Sometimes I think people are testing just to see if Stephanie and I really do fact-check letters.
Scratch that—I’m hoping against hope (please oh please oh please) that that’s what it is and that they don’t really believe a lot of this stuff.
As attested to by PolitiFact and numerous other fact-checkers, no, there aren’t international arrest warrants out for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, at least according to Interpol and the International Criminal Court. While several human-rights groups have petitioned the ICC to indict the two, it hasn’t as of this writing. Filing a petition is not equivalent to issuing an arrest warrant. Nor is not liking Bush and Cheney.
According to assorted fact-checkers, no, Barack Obama did not cancel the National Day of Prayer (which, just as a point of interest, is observed by more than just Christians) in 2009 or any other year, but has issued a proclamation each year, as have most of his predecessors. And no, he did not sponsor a Muslim day of prayer in 2009, either. It was organized—and not at the White House—by a Washington-area mosque, and the photo often accompanying that particular tale isn’t even from that event (it was from Obama’s trip earlier that year to Turkey). And for the record, George W. held a public prayer ceremony at the White House each year of his term; his dad held one (1989), as did his predecessor, Ronald Reagan (1982). Bill Clinton, like Obama, held no public Day of Prayer events at the White House.
And no, removing context and content from a quote doesn’t mean it’s still true. That “no longer a Christian nation” quote? Not exactly what Obama said, which was:
“Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation—at least, not just. We are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, and a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.”
As FactCheck noted, it wasn’t exactly what his prepared remarks said (“no longer just …”), but the meaning was still clear.
Likewise, the “future must not belong” quote is also stripped of all context from a 2012 speech before the United Nations in which Obama denounced religious intolerance of any kind:
“The future must not belong to those who target Coptic Christians in Egypt—it must be claimed by those in Tahrir Square who chanted “Muslims, Christians, we are one.” The future must not belong to those who bully women—it must be shaped by girls who go to school, and those who stand for a world where our daughters can live their dreams just like our sons. The future must not belong to those corrupt few who steal a country’s resources—it must be won by the students and entrepreneurs; workers and business owners who seek a broader prosperity for all people. Those are the men and women that America stands with; theirs is the vision we will support.
The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam. Yet to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see when the image of Jesus Christ is desecrated, churches are destroyed, or the Holocaust is denied. Let us condemn incitement against Sufi Muslims, and Shiite pilgrims. It is time to heed the words of Gandhi: “Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit.” Together, we must work towards a world where we are strengthened by our differences, and not defined by them. That is what America embodies, and that is the vision we will support.”
Obama is far from the only president whose words are being abused; some dead presidents are still quote machines decades and sometimes centuries after their deaths. Apparently for some people, “free speech” means “free to make up speech.” Poor Thomas Jefferson …
I have no way of knowing for sure, but I suspect that with each president, there have been a great deal of false tales bandied about. Still, the unbelievability factor is extremely high on some of the Obama stories—Michelle’s a transvestite/transsexual/a man, baby (because apparently women can’t be tall and muscular with strong facial features), Barack was a Black Panther in the ’60s (I guess he was a rather precocious child), he went to Mars as a teen (see???), he’s really a reptilian alien (OK, now the Mars thing makes sense), etc.
The fact that people some people actually believe these outrageous fictions is funny, but extremely disheartening, no matter who’s the subject of the lie. Once I would have said that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t; now, though, even obvious tall tales are being believed. My advice now—trust no one with an agenda, and double-check everything before passing it on.
There are several reliable fact-checkers out there, but some partisans look askance at them; some even go so far as to create their own sites that purport to fact-check the fact-checkers. Funny thing, those I’ve checked out tend to try to fact-check opinion rather than actual facts, and focus only on the opposition. However, sites that present more than one side and that provide links to their sources are far more to be trusted. Partisan sites … eh, not so much (or at all, sometimes). Still, wherever I get it, I have the tendency to double- and triple-check information I find with as many accessible original sources as possible (I love me some National Archives action).
Yep, I’m a wee bit obsessive.
As far as fact-checking goes for the Voices page, we occasionally do miss a few things (which is why some letters that were approved by the writers didn’t make it in). Stephanie does most of the fact-checking for letters (along with many other duties); I do some when I can, especially when we’re backed up or I see something especially outlandish—my curiosity simply must be sated. That’s when the purple pen tends to get a workout—quotes that aren’t quotes (putting quotation marks around a paraphrase of a pundit’s mis-paraphrase doesn’t make it a quote), long-debunked tall tales (if it comes from a satire site, it’s probably not true), partisan imaginings and spin (let me think about who the S&P blamed for the credit-rating dip …), etc.
A few hints for those writing letters: The more documentation involved, the longer it takes to process a letter since it’s just two of us and we each do more than one thing. And if your letter is 1,000 words rather than the maximum 250-300? Not happenin’, especially if it involves a lot of research—we just don’t have the time or the patience. Not all letters make it through, precisely because we do fact-check and so many people seem to take partisan talking points (on both sides) as truth.
And even when something might have some truth to it, presenting it in an inflammatory manner or assigning thoughts or motives you don’t actually know makes some letters and guest columns a no-go. Being sued is a very real possibility in this litigious society, and I kinda like my job, so I tend to err on the side of caution. And no, not because I fear political retribution or because the big boss tells me I have to; I have no problem “afflicting the comfortable.” And no, we don’t usually disclose the reasons for rejection of letters or guest columns, or contact everyone who’s been rejected (again, not enough time in the day).
Stephanie and I have no dog in the hunt (and not just because we’re cat people), and we don’t care if you hate Democrats, Republicans or whoever else. We just care that what you write is clearly opinion or actual fact, or is attributed to the original source if it’s less than honest—if Rush Limbaugh or Rachel Maddow said something that’s not necessarily true (but if you hold your mouth juuuust so …), you must attribute it to them if you want to use it.
I know … horribly, horribly mean.
A small update for those who’ve asked (and thank you so much for your concern; I’m verklempt!)—no, I still don’t have an answer on what caused my stroke, and it’s quite possible I may never know. I’m still going to gather as much information as I can … yeah, I can’t even stop researching when I’m not at work. I’m far more concerned with several friends and family members battling cancer, though.
I’m still having a little trouble with short-term memory, so if I fail to return your email or call, it’s not because I don’t like you (probably), but more likely because I couldn’t do it immediately. While the occasional memory lapse doesn’t really affect my editing or writing, it does mean that I get the stink-eye (and more) from the Fluffernutter when I forget to feed him promptly.
I’m getting used to the blood loss. It’s the 18 pounds of fur and claws on my neck that’s the problem.