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Online Rumor Mill Spins Its Own Myth(Snopes.com's leftwing bias undercuts its credibility)
Insight ^ | 8/21/03(originally 3/11/02) | John Berlau

Posted on 08/21/2003 4:23:10 PM PDT by Diddle E. Squat

The uncertain times after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have given rise to all sorts of rumors. E-mails have circulated about malls that will be attacked on Halloween, about Osama bin Laden being spotted in Utah and Oliver North having warned about bin Laden at the Iran-Contra hearings in 1987. None of these turned out to be true and quickly were debunked on Internet sites devoted to "urban legends."

The most prominent of these is Snopes.com, a Website started in 1995 as a hobby by David and Barbara Mikkelson, respectively a Web programmer and housewife in the Los Angeles area. The site flags rumors with red, green or yellow lights to indicate whether the rumor is false, true or uncertain. The Mikkelsons say the site was getting 2 million "hits" per day just after the 9/11 attacks. Increasingly the establishment media are promoting Snopes as an unbiased arbiter. The site has been featured on ABC's 20/20, as well as articles in Time, Newsweek, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, which said "Snopes.com offers more background information and definitive answers on the veracity of popular rumors than any other site we looked at."

Snopes, which features the status of about 100 war-related rumors, did help to quell baseless stories about Arab-Americans cheering the attacks at a Dunkin' Donuts and the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad being involved in the Sept. 11 attacks. It also has good information on some older urban legends such as alligators in city sewers. But some observers say the site is colored by a liberal political bias and that the Mikkelsons have been too quick to label politically incorrect news stories as urban legends.

For instance, in October, Snopes listed as false the claim, in its own words, that "several [Internet] domain names related to the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on America were registered before the attack." CNSNews.com, a news site affiliated with the conservative Media Research Center, had reported in an article by Jeff Johnson that at least 17 domain names such as "worldtradetowerstrike.com," "attackontwintowers.com" and "wterrorattack2001.com" had been registered prior to the attack, some as early as July 2000. The Mikkelsons wrote that "this is a nothing story, promulgated by those looking for something sensational to write about."

They dismissed any notion the sites could be related to the terrorist attacks, declaring: "Given the prominence of New York, the prevalence of violence and horror in our popular entertainment, the millions of domain names registered over the years and the fact that the World Trade Center had already been attacked in 1993 [in the bombing that killed six people], that a handful of expired domain names used one or more of these elements should be no surprise."

But Snopes left out many facts included in the CNSNews piece that may have given the article more credibility. For one thing, the belief that these sites may have been related to the attacks was not mere speculation on the reporter's part, but the view of renowned terrorism expert Neil Livingstone, chief executive officer of the Washington-based counterterrorism and investigation company Global Options LLC. "This wasn't just some man off the street," says Johnson, CNSNews congressional bureau chief. Livingstone has written on terrorism for the New York Times and Washington Post and appeared on Nightline and Meet the Press.

Livingstone was quoted in the article as saying that terrorists like to take credit for their work and might have wanted to set up Websites for a propaganda campaign when they didn't know how successful the attacks would be. Johnson noted that bin Laden says on one of his videotapes that even he didn't think the strikes would be so successful. One of the main points of the article was Livingstone's outrage that the registration companies apparently didn't report the domain names to the FBI.

Snopes made much of the fact that the few date-related domain names did not refer to Sept. 11, but to Aug. 11 and Sept. 29. However, CNSNews had paraphrased Livingstone as saying these two dates "may have indicated the window of opportunity during which the attackers planned to strike."

CNSNews executive editor Scott Hogenson also says that Snopes mischaracterized the article as saying the sites were related to the terrorist attack when the story only raised the question of whether they might have been related to the attack. He tells Insight he e-mailed the Mikkelsons three times to correct the record and never received a reply. "They got it wrong, and they didn't even have the ethical fortitude to respond to detailed, accurate, polite queries. I think that's just low class," Hogenson says.

