Monday, August 29, 2011

My Not-really-right-wing Mom and her adventures in Email-Land (revision)

"R. Kelly Garrett randomly surveyed 600 Americans about their online habits, and whether they'd heard—and believed—a number of widespread rumors. He found that the Web does expose us to more rumors. But the Web also delivers more rebuttals,...
            (Technically true, but most can't/won't find them)
"E-mail’s more insidious. Because you’re more likely to believe that rumor forwarded by cousin Rob. And the more you believe something, Garrett says, the more you want to share it with your social network."
                      [see below for source, c2011]
[This is a revision of my article from 8/29/2011 about email as a viral disinformation carrier at that time, before Facebook and Twitter increased the problem by an order of magnitude; lies such as that Obama was born outside the U.S. - which Donald Trump loudly proclaimed until it made him part of the political conversation]

"Fake News", i.e. news that is elaborately faked, not just biased or wrongheaded, got its start in chain emails, long before it exploded on Facebook and Twitter.

When nearly everybody started using email, it was "the thing" for many to keep lists of friends to "CC" anything amusing, amazing, touching, disturbing, or whatever, they ran across. For years I received these jokes, strange claims, and touching stories and thought little of it. Among other things, it was a welcome way for home-bound retirees to keep in touch with friends and family

My life was changed when my mother sent me my first classic "Right Wing Forward", ending with "If you love your country, forward this to 25 other people" or some such.  This started a sort of adventure for both of us, where she would forward me an email, saying this is so terrible - can it be true? And I would look at it, and after 5-15 minutes of internet searching count up and document the lies, and email her back with my conclusions. After about a year and 3 months, I was gratified to get an email where she says:
Dad and I actually talked about this at breakfast, and I am glad to know the truth. At first it just seemed so awful, and then unbelievable. I shouldn't have forwarded it on. More and more I see how "email" is the fuel that supports so many of the things we hear as truth that aren't. It really makes it so hard to know what to believe.
This particular note was due to a false story, elaborately faked, that some Muslim businessmen in a Texas mall made a publically announced holiday that they were "celebrating the martyrdom" of one of the 9/11 hijackers.

My parents are intelligent people - a retired computer systems analyst, and a woman who built her own very successful business after the children were grown. They were pretty comfortable with the Civil Rights movement and taught me not to use racial epithets, were glad to see the Vietnam war end, and came to see Nixon as worthy of impeachment. My mother was reading very widely in her new free time, including To Kill a Mockingbird, which she was impressed by. They were rather shocked at the frankly racist talk of friends and neighbors with whom they shared their anxieties about the Obama administration.

They were a little bemused by their friends who listened to Rush Limbaugh, but they were ready to believe many claims contained in these emails, that are too extreme for Limbaugh do more than hint at, such as Obama being a Muslim, or that he is a "Marxist former street hustler.  But between the lies that pased under the radar, providing the solid feeling of specifics, and the hints by commentaries, like "he's just not one of us", many people were nudged into an alternate reality, which did not just happen in a sociological way, but was, I believe, a product of huge amounts of energy, and a network whose total value is in the billions (with a tiny but significant fraction involving disinformation emails).

A blog called "My Right-Wing Dad" named the phenomenon "right wing emails", and had archived 1,385 of them as of Sept. 2010 - emails intended to be forwarded and re-forwarded, claiming to show Obama is a Muslim, or that he made millions of dollars speculating on the BP disaster, or that Islam is an irredeemable "gutter religion" (to borrow a phrase) whose members are pedophiles among other things.  Many had photoshopped pictures, or pictures of a building not the one it was claimed to be, or simply repurposed.  And they contained more elaborately constructed falsehoods than can be explained by bias, zeal, or ignorance.

I think the receiver was meant to believe that somebody, moved by outrage and/or patriotism just spontaneously put something together and sent it out to his or her friends. But after examining dozens of them, I've concluded that many (maybe about a fourth of what I see at "My Right-Wing Dad") come from one source, or a small group of deception artists who no longer seem to be very active in email.

They are carefully constructed lies, complete with bogus documentation, which are way beyond anything Rush Limbaugh and other public pundits would say, but which, in the minds of their listeners, confirm the pundits' more general statements.

My belief is that the support of hundreds of such flatly false assertions -- ignored by the mainstream press and hence never refuted makes it possible for political pundits to generate belief in unprecedentedly extreme general conclusions.

