Sunday, December 11, 2011

Snopes gets it wrong?

Snopes.com is one of the most useful sites on the internet. Filled with "urban legend reference pages," it's the place you go to check out those emails that get forwarded to everyone in your grandmother's or your crazy uncle's address book - usually, over and over again.

A knowledgeable person never forwards one of those emails without checking Snopes.com first to see if it's actually true. Really, I don't know what we'd do without Snopes.

So I was disappointed to find that, well, maybe they're not perfect. (I can't say they were completely wrong in this, just misleading.)

The latest is, as usual, from an email going around. "Is it true that Congress tried to add Franklin Roosevelt's D-Day prayer to the World War II Memorial but President Obama killed the plan?"

Snopes rates this as true,... but if you read further down the page, you find out that it's actually false. Admittedly, it's a lot closer to being true than most of the emails being passed around about Barack Obama. But that's not saying much, is it?

So, did Congress try to add Franklin Roosevelt's D-Day prayer to the World War II Memorial? No, not exactly. One Congressman did introduce such a bill, and it got through committee in November, but that's all. "Congress" hasn't even voted on it yet.

Did Barack Obama "kill" it? No. As Snopes says, the bill hasn't been passed by Congress, so it hasn't been sent to the President for his signature. And as far as I can tell, President Obama has never said a word about it.

True, Robert Abbey, director of the Bureau of Land Management, testified that his department couldn't support the bill:
The Department cannot support H.R. 2070, which essentially proposes adding another commemorative work to the existing World War II Memorial and as such is contrary to the Commemorative Works Act. We support the continued application of this law which, by prohibiting encroachment by a new commemoration on an existing one, respects the design of this completed work of civic art without alteration or addition of new elements.

Abbey was simply explaining that the bill conflicted with an existing law, the Commemorative Works Act. Whatever you think about that, this is hardly Barack Obama "killing" the bill. Indeed, Abbey was testifying in front of a sub-committee of the committee that later passed the bill to the full House. He clearly didn't kill it, either.

So in both respects, it seems to me, that original question is false. How can it possibly be rated "true"? If you read the whole page there, you'll learn the truth, but how many people do that? How many just check Snopes.com for a quick true-or-false answer, not really bothering with the details?

I have to wonder if Snopes is just trying to appease the right-wing, which regularly accuses them of a liberal bias. Well, conservatives claim that about PolitiFact.com, and other independent fact-checking groups, too. And they claim that about scientists. And the media. Let's face it, they make that same claim about everyone who finds that the truth isn't actually what right-wing fanatics claim it is.

This is a minor issue. Snopes.com is still a very useful, very valuable website. And they did explain the full truth, if you read further down the page. But it does show that you have to make an effort, if you really do care about the truth. Even Snopes can be misleading (PolitiFact, too). Stay on your toes. :)

10 comments:

Chimeradave said...

They got me on April Fools day two years ago. They said the Mr. Ed TV show used a zebra not a horse and they said it was true and I almost believed them. So you are correct I'm used to taking what they say at face value even if it sounds crazy.

WCG said...

If you're wondering, I received this link from Snopes.com:

"Many of the texts we discuss contain a mixture of truth, falsity, and exaggeration which cannot be accurately described by a single "True" or "False" rating. Therefore, an item's status is based upon the most important aspect(s) of the text under discussion, which is summarized in the statement made after the "Claim:" heading at the top of the page."

But even given that, I still disagree with them. Well, that's the way it goes sometimes.

Anonymous said...

Tom Diehl (I couldn't figure out how to add a URL, so I went with Anonymous) What is misleading is the fourth paragraph above. What Snopes rated as "True" is the statement following "Claim" in green at the top of the page, which makes no reference to Obama killing any plan. Other versions of the claim usually follow in "Examples" (one in this case), which are taken by parts and analyzed. Somebody may not be used to a detailed analysis.

WCG said...

Good point, Tom. Yes, that "Claim," in green, is true. But that's not the reason why those emails are getting passed around.

The fact that there's a Congressional bill would be a "so what?" without the rest of it, the claim that Barack Obama killed it. That's why the email is flooding inboxes, which is why Snopes has taken note of it in the first place.

If it were just another Congressional bill - after all, they're not exactly rare - no one would bother with it. That's not the part of the email that's significant, not at all.

And as you point out, that's just an "example," but it's the only example. It's not as though people are furiously forwarding emails to everyone in their address book which don't include that claim about Obama. Not at all.

So, yes, the "Claim," as Snopes has written it, is true. It's just the wrong claim. They are rating an unimportant part of the email, rather than the whole point of it. And that's misleading.

Anonymous said...

Tom Diehl again. I guess I'm just used to reading Snopes. The claim you refer to has two elements, 1) Was there such a bill proposed, and 2) Did Obama kill it. Normally, Snopes breaks down these multielement claims and verifies or disputes each element, and posts references to show what their call is based on. In this case, there was one variation of the claim, but that is not the case in all things they review. Element one was true, element two was not. Depending on which version you received as an email, you'd need to make your own determination.

WCG said...

That's just it, Tom. "Which version you received as an email"? There was only one version shown.

The claim does have two elements, yes, but no one is emailing the first element by itself. At least, there's no evidence of that. The only reason this went viral is because of the anti-Obama element. The first part just sets that up.

Obviously, there's nothing wrong with Snopes breaking down the claims in an email and verifying them separately. That's not in dispute. The problem is that they rank the email as true, when the main part of it - the whole point of the email - is false.

And sure, people who read the whole thing will get the truth, but not everyone does that. There's a reason why newspaper articles present the most important facts first. It's because far more people read the headline and the very beginning of an article than read the whole thing.

I appreciate your comments about this, but I still must disagree with you.

Anonymous said...

another pos article to work in a smear on REAL Americans/ conservatives. snopes is a pile and so is this.

WCG said...

Heh, heh. "REAL Americans"? I'll have you know that I'm just as much a "real" American as you are, Anonymous - assuming that you're even an American yourself.

And I might point out the example of Tom Diehl, above, who also disagreed with me, but did so intelligently, thoughtfully, usefully. Your comment is an embarrassment compared to that, don't you think?

Then again, that's probably why you post anonymously, huh?

Jim Crants said...

I followed the link just now, and the claim and its truth designation have both changed.

The claim now reads "A Congressional bill sought to add FDR's D-Day prayer to the national World War II Memorial, but the Obama administration killed it." I assume that this was not the original claim, or you would not have acknowledged that the claim was true.

The designation is now "Mixture."

WCG said...

Thanks for the info, Jim. Yes, that's been changed. Maybe Snopes.com finally got enough complaints about it?

Thanks again, for the comment and the update!