When to be skeptical

Byline: | Category: 2012 | Posted at: Wednesday, 31 October 2012

So you see a news report about a horribly obtuse advertisement employed by one of the campaigns.  Should you immediately accept the report?  Or should you withhold judgment until you know more?

First there’s the story about how the advertisement was received:  “A friend of ours in northern Virginia recieved this flier delivered to her front door this morning.”  The use of the “friend” is a ubiquitous element in most urban legends.

Then there’s the timing:  she received the flier “this morning.”  As in 30 October.  As in yesterday, less than 18 hours after the storm’s eye made its way onto land.

Then there’s the flyer itself:  A grainy black and white photo in low resolution. 


Then there’s the attribution to a person and organization hated by the other side:  “Our friend says the flier says it was produced by Americans for Tax Reform. That’s the anti-tax group run by Grover Norquist, a leading conservative movement leader and prominent Obama critic.”  But where on the ad does it say that?  If it says that on the flyer, it’s not obvious from the picture you have. 

If your world view is that the other side is not just wrong, but . . . evil . . . then you probably accept the report of the political advertisement without a second thought.  But if you believe that those Americans you disagree with are wrong but are essentially good people, you probably wait to reserve judgment about the veracity of the report.

If you went with the second option above, you were correct.

“An ATR spokesman comments, ‘the photo you have is of a photocopy of a piece of mail we sent out in September.  Someone is either trying to be cute or deliberately trying to mislead.”

It’s not even the same flyerThe background is the same, but the words in the alleged flyer apparently have been photoshopped over the real ATR advertisement.  (Correction: it is the second page of the original flyer:  but what you see in the real flyer is the standard bulk rate mailing header.  That is blacked out in the Houston Chronicle’s report.  If that had been in the original picture it would have been a dead giveaway that the flyer was not received “yesterday” as the report said.

If you chose to be skeptical, congratulations; you are well-suited to wading through our nation’s sometimes confusing political minefield.  If not, as a consolation prize, perhaps you have employment options with the Houston Chronicle or MSNBC.

UPDATE: The below is now posted by the Houston Chronicle at the orginal link:

UPDATE: We received this response from John Kartch, spokesman for Americans for Tax Reform:

“I think someone is trying to mislead you.  We’re circulating no such flyer.  ATR sent out a  mail piece opposing President Obama’s policies using a storm analogy way back in September.  Sounds like someone is being dishonest.”

NOTE: We’re planning to post a separate item explaining ATR’s response on this site.

MORE:  Here’s the link to their new post.  Rick Dunham, the author of the original post, does not offer a mea culpa for having been snookered by his “friend,” but there is enough in this new post that it’s a tacit admission of error.

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6 Responses to “When to be skeptical”

  1. Instapundit » Blog Archive » BOB KRUMM: Urban Legends In The Wake of the Storm: “An ATR spokesman comments, ‘the photo yo… Says:

    […] BOB KRUMM: Urban Legends In The Wake of the Storm: […]

  2. John Bragg Says:

    What do you mean it’s not the same flyer? The photo is of the second page of the http://www.scribd.com/doc/111624690/Atr document.

    Ed: Corrected above. Thanks.

  3. ThomasD Says:

    Let ’em howl. I notice no one has questioned the veracity of the information printed on it.

    They hate it because it is true.

  4. Steve S. Says:

    Rick Dunham had a daily political news item going for a couple of weeks on Page 3 in the Houston Chronicle. It was so heavily biased and Obama-laden that I was astonished the Chronicle dared to carry it as news.

    I’ve noticed over the past two weeks that Mr. Dunham’s name has disappeared from these political reports, which are now by-lined to “Associated Press.” I wondered if he’d been relieved of his duties – apparently not.

  5. Lorenz Gude Says:

    Most of this kind of material overdoes it in my experience because the perpetrators see the world too simply and are incapable of creating a plausible hoax. And I agree this one badly covers its tracks with vagueness like the ‘friend’ ploy which is only one step removed from the crank bought from ‘some guy in a bar.’

  6. Journalistic malpractice « Internet Scofflaw Says:

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