, with a modified claim/status text, the main body of the e-mail attempting to imitate a Snopes article if to prove Mrs.Obama is some kind of black-power proponent. This is a somewhat common theme among virus warnings and such that do actually link to the real Snopes article but are wagering that you’ll never actually click on the link and just read the e-mail instead.

Again to clarify — I am not an Obama supporter (nor McCain) but am far more interested in weeding out propaganda from genuine and accurate journalism.

Although the current status for the Snopes article regarding the reported suppression of Michelle Obama’s Princeton thesis does actually say was true, the actual claim is slightly different — that an e-mail is being circulated about the suppression of access to the article. However, the body of the explanation is drastically different than the forward’s version.


Edit:
In fact, the body of the forward is not even an imitation of a Snopes article but is instead a seperate forward’s commentary simply bearing a Snopes-looking header graphic.

There are a few major clues that the forward is not a genuine Snopes article:

(a) the edited header — as the Snopes logo itself does not encompass the title, claim or status but instead bears menu items, while the title and claim/status is further below the logo.
(b) Snopes articles are always (in my experience) printed in the same font — and the email font does not even bother to mimic it. The paragraphs have varying margins, many of them sentences are bolded, underlined, or entirely italicized. Most Snopes articles never do this (except perhaps quoted passages).
(c) Clicking on the link the email even provides freely..
http://www.snopes.com/politics/obama/thesis.asp
..leads to the actual snopes article stating contrariwise information than the forward does. At no point do any remarks appear about anything similar to blacks overcoming a white suppressor except when summarizing the statemtents of how her interviewed subjects felt and that most of them had been students from the 1970’s when racial issues were considerably a forefront qualm.

In addition — the actual Snopes article states the thesis was actually made publicly available by the Obama campaign and was summarized by a newspaper who gained access to it and reviewed it, and quotes the review.

It is increasingly certain that individuals who are routinely fooled by e-mail forwards that “leak” some kind of underground revelation about political issues and things that the media “refuses to report” (as if the media as a whole could actually cooperate with itself) are publicly demonstrating a profound lack of credibility and are capable of the same capacity for abstract thought as this outspoken political pundit (nsfw language).

Debunking Forwards: Columbo Scratching His Head

I’ve been sent yet another bizarre forward by the usual sources — the “underground” truth factory that insists that the media will not cover issues that desperately need covering. The reason they’re not covered.. is that it’s not even a story worth mentioning. Get over yourself already!

The latest epiphany is that a bunch of Obama’s transcripts and such are “not available” and “not released,” and that “the American people” are supposedly in adamant demand for such information be made available right this very second —


1. Occidental College records — Not released
2. Columbia College records — Not released
3. Columbia Thesis paper — ‘not available’
4. Harvard College records — Not released
5. Selective Service Registration — Not released
6. Medical records — Not released
7. Illinois State Senate schedule — ‘not available’
8. Law practice client list — Not released
9. Certified Copy of original Birth certificate — Not released
10. Embossed, signed paper Certification of Live Birth — Not released
11. Harvard Law Review articles published — None
12. University of Chicago scholarly articles — None
13. Your Record of baptism– Not released or ‘not available’
14. Your Illinois State Senate records–‘not available’

Okay, so, tell me how exactly #1-7 applies to anything regarding Obama’s elligibility for presidential election. That’s an entire HALF of the items on the 14-item list that have nothing to do with anything, meaning that you’ve got your undershorts in bunches over nonsensical misgivings that hey, someone might just want some privacy, and as an American citizen who has not yet been elected president, I think he may retain that right. Because you, as a voter who will be responsible for making a decision of whether he gets in or not, should be held to an even higher scruitiny about whether you are actually sane enough to make that kind of judgment call.

Oh wait, you get to exercise that right by simply being a citizen. My bad. While we’re at it, let’s review the necessary presidential elligibility — 35 years old, natural born (meaning that someone born out of country can still be elected if his/her parents were citizens at the time), and have lived here at least 14 years. I’m pretty sure those check out. As for the others on the list —

#14 – What do you mean, the Illinois State Senate records are not available? You mean that you didn’t want to actually go thru the paperwork to get them, or that they’re just mysteriously absent from all knowledge? I’m sure there’s an Illinois version of C-Span that has those details. I’m very skeptical that those would be hard to find. We’re not counting web 404’s, are we?

