The 'Email for Idiots' game, Chapter II
Three days before my last column appeared, a letter to the Reader Forum (May 4) included yet one more example of viral email for idiots.
In the letter, a retired Hays dentist (a registered Republican) quoted from an email he got. Allegedly, the message originated in the Czech Republic and later was translated into English. The gist was that while President Barack Obama is "the prince of fools," the real problem is the American "multitude of fools that made him their president."
These days, the prevalent claim is that the message first appeared in German in the Prager Zeitung newspaper on April 28, 2010. Sounds convincingly specific, but let's look.
An Internet search using (a) the term Prager Zeitung and (b) the exact* wording of the first sentence, reveals more than 40,000 Internet websites parroting the claim of Czech origin. (*The local writer honors a 2011 revision, adding the word " inexperienced" to describe President Obama.)
If, instead of Prager Zeitung, one uses the word Obama, there are four times as many hits -- more than 160,000. Now why would that be?
Well, because the Czech Republic origin is a deliberate, easily refutable lie.
The oldest entire text appeared on Dec. 7, 2004, posted by "Big Bulls." The U.S. website says Big Bulls is Kerry Urbaniak, and a "gunsmith and pro-shop manager." The text is surrounded by quotation marks, indicating Big Bulls does not claim to be the author.
The next reference I found contained just the opening sentence, word for word. It was posted in the U.S. on Aug. 3, 2008, by a "TomD" identified as a Florida panhandle citizen.
Somewhat later, on Dec. 29, 2009, someone with the handle "Support and Defend" posted the message. He belongs (or did) to a U.S. group calling itself Campaign for Liberty, based in Springfield, Va. He is identified as male, living in Delawan, Wis.
In January 2010, still four months prior to the alleged April 28, 2010, Prager Zeitung claim, another someone identified as O2BNTEXAS posted the same exact language. So I emailed the Czech newspaper. Editor Lisa Boettinger responded:
"Dear Mr. Hooper: First of all, thanks for your E-mail via Facebook. You are already the second American asking us for the alleged article in Prager Zeitung about Barack Obama and American Citizens. I confirm with all emphasis that such an article never (!) appeared in our newspapers. First of all, we are not at all writing about American politics. ... Furthermore, Prager Zeitung does not aim to insult, judge or discriminate against people of our or another country. Therefore, an article like the one you mentioned would never have appeared, not even as a comment or opinion article, because it is dismissive and absolute nonsense. ... Also, we would like to know where you got this false information from -- to avoid any further spreading."
Given the 2004 date of first reference to the quote, the likeliest explanation is that it was an early response to then-Sen. Barack Obama's keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention on July 27 of that year. Commented Amy Goodman at DemocracyNow: "Analysts say his speech last night secured his status as a rising star within the party." Others immediately saw him as a threat to become president.
We should ponder why the false Czech Republic claim originated. My own assessment is that the email text was composed in 2004 by our very own American gays-guns-tea party-libertarian-racist right wing, and that the later Czech source claim was cleverly intended to give the email more "objectivity" -- pretending to illustrate what the wider world is saying, apart from partisan U.S. politics, as well as to make it seem current.
The propaganda now advancing the Czech connection had to come not before April 28, 2010, but after -- necessarily allowing for the supposed translation. Accordingly, the first instance I found of the Czech fabrication was in May 15, 2010, by "WOW" on thegatewaypundit.com -- a right-wing blog touting conservative Republican candidates. Since then, the lies have swarmed, like flies around manure. At least two official GOP websites currently are posting the falsely attributed message -- one in Chicago, another in Oneida County, Wis.
In July an obscure, language-mangling Indiana blogger named Ollie (olliescommonsense.blogspot.com) whose proclaimed hobbies are "gardening, guitar and drinking beer" attributed the message to either the Czech Republic Observer ... or from an "observer" in the Czech Republic. Choose your interpretation.
Not long afterward, Glenn Beck repeated the fiction on his radio show. He hasn't verified it, he says, but "the source doesn't matter if you agree with the message." (The Czech Observer claim is also bogus.)
So, what difference does it make? Here's a good response from one Internet commenter:
"You can't pass something like this off, praise the specific source, then backpedal and say the source doesn't matter when it's shown to be false. ...(A)t best ... it's really, really bad journalism. At worst, they're willing to put their ideology above the truth and intentionally falsify facts to further their agenda."
Today, the multitude of fools are not Obama supporters but obliging right-wing email dupes -- whom this column will surely irritate but not embarrass.
Bob Hooper is a fourth-generation western Kansan who writes from his home in Bogue.