Gullible and Malicious Gossip–Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness

Politics is depressing – in our times it brings out the worst in men and women.  We are not a nation that pulls together, but one that everyone wants to pull apart.

I don’t know why there’s such a passionate hatred for Barack Obama, but there is.  To me he’s a decent man, a good family man, a man who works hard to do his job the best that he knows how.  I’m sure he has plenty of flaws, but he’s a far better man than I could ever be. 

There is a growing mob of people that want to tear him down.  Conservatives have always complained that national news is biased, but Fox New’s in-your-face bias is little more than rabble rousing, yet it is nothing compared the rumor mill of blogging. 

Blogging isn’t journalism although many bloggers want to be taken as serious as national papers, yet they have no self-control, respect for journalism, or decent sense of human fairness.  Writers on the internet can say anything without any checks and balances, and the lies, misconceptions and slander they create is almost unstoppable.  There’s a reason why Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness was in the top ten sins that the old Testament God wanted to stomp out.

Although, I’m not really worried about Barack Obama, he can take care of himself.  Any conspiracy theory about him that percolates to the national news will be properly investigated.  No, who I worry about is my friends and relatives who believe the lies they send to my email box.  The beliefs you hold reveal more about your personality than any lack of clothes reveals about the nakedness of your body.  Hatred is ugly.  Passing on gossip, especially a hateful kind of gossip, undresses people’s ugly side.

In the old days people were careful to keep up a positive persona.  People dressed themselves in positive attitudes and acted with a aura of self-control.  If people expressed their negative side, their hatreds, it was usually only to very close friends and family members.  Only uncivilized people were nasty.  But two exceptions come quickly to mind:  racism and xenophobia.  Growing up, whenever I visited the South I was always shocked by mild-mannered church loving people, letting it all hang out when it came to expressing their feelings about black people.  It was frightening to me. 

Poor Obama seems to bring out people’s racism and xenophobia.

I believe that most of the hate mongering over Barack Obama is because he’s black, and maybe because people think he’s Muslim from another country.  I know conservatives hate liberals like Clinton and Gore, but they go beyond the pale in their attacks on Obama and try to find endless ways to discredit him.  Evidently the Presidency is one Jim Crow barrier they never wanted to take down.

Here is an example of one of the emails I’ve gotten:  Wadda Guy!!!!.

Here is the site that answers most of the issues:  Obama’s 50 Lies.

The trouble is conspiracies are very hard to pull off, and most of these stories are just gossip that people want to pass on because they oppose Obama’s politics by smearing him with lies.  And most often these emails come from Christians.  Don’t they know they are breaking the 9th commandment?  And remember what Jesus said about the golden rule….

I have to assume that most people who pass on these types of emails are just gullible and not truly malicious, but I might be wrong.  First off you shouldn’t gossip, but if you’re going to pass on these emails verify them first.  Would you want lies spread about you?  It’s easy enough to do, just get on the internet and research the issue. is a great place that focuses just on this problem – verifying urban legends.

Malicious people know the stories are lies but pass them on anyway because they feel righteous about their cause.  However, if they are Christians it doesn’t justify breaking the 9th commandment.  Whether gullible or malicious, bearing false witness is very immoral and unethical.

I’m not religious, and I have two ethical rules which I apply to this kind of problem.  First is the Golden Rule, a concept that has appeared in all religions, by all philosophers and is part of all ethical systems.  If you don’t want people spreading lies about you, don’t spread them about other people.  The second rule is much simpler – don’t lie.  It should be obvious that lying is wrong.

Now if I would ask these people why are they spreading lies they will innocently claim they are revealing the truth, and they will feel quite righteously about what they are doing.  Does spreading lies when you honestly believe they are the truth a sin?  I have to say yes, because being ignorant should be a sin too.  We live in a world of ready information, so it should be everyone responsibility to fact check anything you say bad about someone else.  In the old days it was a virtue never to say anything bad about other people, but that practice is no longer common sense.

