Here’s a classic example of how political talk radio picks up a falsity and then proclaims it as the Gospel Truth to gullible listeners. Yesterday I forced myself to listen to Michael Savage as part of my ongoing effort to understand the workings of the extreme right-wing mind.
Savage was ranting on about how former President Bill Clinton had called for the conviction of the publishers of the infamous Mohammed cartoons. That seemed highly unlikely to me, but Savage was reading from a news story and, hey, we all know that you can trust whatever news outlets say, right?
Wrong. Especially if the outlet is the Daily Times of Pakistan, which indeed has a story about what Clinton said to reporters after a meeting in Islamabad. It’s titled “Clinton urges EU to convict publishers of caricatures.” Savage has it linked on his web site (right under a photograph of a beheaded Indonesian girl; this Michael Savage is one classy guy).
Only problem: the Daily Times story doesn’t have any direct or indirect quotes from Clinton where he says the European Union should convict those who published the Mohammed cartoons.
That didn’t stop Savage, of course. He blathered on and on about how Bill Clinton was on the side of the Islamic demonstrators who were killing people around the world, and didn’t give a damn about free speech. “See, this is what we’ll get if Hillary is elected,” he said.
A man phoned in and said that he hadn’t heard about Clinton’s comments, but now was shocked by them. “The mainstream media doesn’t want you to know about this story,” Savage said.
Well, here’s the real reason the mainstream media didn’t report that Clinton had called for the conviction of those responsible for the cartoons: almost certainly, he never said that.
Danial, a blogger from Pakistan, sets the story straight in his “Daily Times Not Reliable Anymore?” post. He sent this email to the newspaper:
I am a blogger from Pakistan and I always thought that the Daily Times is a good resource when it comes to finding news stories from Pakistan. I just found that the newspaper falsely reported former US President Bill Clinton, asking EU to convict publishers of Muhammad cartoons. Some other bloggers including myself didn’t find any such thing from countless other news sources covering Clinton’s stay in Pakistan. If there was some mistake I would like to know about it and would appreciate if you apologize for the confusion it caused. Otherwise, please let the world know that you are firm on the authenticity of your report.
Danial requests that people contact the Daily Times and ask them if they still stand by their story. Good idea. I love the Colbert Report, including its devotion to spreading subjective “truthiness.” However, this cartoon controversy is too serious for anything other than the truth when it comes to pronouncements made by world leaders. I mean, opinion is one thing and truth is another thing. They need to be distinguished (in my opinion, at least).
Mark in Mexico has details about how Clinton’s comments were reported by dozens of other news organizations. Stories from outlets such as the BBC and the PakTribune have no mention of Clinton calling for convictions. He did say that religious convictions need to be respected, so Mark theorizes that the Daily Times needs a new translator.
So here’s a great example of how one newspaper gets it wrong. Then that untruth is picked up by others with a vested interest in spreading trash about someone they don’t like. For example, conservative sites such as NewsBusters and WorldNetDaily passed along the unfounded Daily Times story without question, which almost certainly is how Savage and other right-wing talk show hosts got the untruthful news.
The (obvious) lesson from all this is that you shouldn’t believe without question what you find on the Internet, or elsewhere. Verify, verify, verify. I can’t tell you how many times people have passed on to me a breathless “can you believe this!” email that is making the rounds. It usually takes me just a few minutes of Googling to demolish the rumor.
I always think to myself: “Why couldn’t the first recipients of this message have done the same thing, and thereby stopped the untruth from spreading?” That’s a good question for Michael Savage. And Pakistan's Daily Times.