The rest of the right-wing forwards are "folk" productions, which provide protective camelflage for one of the most effective propaganda machines since the fall of the USSR. 

Looking back in the "My Right-Wing Dad" archive, maybe 2007 was around the year when serious and systematic mass produced disinformation emails got started.

Typical of the "old style", fairly innocuous right wing forward is a joke about GW Bush escorting an Iranian Ambassador around Washington:
 The Iranian whispered "My son watches this show  'Star Trek' and in  it there is Chekhov who is Russian, Scotty who is  Scottish, and Sulu who is Chinese, but no Arabs. My son is very upset and doesn't understand why there  aren't any Iranians on Star Trek."

 President Bush laughed, leaned toward the Iranian  ambassador, and whispered back, "It's because it takes place in the future."

This illustrates the sort of "right wing forward" that is neither original nor important -- just a matter "letting off steam" for people who hate Iran.  Others are less clever or more obscene "zingers"

But within the "My Right Wing Dad" collection, at least, the first one I saw that really showed strong original artifice is dated 11/01/2007.

I will, however, mostly examine the handful of emails forwarded to me by my parents.  With these I can at least personally attest to their effect on pretty intelligent people. I will say at least a little about each one I received, so I should not be accused of cherry picking the worst ones.

The first one was titled "LOOK OUT, SENIORS!!! Dr. McCaughey on Obamacare on Fred Thompson's radio show--Pass this on"

[Note: It is quite possible that this never appeared on Fred Thompson's radio show; I encountered numerous instances of items boosting their credibility by lying about such things, as you will see]
Its high point is a link to an interview you could listen to on the web, but before that, there is more build-up:

This is an interview from Fred Thompson's radio show, with a doctor who actually read the 1,000+ page Democrat health bill. If the American people (especially the elderly) knew what was in this bill, there would be a revolution; which is why it is being pushed through this fast.

The House Bill They Don't Want You to Read...



"Counseling session to tell you how to end your life sooner, how to decline nutrition, how to decline being hydrated, how to go into hospice care..."

Yet, the yellow-dog liberal organization AARP (which claims to be non-partisan-HA!) is supporting Obama's healthcare plan.

Regardless of your age now, you need to plan for your later years. This is a DEADLY plan. To the elderly, it is more of a death-enablement plan than a health-care plan. Listen to the 8-minute attachment - it's an interview with a doctor who actually READ the bill!!
Well, I "actually read" the bill (note: an early version), which turns out not to be such an incredible feat, and I learned some things from reading a congressional bill for the first time. One is about the "1000 page" length. A "page" in this bill contains 24 short lines, and maybe 1/5 as many words as on a typical book page, so the 1000+ page bill would have about as many words as 200 pages of a popular novel (many of which run to 1000 pages these days).

As to the substance, there is nothing mandatory about the supposedly fearful counseling session -- at least there is nothing about forcing patients to have an interview they don't want. If there is any mandate, it is that the system must make such counseling available. By my reading this "vicious" clause says some very general things about helping people make deliberate choices about end of life care, and suggests the kind of issues you'd want to address if you wanted to have a living will that would be effective -- what you might say you don't want if you are brain dead for instance.

The next item, dated 8/1/2009 was "Dinner with Obama, a parable". It was the work of a clearly very talented fiction writer. One would think that calling it a "parable" would make it clear that it's somebody's allegory of what they think Obama is all about, yet it was prefaced with "I felt a little sick to my stomach when I finished reading this. Is this really happening and we don't know??? PLEASE respond..........". [Note: I am partly including this, as I said, to avoid charges of "cherry picking".  While its quality may support my belief in a hard core group of people "mass producing" much of the "forwards" in circulation, it is an "allegory" and can slide out from under the accusation of deliberate falsehood.]

It starts off "Once upon a time, I was invited to the White House for a private dinner with the President. I am a respected businessman, with a factory that produces memory chips for computers and portable electronics. There was some talk that my industry was being scrutinized by the administration, but I paid it no mind. I live in a free country. There's nothing that the government can do to me if I've broken no laws. My wealth was earned honestly, and an invitation to dinner with an American President is an honor".

Then the waiters started taking things off the narrator's plate and eating or drinking them, while Obama said things like "Sorry about that, Andrew is very hungry.
"My plate was whisked away before I had tasted a bite.

"Eric's children are also quite hungry."

With a lurch, I crashed to the floor. My chair had been pulled out from
under me. ...

