When reporters interview us about our work, they often ask us to comment on the notion that we’re engaged in a great public service, making the world a better place by “striking a blow for the truth” and stamping out rumor and misinformation by replacing them with facts. Those reporters usually seem to be taken aback or disappointed when I tell them that I don’t really believe our site makes much of a difference in the greater scheme of things; that the responses we get tend to indicate a good many people are determined to believe whatever they want to believe, and no collection of contradictory factual information, no matter how large or authoritative or impressive it might be, is ever going to dissuade them from their beliefs.
Case in point: On 4 August 2010, WorldNetDaily (WND) published an article supporting the rumor that Elena Kagan was nominated for a position on the U.S. Supreme Court by President Barack Obama as a tit-for-tat payment of Kagan’s assistance in using her position as U.S. Solicitor General to fend off lawsuits challenging Obama’s eligibility for the presidency, offering as evidence nine U.S. Supreme Court docket items which included Kagan’s name, listed Barack Obama among the defendants, and were denied a hearing by the Supreme Court. WND claimed that all nine of their cited examples were “dockets involving Obama eligibility issues” and suggested that Kagan had used her position as Solicitor General to prevent those cases from being heard by the court.
As we thoroughly documented in an article of our own, WND was flat out wrong. The author of that Kagan piece had performed no research whatsoever; he had merely run a simple search on Supreme Court docket items including the names of “Kagan” and “Obama” and erroneously assumed them all to be cases involving challenges to Barack Obama’s eligibility for the presidency. In fact, as we demonstrated in considerable detail, not a single one of those docket items had anything to do with presidential eligibility issues — they were all appeals of completely unrelated cases, most of which were originally filed during previous administrations long before Barack Obama ever ran for President.
After we published our article on this topic, WND hurriedly scrubbed their article from their site without explanation, then replaced it three days later with a thoroughly rewritten article on a different topic which was prefaced by an Editor’s Note acknowledging their error:
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described a series of cases for which Elena Kagan represented the government as eligibility cases. Those cases, in fact, were a series of unrelated disputes pending before the Supreme Court and the references have been removed from this report.
You’d think all that would be a pretty convincing debunking, especially after other fact-checkers vetted our own article. Not so.
Within a couple of weeks we received e-mail from a “reader” who clearly didn’t bother actually reading any portion of our article, who made the very same mistake that WND did (i.e., erroneously assuming that any docket item containing the names “Kagan” and “Obama” was a presidential eligibility case), and accused us of being politically biased liars:
WND article about Elena Kagan and Barak Obama dockets. The information you have posted stating that there were no such cases as claimed by WND and the examples you gave are blatently false. I went directly to the Supreme courts website, typed in Obama Kagan and immediately came up with all of the dockets that WND made reference too. I have long suspected that you really slant things but this was really shocking.Thank You, I hope you will be much more truthful in the future.
This correspondent’s e-mail was also posted to the web, and from there it was embellished and sent winging around the Internet through e-mail forwards and blog posts, all undertaken by people who also didn’t bother actually reading our article or otherwise verifying the veracity of what they were reproducing — they gleefully passed it on with complete disregard for the truth because it seemingly confirmed concepts they wanted to believe.
This phenomenon prompted a wave of e-mail messages to us (many of them collected here) from people who mindlessly forwarded us the original message, accused us of being liars, insisted they would never, ever trust us again, and demanded that we remove the “false” information about the non-existent Obama/Kagan eligibility connection from our site. All of these correspondents had clearly not made even the slightest effort to read our article (if they had, they’d have known that we didn’t claim no docket items containing the names “Kagan” and “Obama” existed; we instead listed all of those docket items and documented that none of them dealt with presidential eligibility issues); they instead either blindly accepted the accusatory e-mail at face value or repeated the very same error that WND made and then berated us for supposedly stating that “there were no such dockets.”
Every single one of those correspondents received a detailed response from us explaining why they were mistaken. To date, we haven’t received a single apology.
Read our original article here: