When I was in grade school, an illustrated book of Greek mythology in our tiny school library endlessly fascinated me. Its stories were a study in literary conflict and keeping readers hooked with the strength of story, no matter how outlandish it may seem. I kept checking that book out for the better part of a year, not because I was a slow reader (I definitely wasn’t), but because I loved the stories.
And of course, there’s the word-nerd side of it, finding out where many of the words and names we use today originated.
I loved reading those tales, but even at my young age, I recognized that they were just stories. (By the way, I would love to see that book again … just can’t remember who edited it …)
And as much as I love fantasy and the idea of winged horses, unicorns and griffins, I know they don’t exist. Or talking cats wearing boots and carrying swords, for that matter. Or talking donkeys. Seriously.
Which is why I get so distressed about the increasing number of normally intelligent and skeptical people falling for so many of the common myths out there, whether in emails endlessly forwarded to pretty much everyone on the planet or in stories appropriated by political campaigns and pundits.
Again, I would remind you of my credo: Trust, but verify. I did just that (with the help of numerous nonpartisan fact-checkers and original sources) with some of the most common myths that show up in letters submitted to the Voices page.
Not that it matters to some people, but I have to amuse myself somehow. And yes, I know I’ve painted another target on my back. Some folks just can’t handle facts …
Myth: The president is removing “In God We Trust” from currency (and sometimes, “under God” from the pledge of allegiance).
Reality: Not happening, and the proof of our currency’s status is as close as your pocket. This story makes a reappearance every so often with different people as the impetus, such as during the 2012 presidential campaign (thank you, Mitt Romney). Most recently, it cropped up in a May story from the satirical National Report.
Legislation from the 1950s makes it mandatory for “In God We Trust” to appear on all coins and paper currency issued by the U.S., and that requirement cannot be unilaterally overturned by the president. For such a change to take effect, Congress would have to specifically pass a bill to repeal the previous law. Several lawsuits have been filed over the years to remove such phrases from money and the pledge but have gone nowhere, largely because courts tend to view the usage as “ceremonial deism,” having lost its fundamental religious character from longtime use.
The last president on record as wanting to do away with those words is Theodore Roosevelt (a Republican at the time, by the way), but it seems no one remembers that. Instead, the “otherness” of Barack Obama must mean that he’s hostile to all things Christian, despite being Christian himself (yep, not a Muslim). Obviously, he’s out to tear down the United States, and taking “In God We Trust” off money and “under God” out of the pledge of allegiance are integral to his evil plan.
Yes, folks, that last bit was sarcasm.
In 2011, the White House responded to two petitions, one to remove “In God We Trust,” and the other to remove “under God.” In the official statement from the White House, Joshua DuBois, the executive director of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, makes clear the president’s feelings and quotes an address Obama made when he was still a senator: “A sense of proportion should also guide those who police the boundaries between church and state. Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation—context matters.”
DuBois writes: “That’s why President Obama supports the use of the words ‘under God’ in our pledge of allegiance and ‘In God We Trust’ on our currency. These phrases represent the important role religion plays in American public life, while we continue to recognize and protect the rights of secular Americans. As the president said in his inaugural address, ‘We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers.’ We’re proud of that heritage, and the strength it brings to our great country.”
Religions getting along? Obviously a communist plot.
PolitiFact noted in one of the many fact-checks done on this particular myth that it’s possible to find one of the rare 2007 coins struck without the inscription, but, according to an AP story, they were mistakes in production—perhaps 50,000, one coin expert estimated, out of 300 million coins minted—that were inadvertently released.
But yeah, that was probably just the first wave. They’ll next say “In Baal we trust.”
Myth: Most terror attacks (in the U.S. or worldwide, depending on the source) are perpetrated by Muslims.
Reality: In Europe and the United States, Muslim terrorists make up only a small percentage of those undertaking terror attacks. Yes, terrorism by followers of radical forms of Islam is a very real threat. But in the U.S. especially, you’re probably far more likely to see terror attacks by radical militia members and/or white supremacists (such as Timothy McVeigh) than jihadists.
Not that that matters to fearmongerers. Tabdar is infinitely scarier than Ted. I’m sure the victims of Ted Bundy would agree.
Myth: (Fill in the blank) cast the deciding vote for Obamacare.
Reality: Unless it was the 60th vote in that Senate vote (which wasn’t even on the final version of the bill), the vote can’t really be the “deciding” one. That vote was cast by former Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska. At the time, Republicans made much hay over the supposed “Cornhusker kickback” given to Nelson’s state in exchange for his vote.
Yeah, I know the argument that any vote cast is a deciding vote, but that’s disingenuous unless you want to use the same argument for every controversial law passed, and I suspect partisans wouldn’t want that on some issues.
Ditto claims of no Republican input on the Affordable Care Act, which was openly discussed and amended—including Republican amendments, such as that lovely number from Charles Grassley that resulted in claims of various senators voting in congressional waivers for the ACA. This was done in numerous committees over the course of about a year, and with much news coverage along the way, rather than being quickly rammed through in the dead of night with no publicity.
Few pieces of legislation make it through Congress quickly, especially now with partisans on both sides dragging their heels. But keep living the fantasy, boys.
Myth: The ACLU is suing to remove cross-shaped headstones from military cemeteries and to completely end prayer in the military.
Reality: No such suits have been filed by the ACLU. The group did, however, successfully sue in 2006 to force the government to add the Wiccan pentacle to its list of 38 religious symbols allowed on headstones by the National Cemeteries Administration of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. At the time, ACLU lawyer Aaron Caplan said: “The government has no business picking and choosing which personal religious beliefs may be expressed. All veterans, regardless of their religion, deserve to have their faith recognized on an equal basis.”
Several emails have made the rounds claiming ACLU suits have been filed to stop all military prayer, and have been soundly debunked. Yes, the ACLU is firmly against mandated prayer in state-supported schools (such as military academies and public schools), but stands behind religious freedom. No, that’s not contradictory.
So close to the election, finding myths like these in letters automatically relegates them to the “no” pile. Based on the letters we’ve gotten lately, yes, there does appear to be a clear conservative trend in the letters we’ve had to put aside. No, not because I bleed blue (last I checked, it was red … and we know I’m bled quite often thanks to the Galloping Goofball). It would be because many of the conservative letters repeat campaign talking points or oft-debunked tales as fact. Liberal letters do too, but to a lesser extent.
Make your own assumptions based on that. Mine is along the lines of a certain Stephen Colbert quote …
The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi found in 2011 that conservatives tend to be more likely than liberals to forward email rumors; numerous fact-checkers also found that Democrats were overwhelmingly the target in those emails, with very few turning out to be true. Snopes found 46 viral emails about Bush during his tenure; in comparison, it found more than 100 about Obama … and his term isn’t even over.
Why the difference? Ari Fleischer, George W. Bush’s first press secretary, told Farhi that conservative mistrust of mainstream news could mean conservatives might be more susceptible to believing and passing along false stories, such as those found in viral emails.
Whatever the case, we must be more diligent in getting the truth out there. Spreading a story without checking it out first only worsens the problem.
Plus, it ticks me off.