"And their grandmother can't stand for long."
Finally we get:
"By the way," He added, "I have just signed an Executive Order nationalizing your factories. I'm firing you as head of your business. I'll be operating the firm now for the benefit of all mankind. There's a whole bunch of Erics and Andrews out there and they can't come to you for jobs groveling like beggars."
The whole "meaning" of the article can be summarized as "The writer thinks, or is being paid to think that  Obama is a socialist, and he has written a "parable" like a mini-Animal Farm, about what socialism means in his view. No evidence is furnished of Obama's "socialism", so my reaction would be even if it is effective, it can't be used to demonstrate the "mass production" of sophisticated falsehoods.

The next thing, dated 8/14, was another "parable" about an Economics professor, who, being socialistically inclined, decided to "redistribute" test points and give all students the average grade of the whole class. Predictably, grades went from C to D to F. Again, ho hum.

The next item was a link to some sort of scary documentary about Muslim population growth. Fair enough. My main response to Mom was that in Muslim, as in other countries, the more women are educated, the less likely a country is to have runaway population, and ironically in Iran, where strange to say, women are on the whole better educated than men, population growth is now comparable to that of a European country.

The next thing I got, on 10/10 was called "To My Thinking Friends", which appears to be mostly an excerpt from Lee Iacocca's recent book Where Have All the Leader's Gone?. There is some folksy preface material by presumably, the person who found and clipped the excerpt and wanted to pass it along to friends, I.e.:
Here's an idea for Mr. Iacocca -- send every congressman a copy of his new book!

He does make me think, if we could get those in leadership to really work at the solutions something could still bring us back to reality and make the necessary changes!!!!

Remember Lee Iacocca, the man who rescued Chrysler Corporation from its death throes? He's now 82 years old and has a new book, 'Where Have All The Leaders Gone?'.
Some bits from the Iacocca piece:
'Am I the only guy in this country who's fed up with what's happening? Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder! We've got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, ...

And the press is waving 'pom-poms' instead of asking hard questions of our newly elected President. and on and on and on.
As I wrote in response, "What was passed to you was heavily edited. It is an excerpt from a book PUBLISHED IN 2007, and when you put back in what was edited out, the Iacocca book is largely a VERY VERY VERY scathing criticism of George W. Bush, not of Obama. Here is a pretty typical excerpt:
Abraham Lincoln once said, "If you want to test a man's character, give him power." George Bush has a lot of power. What does it say about his character? Bush has shown a willingness to take bold action on the world stage because he has the power, but he shows little regard for the grievous consequences. He has sent our troops (not to mention hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi citizens) to their deaths -- for what? To build our oil reserves? To avenge his daddy because Saddam Hussein once tried to have him killed? To show his daddy he's tougher? The motivations behind the war in Iraq are questionable, and the execution of the war has been a disaster.
Most of the edits were deletions to take references to George W. Bush out. It can be acceptable to leave some things out of a quote, if one doesn't abuse the privilege to totally distort what was said. But there was one and only one addition - the phrase newly elected where he says the press is not asking hard questions of our newly elected President. The piece was written in 2007, and the president was Bush, who was not newly elected, and the phrase "newly elected" was not in the original.

So here we have the best example so far of a blatantly false piece, with many more to come

Next (10/20) I get another one titled: Fwd: CNN News - not Fox -- You won't believe this!!

The lead-in was:
It just keeps getting better.

This is Unbelievable!!!!!

I KNEW this was going to happen. (Obama wasn't lying when he said illegals would not be able to get medical coverage under his ObamaCare plan. His simple fix is to make them all legal first!!)
Pass this on after you watch it. NOTICE THAT THIS IS FROM CNN, NOT FOX!!!

This from CNN news: _

This 2-minute video should be mandatory viewing for every US citizen. If you have never passed anything on before, pass this on! Every American should be outraged!
There is some classic misdirection going on here. A trick used by magicians to get the audience looking in the wrong direction so they won't see the trick. All of this "I'm so upset ... I can't believe it ..." stuff takes ones mind off the authenticity of the bit to come.

What's next is a  link to a 2007 video commenting on a bill that George W. Bush was promoting at the time, stripped of anything that suggested its Bush era origin.  This is a good example of repurposing. A good rule of thumb is, if it's from CNN news, try to find a copy on a CNN web site, don't settle for some mysterious You Tube link.