In a telephone interview with Insight, Barbara Mikkelson saw no need to change the status of the CNSNews report from "false" to "undetermined" or to include Livingstone's comments. "I don't know the man, and I don't know his credentials," she says. "Just because somebody's a known terrorism expert does not necessarily mean he will be right about everything."

As for not getting back to CNSNews, she says, "I don't recall it, and I will point out that we get hundreds of e-mails every day and there are just the two of us." Hogenson responds, "If they don't have time to correct their own mistakes, maybe they should not be in the business of trying to correct others." (When Insight used the e-mail link on the Snopes site to arrange its interview, Barbara Mikkelson got back to us within a day.)

Snopes also classifies as false the claim that "monies given to the September 11 Fund are being used to defend suspected terrorists." That is not actually what critics of the fund, such as the National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC), have said. They objected to a $171,000 grant the September 11 Fund gave to the New York Legal Aid Society, which defended eight detainees rounded up for visa violations in connection with the terrorist attacks. Snopes calls the NLPC's objections "foolheaded," and cites the legal-aid society's statement in a press release that none of the grant money was used to defend terrorist suspects.

"The money was used for civil legal assistance for families affected by the tragedy who needed help getting access to wills, bank accounts and insurance," the Mikkelsons wrote.

But NLPC President Peter Flaherty says Snopes should know very well that such money is fungible. "They use the same office space. They use the same phones. They use the same staff," Flaherty tells Insight. "It is by no means an urban legend; it's a serious issue." Flaherty says that most people who contributed to benefit the families of victims do no want funds going to agencies that might be defending the perpetrators. "This group obviously has a political, left-wing, anti-American agenda. What is the September 11 Fund doing providing assistance to them for any purpose?" he asks.

Even before it gained prominence with the World Trade Center attacks, Snopes had critics who accused it of cavalierly dismissing legitimate stories critical of the left as urban legends. This seemed particularly true with stories about Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Snopes got into a tussle with WorldNetDaily.com by listing as false an August 2000 story by Geoff Metcalf that Bill Clinton planned to go to Vietnam and that the Vietnamese flag would be raised above the American flag on a U.S. Navy ship. "Nothing that was described in the article actually happened, other than the trip to Vietnam," the Mikkelsons wrote just after Clinton arrived in Vietnam in November 2000. "No U.S. Navy ship flew an American flag subordinate to a Vietnamese flag," their Website said.

But Metcalf tells Insight the Clinton administration probably abandoned the flag protocol after the story created a public outrage. "According to people in the Navy, one of the reasons it didn't happen was because of the whole flag-flap ****storm that I created with the series of stories," Metcalf says. He cited Navy sources in the story, but said they didn't want to be identified in a story critical of the commander in chief. He later quoted Allan Fields, chief justice of the Marshall Islands Supreme Court, as saying that he, too, heard about the plans to lower the flag from high-ranking Navy officials on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Like CNSNews' Hogenson, Metcalf says he e-mailed Snopes three times, asking that the status of the account at least be changed to "undetermined" but received no response from the Mikkelsons.

Barbara Mikkelson tells Insight that, despite the fact that this was the first story to reveal the trip to Vietnam, she will continue to list it as false because Metcalf used anonymous sources. "He never identified the person who had supposedly said, 'This is true, because I saw the paperwork for it,'" she says. "The best he could offer was a name of someone who said, 'I heard that.'"

Yet Snopes seems to have different standards in evaluating stories involving conservatives. Take a bizarre new rumor asserting that Attorney General John Ashcroft believes that calico cats are a sign of the devil. This claim was first made in November by liberal financial writer Andrew Tobias, the treasurer of the Democratic National Committee, on his Website (andrewtobias.com). To say the least, Tobias was vague about his sources, writing only that "I got this odd story from someone who was definitely in a position to know and then confirmed it with someone else, also in a position to know." Given the stringent Mikkelson standards about anonymous sources in evaluating Metcalf's story, one would have expected them to classify the preposterous Tobias story as false. Instead, they labeled it undetermined. "What the game is here — if indeed there is one — we can't fathom," they wrote of the silly Tobias smear of Ashcroft, a cum laude graduate of Yale with a J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School.

