Last week, the news that Iran was going to force non-Muslims to wear distinctive colors and badges in public was a telling moment around the blogosphere. A lot of people — mainly on the right — were properly outraged at this latest sign of just how crazy the mullahs in Iran are.
And then the story apparently fell apart.
I was not one of those who jumped on the blast-Iran bandwagon, but that was a simple matter of laziness. I saw the accounts, and considered it far too plausible. I even considered posting about it, but by that time several others had chimed in and I had nothing new to offer, so I gave it a pass. However, I had no doubts as to the story itself.
In retrospect, it should have raised red flags. The story was, in that memorable phrase, “fake, but accurate.” The leaders of Iran are that crazy, but not that kind of crazy. Their paranoia is built around external threats — the United States, Israel, the West in general — not internal threats. The Islamist hold on power in Iran is solid, with no fears of non-Muslims posing any kind of threat to the general populace. It is the Muslims who pose a threat to the Islamists’ power, not the Jews or Christians or Zoroastrians.
But it was the aftermath of the story’s collapse that is the most telling.
Most sites immediately posted updates or whole new postings saying the story was bogus, and admitting they were wrong. Many spelled out just why the story was so plausible, citing precedents in Muslim history that predate Hitler and his yellow stars and pink triangles (sometimes I wonder if breakfast cereal makers might be secret neo-Nazis) and other accoutrements of racism and genocide. But the gist of the story was wrong, and I can’t find anyone who is still pushing it as serious.
Let’s compare and contrast that with two other recent incidents.
First up, the amazingly unindicted Karl Rove. I’ve lost count of how many “deadlines” on that story have passed, but it’s still embraced by so many. Personally, I don’t care much about it, but as a general principle I don’t like the criminalization of politics, of using the courts to settle political fights. It was bad enough when it was in civil cases, but bringing in the criminal justice system deeply troubles me.
And Rove remains unindicted.
Another comparison is Rathergate and the forged Texas Air National Guard memos. Those documents were touted as “devastating” to Bush’s re-election campaign, but as soon as they were made public, they started to crumble. Bloggers, some with extensive background in typography (such as Charles Johnson and Meryl Yourish), or military experience, spotted glaring inconsistencies, errors, and anachronisms in the memos that not only cast doubt on their authenticity, but to many conclusively proved they were fakes.
But there are many who still think they are valid, who demand that every single point in the memos be disproven before they accept that they are fake. Since the forgers got a few things right, they hang on to those elements as “proof” that they are not completely discredited. (I’ll even go out on a limb and predict that at least two commenters will argue that the TANG memos were not fakes, and provide links that argue that point, in the comments below.)
The lesson is the same for both sides: be skeptical of all stories, but put special scrutiny on those stories that reinforce your own beliefs, your own policies, your own biases and prejudices. Both sides got a chance to re-learn that lesson.
The difference, though, is that most of the bloggers on the Right (and I reluctantly put myself in that camp, at least in this case) were quick and willing to admit error. I’m still waiting for the Big Boys (and gals) on the Left to write off the Rove indictment and the TANG memos as bogus, and MoveOn to something actually relevant.
Any time now, folks…