This post originally appeared on J.L. Bell's blog Oz and Ends.
American right-wing leaders are responding to complaints about their adherents’ insults, threats, and acts of violence by claiming that such problems occur on the left as well. Of course, they don’t dare to compare and quantify such behavior. That would mean acknowledging that, for example, Congressional historians find no precedent for Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., shouting at the president during a joint session of Congress. Or that there was a distrubing spike in death threats to the president in the months after President Barack Obama took office.
To keep on top of urban myths of all kinds, I subscribe to the Snopes.com update list, and I noticed a pattern there that I thought deserved to be examined more arithmetically. It struck me I was seeing a lot more rumors about President Obama, and a lot more false rumors, than I remembered from earlier years. So I ran the numbers, as of this week.
After eight years in the White House (with Snopes.com around all that time), George W. Bush has been the subject of 47 internet rumors. After less than two years in office, Barack Obama has been the subject of 87, or nearly twice as many.
Even more telling is the relative accuracy of those stories. For Bush, 20 rumors, or 43%, are true. Only 17, or 36%, are false. The remainder are of mixed veracity (4), undetermined (4), or unclassifiable (2).
In contrast, for Obama only 8 of the 87 rumors, or 9%, are true, and a whopping 59, or 68%, are whoppers. There are 17 of mixed veracity and 3 undetermined.
I delved down to the stories that the site designates as a mixture of truth and falsehood. For Obama, in many cases the truth is innocuous while the lie reflects poorly on the President, particularly photographs that are misrepresented or show behavior that produced no complaints when his predecessors did the same. In contrast, in this mixture of truth and falsehood about George W. Bush praying with an injured soldier, the lie reflected well on that President from the perspective of the religious person spreading it.
I looked on Snopes’s Politics page for another pair of politicians in parallel situations, and found the losing candidates of the last two presidential elections. Snopes’s page on Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., lists 22 rumors, and only 3 are true (14%). Its page for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., lists only 11 rumors, and 4 are true (36%). There are far more rumors about the Democratic candidate, and fewer true ones.
This evidence accumulated over ten years shows a shameful but undeniable fact of American politics: Our right wing now contains a lot more liars, and a lot more folks who spread lies out of gullibility or wishfulness, than our left wing.
J.L. Bell also maintains a daily blog at Boston 1775.