A long time ago I read a little essay called “Rules of Thumb” about how to judge facts without having to actually look them up.  Rules of Thumb is the idea that you find facts you know and compare them against what you are trying to verify.  For example, how many gallons of water does a bathtub hold?  Most people have no idea.  But people are quite familiar with a gallon jug of milk.  It’s easier to imagine how many gallon jugs of milk can fit into a bathtub, so that can be a rule of thumb.

When getting internet gossip apply rules of thumb to it.  Any story you read in an email that conveys something not publically known about a public figure should be suspect.  Here’s one rule of thumb to use.  We live in a society of pit bull journalists that would sell their mother’s souls for a story.  If you haven’t heard in the national news the story you find in an email figure it’s a lie.  Of course it might not be, but the odd are 999 to 1 it is.  We just don’t keep secrets in this society.  If Obama had not been born in the U.S. he never would have gotten elected.  Hundreds of reporters would have snooped out that story immediately.  To believe otherwise is to be very gullible.

But if you still think a story is valid, research it on  If they have investigated it and say it’s true, or could be true, feel free to pass the story on.  You might include the link to Snopes with your email.

The email I got made a big deal proclaiming both Barack and Michelle Obama had had their lawyer licenses taken away from them for dishonest actions.  The email made 11 attacks on the Obama.  It had been forwarded at least 7 times because of the quote indicators, so one person can spread gossip at a speed never known before the internet.

How do I know these are lies.  Why should I trust  The wise thing is to check many sites.  There is one problem though, there are a huge number of websites with conspiracy theories about the Obamas.  If you read enough you’ll find a reasonable answer, but if you’re not looking for a reasonable answer, you’ll find plenty of fuel to ignite the gossip.  Why aren’t these web stories front and center on all the national news programs?  Again, rule of thumb?  Would any national reporter pass up such stories if they could be proven?  No, they wouldn’t.  Look at the success Woodward and Bernstein created for themselves with their stories about Nixon.

So, why all the gossip about Obama? has a new theory that might apply here, “The Argumentative Theory.”  Now this is probably way to subtle and abstract for thinkers who believe Obama is a Muslim born in another country.  Basically it says we aren’t reasonably people because reason isn’t part of our nature, but to argue is.  In other words, most people can’t tell shit from Shinola but they will fight to the death thinking they know the absolute truth when in fact they are quite clueless.

I’ve thought about this.  Everyone acts like they know something, but for the most part we all know very little.  Most people like to think they are smart, at least about a few pet subjects.  But here’s my last rule of thumb.  Even the most specialized subjects around have hundreds of books written on them.  Some Ph.D. specialists may have read thousands of books and journals on their expertise.  Clueless people think they know it all after reading one page on the internet.  If you don’t want to be seen as something other than a crank, don’t profess facts unless you’ve read ten comprehensive books on the subject, and that will only be the beginning point where you can say you have a minor interest in the topic.  And even then, if you read the article at, you’ll probably have found 10 books that support your personal bias.  We really don’t have the brains for exact reasoning – just remember that you want to pass off a fact.

JWH – 5/5/11

10 thoughts on “Gullible and Malicious Gossip–Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness”

  1. Excellent post, Jim. I’ve been wanting to write something like this, too, but I just haven’t got around to it. And now I don’t have to. Good job!

    I get these loony right-wing emails sometimes, and it usually takes about two minutes online to find out they’re nothing but baldfaced lies. The people who send them to me probably don’t know any better, but they don’t seem to care that they’re spreading lies, either. It’s just nuts.

  2. I get a slew of crap email like this from family and friends every week. They read a story that supports their uninformed world view and they just pass it along as fact to their whole bloody contact list. Never mind actually checking the source – it makes so much sense it has to be true! After all, it’s on the Internet.

    I took to checking Snopes and sending the email back with a link and a polite request to check their facts next time. After a couple dozen of those they started taking me off their lists. I doubt it made any difference but at least I get fewer crap emails.

    1. That article at is starting to make more and more sense to me. Reasoning is just not something people do. People don’t weigh the pros and cons of any point, but instead just look for any idea that supports their beliefs. Hell, I do it too. It’s just natural. If you don’t like Obama any story that’s anti-Obama seems brilliant.

