Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Allure of Misinformation

An interesting thing happened on Facebook today. Some right-winger found out that President Obama would be visiting Chicago over the Memorial Day weekend, so while he’s there, on Memorial Day he’ll be honoring veterans at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery while Vice President Joe Biden lays the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington. Obama did personally place the wreath at Arlington last year.

Nothing alarming about this fact. In 1983, President Reagan attended a summit meeting in Williamsburg, Va., on Memorial Day while Deputy Secretary of Defense W. Paul Thayer laid the wreath at Arlington Cemetery. In 1992, President George H.W. Bush attended a ceremony in Kennebunkport, Maine (where he also reportedly played a round of golf) while VP Dan Quayle laid the wreath at Arlington. In 2002, President George W. Bush commemorated Memorial Day at Normandy.

But you can be sure there’s an opportunist ready to find a reason to smear the President whenever Obama so much as sneezes. This wily individual set off a chain of events by tweeting that Obama would be skipping honoring veterans at Arlington on Monday while going on vacation in Chicago.

It was picked up by some Right Wing group on Facebook that has previously used opportunities such as this to ask slanted “yes” or “no” questions designed to get the answer they want, and then sign you (and your FB friends) onto their political cause. (Reminds me of a tactic the Moral Majority used to use—if you even wrote them asking for literature, they’d automatically make you a member of their club so they could claim membership in the millions. I once had a frustrated gay friend who had done just that for a college report in his religious studies class, and he kept getting gay-baiting literature from Jerry Falwell. After numerous requests to be removed from their list, he finally moved, so their mail stopped being forwarded to him. As a gay Christian, he truly hated being counted as a member of the Moral Majority—which, he always hastened to add, “was neither.”)

But back to the story. Today I was greeted on Facebook by no fewer than half a dozen friends who’d fallen for the “Poll Scheme” and gotten angry at President Obama for “dissing” our troops—when nothing could be further from the truth.

My friends: I love you all. Our country is divided enough as it is with grandstanding, exaggerating, and hate-filled speech slung around generously by people of all persuasions. By hopping on the bandwagon, we condone this behavior. We should condemn it. When we see stuff like this, before getting outraged, consider the source and check it out before you act to pass along such misinformation. When I first saw the poll, my “bs” alarm went off, so I googled “Obama not to lay wreath at Arlington” and a news story from an impartial news source promptly popped up. It’s not hard to do. We just need to remember that, in this age of information, some people take advantage by disseminating misinformation.

These things are a mere distraction, meant to anger us and meant to keep us occupied by non-issues. Consider instead what is truly worthy of our attention today.

The oil spill in the Gulf leaps immediately to mind. The “Drill, Baby, Drill” folks have been deafeningly silent throughout this whole crisis. I would be more interested in exploring that as opposed to whether it’s disrespectful of the President to honor our troops at a Chicago cemetery instead of one outside of Washington, DC. Choose your battles. Choose them wisely. And read. Read. Read.

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