Next (12/3) came
"Subject: The Queen's Jet (I will pass this on every time I receive it!)". which goes like:
Queen Pelosi wasn't happy with the small USAF C-20B jet, Gulfstream III, that comes with the Speaker's job ... OH NO! Queen Pelosi was aggravated that this little jet had to stop to refuel, so she ordered a Big Fat, 200-seat, USAF C-32, Boeing 757 jet that could get her back to California without stopping! I understand that a former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, flew commerical most of the time.

Many, many legislators walked by and grinned with glee as Joe informed everyone of what Queen Nancy's Big Fat Jet costs us, the hard working American tax payers, literally thousands of gallons of fuel every week.
[Note: implausable details like this are often thrown into such stories, as if Congressmen went around cackling like comic book villians, and I think this is done with some freedom simply because it would be quite hard to disprove. Another bit of indirection to keep us away from the facts about what plane Pelosi used on what occasion, which is a matter of record]
Since she only works 3 days a week, this gas guzzling jet gets fueled and she flies home to California every Friday and returns every Monday, at a cost to the taxpayers (YOU and ME are those taxpayers!) of about $60,000, one way
This is followed by a lot of naive sounding huffing and puffing as if the writer totally believed the previous lines:
No wonder she complains about the cost of this war ... it might cramp her style and she is styling on my back and yours. I think of the military families in this country doing without and this woman, who heads up the most do-nothing Congress in the history of our country, keeps fueling that jet while doing nothing.

Queen Pelosi wants you and me to conserve our carbon footprint. She wants us to buy smaller cars and Obama wants us to get a bicycle pump and air up our tires. Who do these people think they are??? Their motto is ... Don't do as I do ... JUST DO AS I SAY!

If you think this is outrageous, forward it to all those on your email
list! Keep in mind the figures above do NOT include the cost of plane or crew ... just the fuel!!! One has to wonder what the total package costs us?

And on top of that ... now she wants to tax our IRA's & 401K's!

This is, I think, more of the magician's indirection technique, in this case turning your mind away from the assumption you would otherwise make that it was probably written by some party professional who is good at spinning things, and so should be taken with a grain of salt.

Turns out this is more from the series "Recycled 2 year old articles"; as I wrote:
First of all the story, like so many other such stories, is a couple of years old, and is probably being recirculated now to suggest how Pelosi and the rest of the "Democrat Party" are running rampant now that Obama is in office. That is my speculation, but ask yourself why IS a 2-3 year old story that is pretty well refuted being email-broadcast now.
Just for good measure, back when it happened, Tony Snow, GW Bush's press spokesman said "This is a silly story, and I think it's been unfair to the speaker".
Here's the gist of why it's silly:

After 9/11 the Bush Administration decided the speaker of the house, 3rd in line for the presidency, should make their travels to and from Washington on a military jet.  When the speakership passed from a GOP Texan to Californian Nancy Pelosi, the refueling issue came up.  The seargent at arms of the House, a GOP appointee still in office, asked if a jet could be provided that would fly non-stop (if the jet made sense in the first place, on security grounds, the fewer stops, the better). Apparently, the Pentagon didn't "reject" Pelosi's request (which maybe WASN'T even her request) -- some summary of their response is in one of the articles for which I provided links and the gist was "We'll see what we can do but we can't promise".  The details are at

Since the brouhaha, it appears that Pelosi does not have her own personal plane standing by, but simply has the authority to request one from an available pool, and the available planes varied, and once included the "200 seater", which the Airforce describes as seating 47.

As for Pelosi going home every weekend, I will go out on a limb and say "I doubt it". Given the intellectual dishonesty of the whole thing, I suspect that was just thrown on speculation that it could be true and it would take work to refute if it wasn't, and to furnish a basis for calculating the largest possible dollar amount that the thing could be costing the taxpayers.

The next item (12/27) was a sort of "soapbox" statement by "Mr. Lou Prichett, formerly of Proctor and Gamble."
I did a little research on Prichett, whom I thought was given an excessive build-up as "one of Corporate America's true living legends, a highly respected, acclaimed author, dynamic teacher and one of the world's highest rated speakers.".
I see most of his views, which consist of very general criticisms of Obama as just wrong, some lazy thinking but I expect he is not lying, but believes what he is saying, so I have no strong objections to it.