      I sometimes send back the Snopes info to the people who send me these emails, but so far no one has ever wrote back and said, hey sorry for sending you that bad gossip.

  3. Heh, heh. Yes, I get fewer of those now, too, since I tend to correct the errors at length. But they still send them to everyone else on their list.

  4. That’s why conservatives concocted the idea of the liberal media. The conservatives would make up stuff, spread it around and wonder why it wouldn’t catch on. They started telling people that even though the stuff was true it wasn’t catching on because the “liberal” media didn’t want it to be true and hence wouldn’t report it with enough vehemence.

    I apply the same “many sources” rule to the bulk of my news. If I read something on an assortment of online news sources (sources that do original reporting) and hear about it on NPR and read about it the city paper and later an article in Time magazine, and later watch a TV show or documentary about it, then and only then do I begin to give it credence. Some people just aren’t that interested in seeing a number of different angles on a story.

    The hatred of Obama from my perspective is not just about race and religion and ethnicity and nationality. It’s about a hatred of change. There are many people shuffling around the US that are truly disturbed that the guy working the register at the Citgo has a ring in their lip, and the neighbor kid is gay or lesbian (and that’s OK with the neighborhood), and the lawyer advertising on TV is hispanic and makes 5 times more a year than them.

    I’m not that big of a fan of Michael Moore but the movie Bowling for Columbine. If you ever seen it most of it’s not about what happened at Columbine per se but the fact that our government and our media and other entities with a far reach within our society fan the flames of various hot button topics for votes and ratings and power and money.

    One of the worst thing that ever happened to this country was when the news departments started being judged as money makers and ratings creators versus entertainment eyeballs. News departments were always money losers. They should be money losers. But losing money doesn’t lessen importance.

    My alma mater Ohio State has hundreds of sports that students athletes can participate in but only two sports, Men’s Football and Basketball, make money. Every other sport is subsidized by the money made from those two programs. And not just in gear and playing fields but scholarhips. Mass entertainment could easily subsidize intelligent and impartial news gathering.

    1. I never thought of that Dan. That the liberal media was bias because it wouldn’t carry the conspiracy theories conservatives loved. I always assume they meant the news ABC, NBC and CBS did carry was biased. But you might be right. That’s a very interesting angle on the subject.

      Conservatives would think the liberal media is censoring the news. And the reason why they love Fox News is because they carry those crank stories.

  5. Great blog, Jim. And some interesting responses.

    A couple of thoughts. 1st–I’m apparently doing something right because I’m not getting the far right crapola emails that some of you seem to be getting. I guess the conservative members of my family and social circle know better than to try to sway me. Yeah! That would truly raise my blood pressure.

    The idea that people only want to support their existing ideas rather than truly ‘hear’ alternative views makes a lot of sense. And I guess I’ve seen that frequently and even though I didn’t think about it too deeply, it has always driven me crazy. I’m one of those people that loves to hear and consider all sides of an idea and I can’t understand people who don’t. And, that makes the Obama haters more understandable –no less maddening — but understandable. In their world a black man was never going to be president and there has to be something seriously wrong if one has. And Donald Trump seems to be leading that pack. I’m with you, Jim. Obama seems to me to be an extremely intelligent, thoughtful, and caring man. To continuously hear that a large segment of the population imbues him with such evil traits has been truly baffling. Thanks for a rationale for that behavior.

    Also a comment on your statement that you are not religious but still feel The Golden Rule is a good principle to live by. As you well know, I am also not religious and have never considered myself a Christian. However, more and more I realize that most, if not all, of the good things about religion are very important in the way I conduct my life. Which only makes it even more maddening that church- going people feel you are only a good person if you show up at church each Sunday. How could professing a belief possibly be more important than they way you live your life??

    Enough rambling–thanks for making me think about these ideas.

    1. I don’t get as many as many of these hateful emails as I used to. I think most of the people I know have come to realize how liberal I am. I wonder if they read my blog?

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