Falling Awake

Just Darts Since 2009

Snopes (sort of) redeems itself

I love snopes.com.  It’s blogrolled here, and I subscribe to its RSS feed to get daily updates on the truth and falsity of rumors, online or otherwise.  I also turn to the site frequently to verify the many “incredible but true!” emails I’m sent.

So, I was disappointed a few days ago in an item that Snopes verified as “true.”  It was a letter written by a native Alaskan about Governor Palin.

A few excerpts:

She’s not very tolerant of divergent opinions or open to outside ideas or compromise. As Mayor, she fought ideas that weren’t generated by her or her staff. Ideas weren’t evaluated on their merits, but on the basis of who proposed them.

Sarah complained about the “old boy’s club” when she first ran for Mayor, so what did she bring Wasilla? A new set of “old boys”. Palin fired most of the experienced staff she inherited. At the City and as Governor she hired or elevated new, inexperienced, obscure people, creating a staff totally dependent on her for their jobs and eternally grateful and fiercely loyal — loyal to the point of abusing their power to further her personal agenda, as she has acknowledged happened in the case of pressuring the State’s top cop (see below).

As Mayor, Sarah fired Wasilla’s Police Chief because he “intimidated” her, she told the press. As Governor, her recent firing of Alaska’s top cop has the ring of familiarity about it. He served at her pleasure and she had every legal right to fire him, but it’s pretty clear that an important factor in her decision to fire him was because he wouldn’t fire her sister’s ex-husband, a State Trooper. Under investigation for abuse of power, she has had to admit that more than 2 dozen contacts were made between her staff and family to the person that she later fired, pressuring him to fire her ex-brother-in-law. She tried to replace the man she fired with a man who she knew had been reprimanded for sexual harassment; when this caused a public furor, she withdrew her support.

She has bitten the hand of every person who extended theirs to her in help. The City Council person who personally escorted her around town introducing her to voters when she first ran for Wasilla City Council became one of her first targets when she was later elected Mayor. She abruptly fired her loyal City Administrator; even people who didn’t like the guy were stunned by this ruthlessness.

Fear of retribution has kept all of these people from saying anything publicly about her.

She is solidly Republican: no political maverick. The State party leaders hate her because she has bit them in the back and humiliated them. Other members of the party object to her self-description as a fiscal conservative.

Around Wasilla there are people who went to high school with Sarah. They call her “Sarah Barracuda” because of her unbridled ambition and predatory ruthlessness. Before she became so powerful, very ugly stories circulated around town about shenanigans she pulled to be made point guard on the high school basketball team. When Sarah’s mother-in-law, a highly respected member of the community and experienced manager, ran for Mayor, Sarah refused to endorse her.

I hesitate to quote even more thoroughly from this letter because the contents of the letter remain unverified.  There is no way to know if any of this is truth, lies, or half-truths seen through a skewed lens of bitterness on the part of the author.

Nevertheless, Snopes chose to label the letter, in large red type, as “TRUE.”

Here’s how it looked.  At the top of the page, the headline read: “An Alaskan’s Opinion.”  The claim: “Letter written by a resident of Wasilla, Alaska, offers viewpoint of Alaska governor Sarah Palin.”  The status of the letter (in the big red type): “True.”  Then came the body of this invective-filled letter.  Only when you had read the whole letter, having been assured by Snopes that it was true, did you come to the Snopes summary.  It turns out they had simply verified that the letter had been written by the woman whose name appeared at the bottom of it!

Now, surely this was misleading?

I sent them this email:

I just read your new post about Sarah Palin.

Are you saying all of the points in the letter are true? Normally when you merely confirm that it is an actual letter by a verifiable person, you say so. (Something like: “Actual letter, claims undetermined.”) Don’t you?  [This had always been my experience with Snopes.]

I know that when you go into the points raised by the letter writer you address them underneath the letter (and state how you verified them).

Why didn’t you do that this time?

I received this reply:

Many of the texts we discuss contain a mixture of truth, falsity, and exaggeration which cannot be accurately described by a single “True” or “False” rating. Therefore, an item’s status is generally based upon the single most important aspect of the text under discussion, which is summarized in the statement made after the “Claim:” heading at the top of the page. It is important to make note of the wording of that claim, since that is the statement to which the status applies.  [Remember, the claim read: “Letter written by a resident of Wasilla, Alaska, offers viewpoint of Alaska governor Sarah Palin.”  Ambiguous whether it’s the authorship or the viewpoint that’s being tested, no?]

That item is in a section of our site specifically dedicated to correct attributions.

Well, after re-reading the post, I have to say it wasn’t particularly clear.  If you google around, you will find plenty of sites that claim that Snopes “verified” this letter, including all of its claims.

I’d like to show it to you for yourself, but that page has disappeared.  I’m sure many of their readers had a similar problem with the post, and it no longer exists as it did.  I suppose that’s an improvement, but I would have preferred a clarification/retraction to have been posted.

The new “Sarah Palin” post now has several letters (including the original) from people with different views about the governor.  They are clearly marked as being verified only as to their authors, and the truth status is marked as “Multiple — See below,” where ‘below’ refers to the authors’ identities.

If anyone knows how to access past web pages through the “Wayback machine” or cached pages–I barely know enough to know that these things exist, but not how to make use of them–I’d appreciate some help in finding the original page.

It’s address was: http://www.snopes.com/politics/soapbox/kilkenny.asp (Kilkenny was the author of the original letter.)

If you go to that page now, however, you are redirected to the new one: http://www.snopes.com/politics/soapbox/sarahpalin.asp (Headlined simply, “Letters from Alaska.”)

I’m really just interested because I’d like to take a third look and see how misleading the original post actually was, seeing as I must not have been the only person to complain.  If you can explain how one goes about digging up the old one (or even better, can just post a link to it), please leave a comment.

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