Discerning between fact and fiction
A couple weeks ago, a Rifle man came into The Citizen Telegram, the PI’s little sister paper where I’m the editor. He brought us a copy of an e-mail he’d received because he thought we might want to publish it in our weekly local paper. The e-mail started off with “The Budweiser Story (not a joke) This is TRUE!,” which immediately made the journalist in me question the validity of what I was about to read. (You know, the old “Me thinks thou doth protest too much” syndrome.)The e-mail recounted the story of a Budweiser delivery driver who pulled all the Budweiser product from a convenience store after he saw the store’s Arab owners celebrating the 9/11 attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, at their store. The driver was friends with a Pepsi driver who pulled all Pepsi product, which included Frito Lay merchandise too. The story concluded that the store ultimately closed down, and its Arab owners went broke. “Please forward this story on to others so that our nation and around the world will know about those who laughed when they found out about the tragic events in New York, Pennsylvania and the Pentagon. America needs to know that we’re all working together.”Before printing anything in the paper, it’s part of my job as an editor to be as sure as I can that what I’m printing is accurate. Celebrating the events of 9/11 certainly is a sick, morbid act, but did this actually occur? And if I reprinted this story and it wasn’t true, wouldn’t I be perpetuating stereotyping a segment of the population – in this case, Arab store owners? The Internet has made us better able to get to news quickly, but it’s also made it easier to spread unfounded fiction. That’s why one of my favorite fact-checking spots is http://www.snopes.com. It’s a Web site created by a California couple named Barbara and David Mikkelson. They conduct research on hundreds of rumors, and provide reference materials through extensive bibliographies to back up their findings. So that’s where I went to check out this e-mail. There it was, right on the Mikkelsons’ site, with a claim from them that the story is untrue. They cited a Sept. 28, 2001, article in The Bakersfield Californian, where the story originated, debunking the event, and reproduced a letter from a representative at Anheuser-Busch stating that the company had done extensive checks on all their wholesale accounts and had never received a report of store owners reacting to 9/11 in this manner, or in any product ever being pulled as a result of a situation like what was described in the e-mail. I appreciate receiving tidbits and news items from readers to include in the paper. But I also want to make certain that I’m doing my job as an editor of by making sure what we put in the paper is as truthful as it can be. In the case of “The Budweiser Story,” I am horrified at the unrelenting fundamentalism that led to the hateful acts of 9/11. But I’m glad there are sources like snopes.com to go to that can help us divide fact from fiction, so that we don’t perpetuate hatred where it need not exist. Carrie Click is the editor and general manager of The Citizen Telegram. She encourages everybody to put http://www.snopes.com on their favorites list. You can reach Carrie at 625-3245, ext. 101, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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