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Letters to the editor

Friday, September 21, 2012 - 12:01 am

Letter’s claims fail truth verification test

On Aug. 27, you published a letter from Tom Hosier that, in a not-so-subtle way, seemed to defend the right of citizens to bear arms so that they might rise up against their duly elected government. He seemed to be laboring under the impression that a president would have the ability “to change the Republic to a communist country.” I guess he has some vision that, in the event, we would all grab our six-shooters and run out in the street to put an end to it.

Mr. Hosier tried to justify his position by citing two “facts” that have been widely circulated in right-wing emails, both of which have been labeled as false by neutral fact-checkers. The first claimed that the Social Security Administration was part of an effort to purchase “millions of rounds of ammunition to be used in event of “civil unrest.” The second accused the Department of Justice website of featuring “a quote by a famous communist/socialist, C. Wilfred Jenks.”

Both of these claims are well known to be false as has been documented by impartial fact-checking organizations.

Snopes.com labels the claim that the SSA is procuring ammunition to combat social unrest as “false.” They note that the SSA did indeed issue a request for quotes for 174 thousand (not million) rounds of ammunition to be distributed to their 300 special agents who investigate cases of criminal Social Security fraud. Because they often have to carry out their investigations in potentially dangerous situations, these public servants are required and authorized to carry weapons when carrying their task of preserving the integrity of our Social Security system. They are also required to use ammunition in quarterly firearms training. Does Mr. Hosier think we should send our agents into potentially dangerous situations unarmed or armed but untrained?

Politifact.com has labeled his second claim as a “Pants-on-Fire Lie.” In their analysis, they note that the quote in question was actually one of many statements inscribed on the exterior of the Department of Justice building when it was constructed in 1935. They attribute the quote to “Hartley Burr Alexander, 1873-1939 — poet, philosopher, scholar, and architectural iconographer.” Any suggestion that the builders were inspired by Jenks, who was 26 at the time, is simply beyond ludicrous.

It would have been nice if Mr. Hosier had taken the trouble to verify these claims before writing his letter. I hope that he will have the good sense to be embarrassed when he discovers that his statements are false. Maybe, in the future he will be a bit less credulous when reading right-wing emails forwarded to him by his friends. But, I can’t really fault him, because he isn’t a journalist with a professional obligation to make sure the “facts” he prints are true.

On the other hand, I certainly can and do fault The News Sentinel editorial staff for printing these lies. Do you people know that it is actually possible to verify an incendiary statement as being true or false? Are you aware of the fact that there are numerous Internet assets that you can use to verify information before you publish it? Do you have any concept of the damage you do to our society when you publish lies like these that are clearly intended to make us distrust our own government and our fellow citizens?

Shame on you. You’re a disgrace to your profession.

James L. Silver