#13 – If you were a Christian and actually concerned with whether Obama is a Christian, his baptism record is not proof — and as a Christian, you would know that. A baptism record is one of many possible public signs to that one church he goes to that he trusts Christ as his righteousness in place of his own before the gavel of YHWH’s throne. Asking for a baptism record as proof is like criticizing someone for being good enough for heaven — totally missing the point.

#12 & 11 – So you’re getting upset that he hasn’t published any scholarly articles? How is that even remotely a point worth even bringing up? I’m sure he hasn’t written any scholarly articles for the Times Record News, but you don’t see me forwarding propaganda across the nation yakking about it. Big freakin’ deal.

#9 & 10 – Practically the same thing. #10 is not necessary in the least if you’ve already got #9. Pretty necessary, but I’m so beyond certain that this information is well known enough that just because you, John Q. Citizen can’t get ahold of any other random person’s birth certificate either is a sign that you really have no idea what you’re even going on about.

#8 – – Law practice client list. Umm.. what? I think you’d be pretty hard pressed to find very many law firms who would be willing to release client lists. I think that’d be a privacy issue with the clients themselves, not with the practice.

So there you have it. America is concerned with maybe one of these things, Columbo. Any by the way, you’re fired.

Debunking Forwards: Bird Feeder Syndrome

I received the following forward from a good-intentioned relative, but had to overtly disagree with its message. The article seems to rationalize a form of racism (nationalism, perhaps) whereby an absolute trait is labeled upon the entirety of a people-group based on speculation and rumor, perhaps in response to a perceived amount of injustice incurred by the presence of such people:

As usual, Maxine gets it right…
The Bird Feeder Syndrome – A Survival Thought For The Day

I bought a bird feeder. I hung it on my back porch and filled it with seed. What a beauty of a bird feeder it is, as I filled it lovingly with seed. Within a week we had hundreds of birds taking advantage of the continuous flow of free and easily accessible food.

But then the birds started building nests in the boards of the patio, above the table, and next to the barbecue. Then came the poop. It was everywhere: on the patio tile, the chairs, the table ..everywhere!

Then some of the birds turned mean. They would dive bomb me and try to peck me even though I had fed them out of my own pocket. And others birds were boisterous and loud. They sat on the feeder and squawked and screamed at all hours of the day and night and demanded that I fill it when it got low on food.

After a while, I couldn’t even sit on my own back porch anymore. So I took down the bird feeder and in three days the birds were gone. I cleaned up their mess and took down the many nests they had built all over the patio. Soon, the back yard was like it used to be…. quiet, serene and no one demanding their rights to a free meal. Now let’s see.

Our government gives out free food, subsidized housing, free medical care, and free education and allows anyone born here to be an automatic citizen. Then the illegals came by the tens of thousands. Suddenly our taxes went up to pay for free services; small apartments are housing 5 families; you have to wait 6 hours to be seen by an emergency room doctor; your child’s 2nd grade class is behind other schools because over half the class doesn’t speak English.

Corn Flakes now come in a bilingual box; I have to ‘press one’ to hear my bank talk to me in English, and people waving flags other than ‘Our own’ are squawking and screaming in the streets, demanding more rights and free liberties.

Just my opinion, but maybe it’s time for the government to take down the bird feeder. If you agree, pass it on; if not, continue cleaning up the poop!

