Dumbass American Public

I got a chain letter in my email inbox today, from someone who should know better (she later sent me a correction)…
I won’t go into the details of the content, but it basically rewrote history by having Senator Al Gore quiz Ollie North (during the Iran-Contra hearings, in 1987 – note the date) about an alarm system that had been installed in his house, and North reply that it was put there to protect him as a result fo a death threat against him by Osama Bin Ladin (that’s the gist of it), “the most evil person alive that I know of”, and recommend that he be assassinated (a recommendation that was obviously ignored).
The truth? While North did get quizzed about an alarm system during the Iran-Contra hearings, but it wasn’t by a seantor, it was by committee counsel (John Nields), and Al Gore wasn’t even on the committee doing the questioning. North did mention a terrorist, but it was Abu Nidal (remember him?), not Osama Bin Ladin. In 1987, Osama was one of “our guys”, fighting against the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan with the aid and abbetance of the CIA, etc. He didn’t get pissed off at us until we filled Saudi Arabia with American bases and American citizens during the first Gulf War in 1990/91.
Nevertheless, years after this was debunked (including by Ollie North himself), it is still circulating – even being passed on by folks like ourselves!, and no doubt, millions of Americans are convinced that Ollie North pinned Osama as a bad guy in 1987 and that Al Gore and the rest of the bad Democratic Party establishment foolishly ignored his advice to assassinate him. Depressing.


How do we stop this? How do we quit rewriting history, and undermining ourselves in the process, by forwarding on chain letters with transparently negative political messages?
Here are some tips:
1. Does the letter make some significant figure from our side look bad or foolish? Don’t pass it on. Even something that even handedly trashes all sides is a loser for our side, and a winner for theirs. I guarantee you that, come 2007/2008, there will be apparently innocuous emails floating around the net that have jokes trashing Limbaugh and other easy targets, and jibes targeting the front runner in both parties. The problem with this? If you read them carefully, you’ll see that the joke(s) targeting the Democratic Party’s front runner echo(es) the primary talking points being used by his opposition, and the joke(s) targeting the Republican Party’s nominee don’t.
2. Does it make someone from “our side” look bad, and someone from their side look good? That should be a major red flag. What goal or opinion does the email foster? If it isn’t one you agree with, don’t pass it on.
3. Always, always, always check out it out by either Googling it (typing “osama bin ladin 1987 north” produced a whole string of hits debunking the email) or going directly to one of these sites
http://www.snopes.com/
http://urbanlegends.about.com/
http://www.breakthechain.org/
4. Knowing your history helps. One of the most obvious red flags was that the timeline for Osama’s involvement was wrong. If it doesn’t jibe with what you think you know, it is probably wrong.
5. Think! Think about the meme being fostered by the email in question, the underlying message – is it one you favor? Strongly? No? Don’t forward it!

3 thoughts on “Dumbass American Public

  1. Great post, Thomas – and I LOVE the headline. Hopefully the proportion of the American public which is ‘dumbass’ will continue to decrease ..

  2. The sad truth is that you have to verify everything you read or hear, regardless of which side is spreading it. I dimly remember an exercise in class from elementary school in which a “rumor” gets whispered around the classroom. The teacher tells the first kid what to say, and the last kid at the back of the room tells what he heard. The point was to demonstrate that no matter how simple the story, or how hard people try to repeat it correctly, the facts always get changed in significant ways. Try it.

  3. Really excellent. History does matter and ignorance of history sets folks up to do things like pass around “jokes” that trash their own side. I don’t know how we can get people to pay closer attention, but I guess exposing the trash that gets stuck in peoples’ conventional wisdom helps.

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