To be sure, Snopes has quelled some rumors about President George W. Bush, such as the one about him having the lowest IQ of modern presidents. But it has split hairs trying to protect Clinton and Al Gore. For instance, Snopes flags the claim that Gore said he "invented" the Internet as false, and signaled it with a red light. The reason given is that Gore actually said he "took the initiative in creating the Internet." Never mind that many dictionaries and thesauruses list the words "invent" and "create" as synonyms. Snopes also lists as false the claim that "the Clinton administration failed to track down the perpetrators of several terrorist attacks against Americans." The Mikkelsons echo the dubious claim by Clinton's defenders that the missile strike in Afghanistan in 1998, widely thought to have been launched to distract the public from the Monica Lewinsky affair, reportedly "missed bin Laden by a few hours" and cite a Washington Post story claiming that the federal antiterrorism budget tripled to $6.7 billion on Clinton's watch.

But the biggest criticism Snopes has attracted for defending the Clintons involves Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and the Black Panthers. Differing sharply from news and historical accounts, and even from another urban-legends Website, TruthOrFiction.com, Snopes maintains that it is false that "Hillary Clinton played a significant role in defending Black Panthers accused of torturing and murdering Alex Rackley."

The Mikkelsons call a 2000 Insight piece by John Elvin detailing Clinton's role as a Yale law student in supporting the Black Panthers on trial for brutally murdering Rackley, a fellow Panther (see "Hillary Hides Her Panther Fling," July 31, 2000), a "woefully bad piece of 'journalism.'" According to Snopes, "the sum total of her involvement in the trial was that she assisted the American Civil Liberties Union [ACLU] in monitoring the trial for civil-rights violations."

In the interview with Insight, Mikkelson wonders how anyone could object to Hillary's effort on behalf of the Panthers. "She was working with the ACLU, which is what any smart law student would do," she says. When Insight points out to her that many believe some elements of the ACLU have a left-wing agenda, she replies, "There are some people who disagree with the Easter Bunny, too."

Shaky analogies aside, Hillary did more than simply compile reports. According to The First Partner, the authoritative biography by Joyce Milton, Hillary organized the students monitoring the trial, and the students "worked closely with the Panthers' lead attorney, Charles Garry." Based on the students' observations, Garry "raised a multitude of issues about the allegedly unfair treatment of his clients, which ranged from the trivial to the bizarre," Milton wrote. This strategy was ultimately successful in keeping two of the Panthers from being convicted.

Clinton later interned in Oakland for Panther lawyer Robert Treuhaft, an avowed Communist. "Anybody who leaves you with the impression that Hillary did not participate in support of the Black Panthers at the trial is not presenting an accurate impression," says Rich Buhler, operator of TruthOrFiction.com.

But Clinton was not just involved in the Panthers' legal defense. She was serving as a key editor of the Yale Review of Law and Social Action when the review published its fall 1970 issue defending the Panthers. Included in the issue were drawings of policemen as pigs, with one pig decapitated and the accompanying caption, "Seize the time." Again, the Mikkelsons put the best spin on this, writing that "no one has demonstrated that she approved (or even knew) of it." Besides, Mikkelson tells Insight, depicting the police as pigs is no big deal. "Were policemen never referred to as pigs before at colleges?" she asks.

Insight's Elvin laughs that those interested in separating rumor from fact must be at least as skeptical of Snopes as they are of urban legends in circulating e-mails. "It's obvious that they're agenda-driven," Elvin says. "The credibility that they've established is based on the laziness of reporters who have used them as a source." The NLPC's Flaherty, who also researched the Panther story when writing his biography of Hillary Clinton, The First Lady, reaches a similar conclusion. "It sounds to me like they're starting their own urban legends," he says.