Firstly.. (a) Immgrants are not birds. There should not exist the perception that, by contrast, legal citizens are on an intellectual level of homeowners while immigrants possess the limited capacity of air fowl. That’s just terrible. It might not have been what she meant, but it’s pushing the boundary on outrightly stating it. (b) Maxine fails to put herself in their shoes. Imagine if the country you came from became so stank that you decided to actually move your family out of it, and into an country that offered nice surroundings but in which existed a people that spoke a language different than yours. Would you not, at first at least, take kindly to offerings of quality and genuine support so that you could get on your feet? Would it not be a temptation, as a person (regardless of where you came from) to perhaps rely on that support longer than was presumed socially permissible? I’m not asking if you would, but wouldn’t the very idea at least occur in your mind that, hmm, perhaps I might be able to? Do you not know actual citizens of this country that would jump onto that if it were offered to them? I know dozens who would snatch it up if offered. Could some of this resentment toward immigrants who are offered this assistance actually be a bit of avarice you possess, that you yourself “deserve it more than someone else” in regard to those benefits?

Secondly, Maxine (the person putting out the birdfeeder) epic-failed on a few key aspects, in terms of the story itself and not drawing any particular metaphors: (a) She didn’t have any idea what birds actually were. Birds CAN get noisy and may very well fight, especially over limted resources. (b) She blamed her overt lack of research on the birds themselves, rather than herself for not knowing this would happen. Instead of being irritated with her own decision to put the birdfeeder out, she projected the irritation onto the birds themselves, who were just being what birds are and have always been since birdfeeders were even around. (c) The birds may not actually possess the capacity to realize that she is the person supplying the feed, whereas she may simply be a large competitor for the feed itself, much less knowing how out-of-pocket economics work to realize it is a sacrifice for you to do this. The anger here is a transition from a long-held belief aligning itself with the facts of reality, and isn’t at all a fault of the birds themselves. The biggest factor is her self-sustained deception that birds were not what they actually were. Instead of treating it as a learning experience, she has now over-encumbered herself with a severe distaste for birds, and sits pridefully on her porch in the self-reinforced notion that she had been right all along.

Pass the shovel, fellow citizen. I’ll do the gruntwork of humanitarian aid if your butler says you’ve got other appointments for today! Puh!

David Attenborough “Lyrebird” video remixed

There’s a remixed version of the internet classic “Lyrebird” video where host David Attenborough whispers some commentary about a clever bird who essentially hijacks the songs of other birds in his mating calls — but also mimics sounds it hears.. car alarms, lumberjacks firing up their chainsaws, etc.

Lyrebird Video @ BBC’s YouTube Account (embedding disabled, else I would have)

While this is not especially newsworthy, it should be noted that the second version below is a hacked version and the mimicry other than those portions found in the original are not actual recordings, they are video edits created for the purposes of a joke. However, the video seems to have caught on out of context and many people now believe the Lyrebird mimics the Seinfeld theme song. Oh dear.

Debunking Forwards: Hungry at the Olympics?

A recent e-mail forward going around shows many unattributed photos (with edited-in captions) of a Chinese Olympic foodcart court with such offerings as scorpions, silk worms, sea horses, goat lungs, and more. I don’t especially see a reason to doubt these are from an Olympic venue (other than the fact that Chinah as a ban on dog meat, and “dog liver and vegetables” is shown as an open-air food cart offering.

I was not able to find any mention of it on the web through a standard Googling — the only similar story seemed to be a BBC news article about how China is banning dog meat, that included the phrase “hungry at the olympics”..

However, I was able to locate a few pictures that seemed strikingly similar (without the edited-in captions, perhaps being the originals upon which the captions were added) by searching directly on Flickr. Mauricio Moreno came up after searching for olympics, food, scorpion. I only found a few of them, so I suspect there may be another photographer, possibly from the same venue. The search continues.. can anyone else find a gallery of these?

Here are a few from the email, but I won’t post all 17 pictures for fear of getting server hammered! heh

Edit — OK, scratch that. I DID find someone who posted the entire series of pictures.. but they’re in a flash-based slideshow format, and at a terrible quality reduction. I somehow doubt some radio station is the origin of these, though!

pHforAmerica.org Smear Tactic Debunked

I promise not to dig too much into politics, and I want to preface that I’m not decided on any candidate yet, but I simply want to defend accurate journalism and help people not be misled by smear campaigns that build up a case for remarks made out of context. I’m not an Obama supporter (or McCain for that matter, yet, on both counts) but I want to ensure that facts are reported accurately. And so then:

There’s a propagandist website making its way through email forwards lately, that is an attempt to smear Obama’s reputation as a Christian by supposedly showing his true feelings. However, the video actually only uses a few clips out of a larger speech, and furthermore adds a few, “Did you not know..?” remarks toward the end. This is the same strategy of touters of bible contradiction that simply make a list of random verses with a common subject heading of something obscenely out of context, like “God Murders Thousands.” The addition of the “Did you not know..?” remarks implies that Obama did not actually know, but fails to even provide actual evidence that he didn’t. Apparently just asking a question that Obama is not defending in the smearer’s own video counts for legitimate journalism. Yeah right.

