Separating fact from fiction

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By The Staff

OK. You don’t need me to tell you that the November elections are vastly important this time around.

Our country is in a scary place right now, with banks folding left and right, and Congress in the midst of hammering out a plan to stabilize Wall Street as it bleeds out in front of our eyes.

So, I’m going to take this time to provide some good information for those of you (and I hope that’s all of you) preparing to vote.

Please, do this. No matter what side of the fence you are on – even if you are sitting on it – voting is a privilege not to be wasted. Cast your vote.

But before you do, also make sure you have the facts.

There have been a lot of out-and-out lies batted back and forth between candidates in this political season, at all levels – from the presidential election right down to campaigns for the Kentucky General Assembly.

But let’s start at the top, shall we?

First, Barak Obama is not a Muslim. He is a Christian. I don’t care how many times you receive an e-mail saying otherwise: It simply is not true. His middle name is not Muhammad, and voting for him won’t open the door to America to a surge of Islamic radicals.

Second, John McCain does not promote keeping the Iraqi war going 60 or 100 years, if necessary. That is misinformation being spread since he spoke in January at a town hall meeting. What he was talking about was maintaining a peace-time presence in “a very volatile part of the world,” the same way the U.S. military maintains bases in Japan and South Korea, 50 and 60 years after we were at war in that part of the world.

No matter who you hear it from, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin did not turn down millions of dollars earmarked by Congress for the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere.” She actually supported the bridge during her campaign for governor in 2006 and didn’t change that stance until 2007. While Congress removed the earmark for the bridge project, it still gave Alaska the funds originally intended for the bridge for Palin to spend as she saw fit.

And no, it’s not true that Joe Biden refused to pay a $150,000 campaign debt. According to facts and figures from the Federal Election Commission’s Web site, the debt owed to International Jet Management was paid by Biden in three installments made in January, March and July 2008, before he was tapped to run for vice president.

In politics, I think it’s been an ongoing trend to say almost anything about your opponent to make him or her appear to be the wrong choice. I think in this post-Karl Rovian world, the idea is to say whatever you want, because most people won’t see or hear reports in which the true facts are presented. Or, they simply won’t believe the counter-reports, because they want to believe the false statements.

So, what’s a voter to do?

Well, I suggest you turn to the Internet – not to these ridiculous e-mail chain letters, but to bona fide sites that can help sort out fact from fiction. There are several.

First, to determine if any chain-letter you receive via e-mail is fact or fiction, one of the best sources is Snopes.com. Snopes gives an overview of the e-mail’s content, shows a sample of what’s been circulating and gives a history of how and when it began circulating. It also tells you whether the content is true or false, backed with source information.

Another trustworthy Web site is FactCheck.org. In fact, the information above that debunks these four seriously false claims has been taken from articles posted on that site.

Two new ones I’ve found just while researching for this column:

Voices.washingtonpost.com/fact-checker/. Launched by The Washington Post a year ago to sort the facts for voters, this site is written by Post writer Michael Dobbs with help from that paper’s top researcher. It includes “Pinocchio” ratings, with one Pinocchio marking “some shading of the facts” and “selective telling of the truth” to four Pinocchios, which is set aside for “whoppers.”

Politifact.com is a joint effort by the St. Petersburg Times of Florida and Congressional Quarterly. This one offers the “Truth-o-meter” that ranges from “not true” to “barely true,” “half-true,” “mostly true” and “true.”

Most of these sites offer visitors the chance to ask their own questions, or in the case of Politifact.com, offer their own insider information as to facts.

So, don’t go to the polls unarmed. Seek out the truth about all the candidates, and determine for yourself who among them deserves the most precious commodity there is – your vote.

Phyllis McLaughlin is editor of The News-Democrat in Carrollton, Ky.