John Berlau is a writer for Insight.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Extended News; Miscellaneous
KEYWORDS: apologists; bias; dishonesty; johnberlau; left; looktheotherway; rumors; snopes; snopescom; snopesdotcom; snopessucks; urbanlegend
This article is a year old, but I could not find it in the FR archives, and because so many, even here, often cite Snopes.com as a source when addressing rumors, I thought it relevant and worthy of putting in the FR archives.

When it comes to political related items, I wouldn't trust them at all. Perhaps well intentioned, but there does seem to be evidence suggesting that they are not necessarily operating in good faith regarding political rumors and analysis. Especially in whitewashing Hillary's past.

1 posted on 08/21/2003 4:23:12 PM PDT by Diddle E. Squat
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To: Diddle E. Squat
The most prominent of these is Snopes.com, a Website started in 1995 as a hobby by David and Barbara Mikkelson, respectively a Web programmer and housewife in the Los Angeles area.
2 posted on 08/21/2003 4:27:13 PM PDT by Diddle E. Squat
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To: Diddle E. Squat
OK, If I buy the Snopes.com bias does anyone know any other "myth debunking" sites?
3 posted on 08/21/2003 4:29:55 PM PDT by Aeronaut (In my humble opinion, the new expression for backing down from a fight should be called 'frenching')
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To: Aeronaut
Well the article cites TruthOrFiction.com as a source when discussing the Hillary Clinton coverage, so it might be a start.

This article doesn't mean that Snopes isn't useful, it is just a warning to be careful when it involves political analysis. Perhaps the best approach is to not treat Snopes as the authority on a topic, just another source, to be viewed with healthy skepticism until corraborated elsewhere. Just like with Free Republic or any other site.
4 posted on 08/21/2003 4:34:41 PM PDT by Diddle E. Squat
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To: Diddle E. Squat
Oops, let me rephrase that:

Perhaps the best approach is to not treat Snopes as the authority on a topic, but rather as just another source, to be viewed with healthy skepticism until corraborated elsewhere.

5 posted on 08/21/2003 4:35:52 PM PDT by Diddle E. Squat
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To: Diddle E. Squat
bttt
6 posted on 08/21/2003 4:37:50 PM PDT by 1rudeboy
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To: Diddle E. Squat
I hadn't read this before. THanks for posting it.
7 posted on 08/21/2003 4:39:26 PM PDT by Texas_Jarhead
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To: Diddle E. Squat; imhere
Well, well, well ...


8 posted on 08/21/2003 4:47:36 PM PDT by MeekOneGOP (Check out the Texas Chicken D 'RATS!: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/keyword/Redistricting)
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To: Diddle E. Squat
Snopes is incompetent to investigate the validity of anything. They make a few phone calls and believe what they are told by the powers that be.

It's just two people here, a programmer and a housewife, remember" Their investigative and reporting prowess is about as good as the NYT.
9 posted on 08/21/2003 5:00:06 PM PDT by Valpal1 (Impeach the 9th! Please!!)
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To: Valpal1; MeeknMing

10 posted on 08/21/2003 5:25:23 PM PDT by Grampa Dave (Evil Old White Devil Californian Grampa for big Al Sharpton and Nader in 2004 primaries!)
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To: Diddle E. Squat
Thanks for posting this. On the few occasions I've visited Snopes, I've been quite startled by their obvious left-wing bias, and I had actually been wondering if anyone had publicly pointed this out. Now I know.
11 posted on 08/21/2003 5:32:35 PM PDT by white rose
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To: Grampa Dave
hehe !




