13 June 2008

The Republican Party’s Base?

Years ago, I subscribed to the Snopes.com weekly update, keeping me abreast of the latest internet urban legends and rumors. I'd noticed a pattern over the past several months, and finally got around to checking out the numbers.

As of last Saturday evening, Snopes listed eighteen rumors about Barack Obama, only one deemed true and eleven false. (The rest are either mixed or undeterminable.)

The site had catalogued twenty-six rumors about Hillary Clinton and her husband, one deemed true and fourteen false.

For John McCain, the site had only three rumors, two of them true and none false.

So a majority of rumors sent around the internet about the leading Democratic candidates have been false. Not just mixed or indeterminate, but demonstrably false. Meanwhile, very little has been posted about the leading Republican, despite his years of political prominence, and the rate of accuracy of items about him is much higher.

I checked other recent national candidates, and the same partisan pattern shows up. Mitt Romney: 1 out of 1 true. John Kerry: 10 out of 22 false, only 3 true. Mike Huckabee: 1 out of 1 true. Even George W. Bush, the highly visible and controversial subject of 47 rumors, has more labeled true (20) than false (16).

So the internet rumor chain that Snopes tracks has spread more rumors about Democrats than Republicans, and more lies about Democrats than true stories about them.

Because there are so few completely true rumors about Democratic candidates, it's easy to check those few and see that they're uncomplimentary, as in the single true Clinton rumor, about a soldier who disliked shaking hands with her. On the other hand, the two true rumors about McCain are both complimentary. One is about his sons' military service. The other is about his present wife, and praises her while leaving out all unfavorable information.

Putting those patterns together raises some disturbing questions. Which party's loyalists seem more likely to spread these sorts of rumors? How much do they respect the truth? And how gullible do they expect the messages' recipients to be?

I'm reminded of the first Republican president's statement that you can fool some of the people all of the time. Perhaps those are the folks the party's present-day strategists consider "our base."

[I wrote this essay well before today's news reports that the Obama campaign has set up a Fight the Smears webpage in response to such rumors, and that "For the third time in less than three weeks, Fox News Channel has had to acknowledge using poor judgment through inappropriate references to Senator Barack Obama."]

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