A friend forwarded an e-mail he’d received that was filled with awful claims about Barack Obama.

The original e-mail said, “We checked this out on ‘snopes.com.’ It is factual. Check for yourself.”

The content of that e-mail was untrue, including the statement that Snopes.com had verified the claims.

“The sad thing is people look at something that says, ‘We checked this out with Snopes.com and it’s true,’ and people assume it is true,” says Barbara Mikkelson, who operates Snopes.com with David Mikkelson.

Barbara says there’s no way to know if someone deliberately or mistakenly wrote that Snopes.com had verified the lies. She’s pretty charitable. It looks to me like someone deliberately wrote that to make people believe the lies.

For years I’ve been writing warnings about Internet myths – crazy claims passed around by e-mail. It’s hard to believe people can be so gullible, so naive, so (can I say it?) dumb as to believe something just because it arrives via cyberspace.

We’re already knee-high in election season, so it’s probably to be expected that people would start circulating lies about candidates by e-mail. The darn things travel so fast, and can do so much damage.

Take the one I received. I took its advice and checked for myself. Here’s what I found on Snopes.com:

Barack Obama has never been a Muslim, much less a “radical Muslim.” He does not refuse to recite “The Pledge of Allegiance.” When he was sworn into office as a U.S. senator, he did not put his hand on the Quran; he put it on a Bible.

The Mikkelsons do excellent research, but these claims also have been investigated and debunked by CNN as well as urbanlegends.about.com and TruthOrFiction.com.

This year there are other places to turn when political claims arrive by e-mail or from other sources. (Last I checked, there were still water coolers in many workplaces.)

The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania has set up FactCheck.org, which studies not just Internet rumors but statements made by politicians and claims made in political ads or mailers. It summarizes the claim, analyzes the claim and lists its sources.

So, when a mailer sent out by the John McCain campaign in South Carolina claimed Mitt Romney had “provided” state funding for abortions when he was governor of Massachusetts, FactCheck.org wrote the claim was “unfair and misleading,” and explained why.

On the other hand, the mailer says Romney “refused to endorse Bush Tax Cut Plan,” and FactCheck.org says “there is more than a grain of truth to that.”

The Web site PolitiFact.com was created last summer by the St. Petersburg Times and the Congressional Quarterly in Washington, D.C.

This site features an entertaining “Truth-O-Meter” with gauges that take candidates’ statements and rate them as true, mostly true, half true, barely true, false or “pants on fire” – a distinction given egregious lies.

The latter rating was given to a statement made by Romney denying his campaign ever said McCain had proposed an “amnesty” for illegal aliens. In fact, two Romney ads used that exact word.

The Washington Post has its own site: www.washingtonpost.com/factchecker. On it, political statements are researched and given ratings based on accuracy. True statements get a “Geppetto checkmark.” Statements that aren’t absolutely true get from one to four Pinocchios.

When Hillary Clinton claimed she had an “independent role” in brokering a peace in Northern Ireland, the Web site gave her one Pinocchio, saying she “seems to be overstating her significance as a catalyst in the Northern Ireland peace process.”

But let’s get back to the e-mail rumors, so easily believed, so frequently forwarded.

A check of the myth-debunking sites reveals these truths about today’s most popular e-mail claims about politicians:

– Hillary Clinton did not refuse to meet with Gold Star mothers.

– Obama sometimes puts his hand over his heart while singing the national anthem, and sometimes does not. But he always stands. And he always sings.

– Romney was not best man at a wedding that was canceled because the groom accused Romney of sleeping with the bride-to-be.

Next time you hear a claim about or from a politician, follow the advice of the only true statement in the e-mail I mentioned at the beginning of this column: “Check for yourself.”

Margie Boule is a staff writer for The Oregonian of Portland, Ore. She can be contacted at [email protected]


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