Some time passed before I got the next item, on June 6, "Fwd: Joys of Muslim Women and they are not joys"
is a tirade against Islam and its extremely sexist attitudes and practices, which in my opinion contains some truth, at least about how some Islamic societies work. It was said to have been written by Nonie Darwish ("This lady is being targeted by a deathsquad for writing this. All in the name of Allah" it adds). says that according to Darwish, she did not write it indeed, the bottom two-thirds of it refer to her repeatedly in the third person. They say: Darwish confirmed via email that she didn't write the article, though it is, in her words, "to a large extent accurate." She said her 2009 book, Cruel and Usual Punishment, better represents her views, however. I could not find any confirmation that Nonie Darwish has been "targeted by a deathsquad", and I suspect that was piled on the way such things often seem to be piled on in these emails to heighten its seeming importance, and swell the reader's indignation. This is not the sort of open and shut case of lying that I am most critical of, but the style is very similar to many other emails, and I suspect it did come from the same sort of workshop.

Next, on April 12, came "Re: Wall Street Journal Sizes Up Obama - WOW". It is basically a long anti-Obama piece containing fairly typical generalizations. But fairly typically the sender tries to give it unearned weight and credibility by saying:
A short article from the Wall Street Journal that needs to be read by every level headed American!!!

A "deadly" article regarding Obama, at the Wall Street Journal, which today is the most widely circulated newspaper in America .

Article from the Wall Street Journal - by Eddie Sessions
Eddie Sessions appears to be a made up name, and the "article" (it would have been an editorial anyway, not an article) never appeared in the Wall Street Journal. The article was actually written by Alan Caruba, and posted on his extreme right wing blog at Someone may have copied it, under the name Eddie Sessions, into a WSJ discussion forum.

So, again, dishonest attribution makes all the difference, from somebody you never heard of said it on an obscure blog to "from the pages of the prestigious Wall Street Journal".

I next, on June 25, got "Fwd: Fw: Fwd: The Crotch Salute" accompanied by the note: "I know you believe in him, but do you believe in this? It just makes me ill. I'm, mom". There is a picture supposedly of Obama pointedly not saluting or putting his hand over his heart as the national anthem is played, and generals and other dignitaries around him are making the appropriate gestures. When it was tracked down to a publically posted video clip, it was "Hail to the Chief" being played, and Obama was being saluted by others but not saluting himself.

It was also said to have occurred at the "Ft. Hood Memorial Service", but the same picture had previously circulated as having been taken on an earlier Veteran's Day. The incredibly disrespectful title comes from Obama's holding his hands together in front of him at crotch level.

Repurposing par excellance.

(There are other emails showing Obama and Michelle are putting their hands on their chests, but using the left rather than right hands. -- supposedly showing their lack of practice in doing it right. A simple case of flipping a photo to its mirror image in photoshop)

There was next an outcry about claimed suppression of news about protests over "construction of a mega-mosque at Ground Zero."

On July 20, I got another piece of sleight of hand using real news footage "Mass Muslim Marriage in Gaza 450 Grooms Wed GIRLS Under Ten In Gaza". showed by getting to the original source, that there was a mass wedding, but the little girls were not the brides. I also found at photos of another such occasion with a lot of young girls dressed in white and and explanation that in fact the brides are out of sight and they are "war widows".
(For a more thorough look at this piece, see .

On August 11, there was "Michelle Came Home From France", which claims that a couple of Arab guys in a Blockbuster Video informed the anonymous poster that The First Lady did not accompany Obama to Saudi Arabia because "Obama is a Muslim and therefore he is not allowed to bring his wife into countries that adhere to Sharia Law." This is backed up by a "Middle Eastern Expert" who has a Master's degree from Bob Jones University. He's written a couple of books on Jihad but they don't sound impressive, and he does not seem to have any academic affiliation.

To top it off, I got, on September 4, this choice item:

In Houston,Texas at the Harwin Central Mall:
The very first store that you come to when you walk from the lobby of the building into the shopping area had this sign posted on their door. The shop is run by Muslims. Feel free to share this with others.
In case you are not able to read the sign below, it says
"We will be closed on Friday, September 11, 2009 to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Ali"
Imam Ali flew one of the planes into the twin towers. (Nice huh? )

Try telling me we're not in a Religious war!

No one named Imam Ali flew a plane into any building on September 11. Imam Ali died in the 8th century and is the martyr most revered by Shiite Muslims and these shopkeepers were celebrating his anniversary.

The introductory quote was brought to my attention by Scientific American online's brief note "E-Mail Beats Blogs and Web Sites for Rumor Mongering" summarizing a research article in Human Communication Research, "Troubling Consequences of Online Political Rumoring"

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