One of the first things I learned as a cub reporter was to “consider the source.” Searching the highways and byways for something to fill the newspaper, I would occasionally come across a startling “story” that might or might not be true. And my editor used to tell me, “When in doubt, leave it out.”
But as newspapers fade away, and television, talk radio and the Internet dominate the news reporting world, that kind of caution is disappearing. Now it seems “news” is anything anyone says, regardless of who says it or how believable it is.
Sometimes a TV anchor will set the record straight when a guest says something blatantly false. But that’s the exception rather than the rule. Usually, the words come at you unvetted and it’s up to you to decide what’s credible and what’s not.
On the Internet, the situation is worse – much worse. Anyone can write anything on the Internet, and they do.
Much of it is harmless -the innocent ravings of some demented Jeremiah, for example – but some of it is designed to scare you into donating cash to a predator. A horde of manipulative scaremongers ply their trade at various sites, exaggerating, spinning and downright lying to sell their books and attract contributions to “maintain the web site.”
A friend forwarded to me a recent example of the lurid material these “news” sites use to scare you out of your pants – with your wallet in it. The “story” appeared on several sites, but the version I got was from Whatdoesitmean.com, a site known for perpetrating Internet hoaxes.
Here’s how the “story” began:
A grim report prepared by the Russian Northern Fleet for Prime Minister Putin is stating today that the catastrophic earthquake that has devastated the Island of Haiti was the “clear result” of a United States Navy test of one of its “earthquake weapons” planned to be used by the Americans upon the Persian Nation of Iran but had gone “horribly wrong.”
According to the “exposé”:
Though virtually unknown to the American people, the use, and perfection, of earthquake weapon technology has a decades-long history that began with the former Soviet Union’s exploding of a 10 megaton nuclear bomb in September, 1978 and then “redirecting” its shockwave towards Iran where it resulted in a catastrophic 7.4 magnitude earthquake, an event which hastened the downfall of the U.S. backed regime headed by the Shah…
Since the late 1970s, the United States has “greatly advanced” the state of its earthquake weapons and, according to these reports, now employs … a Tesla Electromagnetic Pulse, Plasma and Sonic technology, along with “shockwave bombs” …
“Sounds like science fiction to me,” my friend commented. And it does, doesn’t it? But in today’s world, it’s hard to separate fact from fiction, especially when it comes to stuff like this… Especially when you consider that some teenager at a computer in Washington can deploy a deadly drone (photo at right) to fire a missile at a suspected Al Quaida hangout thousands of miles away… Or that spy satellites in outer space (photo above) could peer through your bedroom window and direct the drones to your address…
The earthquake-weapon “story” was attributed to Sorcha Faal, so I googled the name and came up with this allegation:
There is no such person as “Sorcha Faal, Russian academic” “Sorcha Faal” is actually David Booth, an American computer programmer “Sorcha” is alleged to be a Russian academic but there is absolutely no record of anyone with such a name in Russian academia. These periodic eruptions have absolutely no basis in any kind of fact or reality and are typical of the nonsense bespangling the Internet… So why does David Booth/Sorcha Faal perpetrate this fraud? Apparently it is an excellent way to solicit money, and to promote his/her/its book.
When I googled the “story,” I found it repeated on Infowars.com (by Kurt Nimmo) and a variety of other sensational sites that daily warn of dark conspiracies and an imminent Apocalypse (and sell you books, CDs, etc.). But at least Nimmo had the decency to attribute the information to “a Spanish newspaper quoting Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez.” (The only mainstream media outlet to air the report was Fox News, which I don’t consider credible.)
Checking further, I found numerous accounts attributing the yarn to Chávez. Some accounts also attributed the story to Russia Today, a public TV station.
But I also found this disclaimer on one of the sites:
The following article was written and published by VIVE TV, a Venezuelan public channel. The video was broadcast by Russia Today, a Russian public channel. Oddly enough, the Venezuelan channel designates the Russian Army as the source of these claims whereas the Russian channel attributes them to President Chávez.
I think that says a lot about the story’s credibility. I think I’ll wait until the New York Times – or a television channel like CNN or MSNBC – picks it up before I believe it. I’ve learned to be wary of the Internet.