Secrets of Spreading Rumors
Last week someone forwarded me the e-story of a vacationing family thrown together with Senator John McCain and his family at a luxury resort on Turtle Island, Fiji. McCain comes off as overbearing, tedious and a lecherous pig—a boor, bore and boar.
The piece is so explicit—written with such outrage and so filled with detail—that its truth seems self-evident.
Or, is it the work of a master fiction writer out to spread a rumor and help scuttle John McCain's campaign?
Welcome to a discussion about rumors and smears—and what to do if you're the spreader, the smearee or the smearer.
Mary-Kay Gamel, Ph.D., a professor of classics at the University of California Santa Cruz, has achieved 15 minutes of fame via Web notoriety. She's linked to a scurrilous portrait of Sen. John McCain that's rocketing around cyberspace to the delight of McCain haters ("See, I told you so!") and the anger of McCain fans and supporters.
I decided to check out the story to see if it were true, partially true or a pants-on-fire lie. I Googled the professor and up came the following:
1. Confirmation: Mary Kay Gamel DID NOT write the letter about ...
2. Oct 2, 2008 ... Confirmation: Mary Kay Gamel DID NOT write the letter about vacationing with John McCain in Turtle ...
I did some more Web surfing, wrote this story and e-mailed it off to Prof. Gamel, offering her the chance to correct any errors and make any comments.
By return e-mail, I received an automatic reply hotly disavowing the story point-by-point, followed by the following disclaimer:
I regret the misinformation which is circulating, but it is not my doing, and I protest the misuse of my name. How I think this happened: on 16 September I received this account 3rd-hand and forwarded it, with full email trail information and the name of the purported author (whom I don't know), to several friends with whom I discuss politics. It was further forwarded, and at some point the trail was deleted and I was misidentified as the author. I suspect whoever did this thought that my name and contact information would make the story more credible.
(The complete text of Gamel's automatic e-mail to me is included as an illustration at the end of this issue.)