Here’s the original smear campaign’s video:

The video states, “On June 28, 2006, Senator Barack Obama gave a speech … where he explains why he finds it so difficult for America to use the bible to help guide our public policy,” then gives only 30 heavily edited seconds of a larger and greater context, and then makes blind accusations in rhetorical questions as if they were something profound.

However, if you were to listen to more of the original speech, Obama makes a pretty good case about how the perceptions of Christians need to be of a keener mindset of communicating the same ideas into a type of understanding that non-believers could grasp and identify with.

A lot more of the original video (still cut, but not quite so heavily or unjournalistically):

Pay attention to the smear version and the less-edited version’s difference of the audience reaction after he remarks about the Defense Department’s implementation. In the smear version, there’s only light murmuring, but in the less-cut version, the audience laughs uproariously — which would make better sense if the statements he’d made were actually of a more light-heared, poking-fun nature, rather than a deep criticism as the smear version makes it out to be.

He uses an Abraham and Isaac example, where, if we were to see the well-known event taking place, we’d call the police and have CPS take Isaac away. To me, it seems like he’s trying to get across to Christians that they/we need to be more open to discussion and deal with public policy in a much more wise technique:

You may recall how Solomon, when confronted by two women arguing over whose child a baby was — ordered a child be cut in two so each could have an equal share. The false mother agreed it should be cut, but the real mother said to give it to the false one so it would not be cut. Solomon did not actually intend to cut the baby, but gave the baby to the true mother.

Obama seems to be, in a sense, making a Judgement of Solomon. He’s taking a stance with one foot in both doors, trying to address the needs of both Christian and secular alike, in an attempt to demonstrate the disparity between actual implementation based on scripture versus secular reasoning. He doesn’t appear to actually be advocating seeing the bible as absurdity, but instead using that idea as a larger illustration about how secular citizens may perceive a scripture-based policy when instead the same goal could be reached by using a different technique of reasoning.

Editor’s Note, January 28, 2013:
The lengthier clip of Obama’s speech (called the “Call To Renewal” speech of June 28, 2006) has been somehow suspended from view, since I first wrote it four years ago. There is a better version, linked below in 5 parts, which shows the entire speech so you can have far better context of his joking nature, rather than being a stern lecture as PHFA tries to cast the remark into. The beginning of the fourth part is relevant to this post —

Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tdoQr3BQ1g
Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XYzDIhbgDtg
Part 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vTFUsckSDe8
Part 4: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wVt59yd2W0U
Part 5: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x29oqiXwg34

That fourth part casts even more light on the matter, in that he was operating at the time under a hypothetical situation, and asking under whose version of Christianity we were to operate under within that hypothetical situation. It is perfectly reasonable to make weird claims, particularly when the context is entirely hypothetical.

If I were to ask, “Hypothetically, if our knees were bent the other direction, would that affect how chairs are designed?” and then suggest that “chairs would need to be made in a different design,” and taken out of context, it could be used in a propaganda video that I insisted chairs be made into a different design, rather having been related to knee-bending hypothetical question before it.

The people who are suggesting Obama isn’t Christian based on this segment are doing precisely that — taking comments out of context. He even describes, in the same speech in Part 2 (around the 5-minute mark), his acceptance of Christ at the front of the church one day.

It might be worth noting that I did not end up voting at all that year (whereas my introduction noted I was neither an Obama, nor McCain, supporter. I am still not an Obama supporter (nor any Republican nominee since then, either) but I am still a supporter of accurate journalism.