12 posted on 08/21/2003 6:00:24 PM PDT by MeekOneGOP (Check out the Texas Chicken D 'RATS!: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/keyword/Redistricting)
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To: Diddle E. Squat
boomp
13 posted on 08/21/2003 6:01:07 PM PDT by Constitutionalist Conservative (http://c-pol.com)
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To: Diddle E. Squat
I've noticed snopes bias, too. One particular instance is "Hillary refusing to meet with Gold Star Mothers". They have it listed as a "hoax" when the story is actually partially correct. The women tried to make an appointment and couldn't, finally going to her office directly. The staff member was very rude to them and didn't bother even telling them that Hillary was out of town. Hillary apologized to the Gold Star Mothers, stating that her "staff" was new and not fully trained yet.

The email floating around about this is somewhat conflated, but this did happen. Snopes has it listed as a hoax.

14 posted on 08/21/2003 6:01:36 PM PDT by Tamzee (I was a vegetarian until I started leaning toward the sunlight...... Rita Rudner)
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To: Aeronaut
OK, If I buy the Snopes.com bias does anyone know any other "myth debunking" sites?

The Usenet newsgroup alt.folklore.urban is a good place to start. It's an open discussion group, so the participants can be called out instantly on any biases they may have.

The participants of AFU also maintain a large web site at www.urbanlegends.com. Unfortunately, it's only sporadically updated.

15 posted on 08/21/2003 6:04:24 PM PDT by Timesink
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To: Diddle E. Squat
"Nothing that was described in the article actually happened, other than the trip to Vietnam,"

The author understates the Vietnam part of this story, but it's not his fault. I wish I would have mirrored Snopes buying the Clinton White House line on this at the time, but their original "debunking" of the whole story had even the Clinton Vietnam trip happening as bunk. They had to change it when the White House finally fessed up that Clinton was indeed going on a trip to Vietnam, after the libs bashed that article and author for a couple of weeks.

16 posted on 08/21/2003 6:14:09 PM PDT by Hillarys Gate Cult ("Read Hillary's hips. I never had sex with that woman.")
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To: Diddle E. Squat
When it comes to political related items, I wouldn't trust them at all. Perhaps well intentioned...

I have investigated Snopes for a couple of things that my brain will not allow me to remember tonight (sorry) and my conclusion is that they are full of s**t. They are untrustworthy and not just for political stuff. They have an agenda. Someone who will dissemble at all is untrustworthy all the time. Plus they are arrogant, and liberalism is a mental illness.

17 posted on 08/21/2003 9:45:18 PM PDT by First Amendment
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To: Diddle E. Squat
I thought it relevant and worthy of putting in the FR archives

I agree! No news provider is perfect, but Insight is about as diligent a crew as there is.

18 posted on 08/21/2003 9:50:44 PM PDT by mrustow (no tag)
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To: Diddle E. Squat
When I first found that site, I greatly enjoyed reading it. Since I read a lot of it right after I found the site, it didn't take long before I realized that something was not right (in fact, something was left).

Notice the attitude of the Mikkelson woman--just as reflected in this article. Notice her obvious feeling that she could never be wrong about anything. She is arrogant.

I found a bit of that in the website, too. As soon as you see that arrogance, that certainty that they could never, ever be wrong about anything, you KNOW you are reading or seeing a flaming liberal asshole.
19 posted on 08/22/2003 8:54:24 AM PDT by Devil_Anse
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lunch bump
20 posted on 08/22/2003 9:58:35 AM PDT by Diddle E. Squat
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To: Diddle E. Squat
Great article! I've never seen this before.

Thanks.

21 posted on 08/22/2003 10:04:20 AM PDT by Constitution Day
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To: Aeronaut
"does anyone know any other "myth debunking" sites?"

You are on one of those sites right now.

Myths don't last very long, here on FR! Our fellow FReepers are the BEST at wading through the daily 'stack of stuff' and finding the real facts.
22 posted on 08/22/2003 10:10:17 AM PDT by spoiler2
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To: spoiler2
Myths don't last very long, here on FR! Our fellow FReepers are the BEST at wading through the daily 'stack of stuff' and finding the real facts.

Extreemly good point.

23 posted on 08/22/2003 10:12:30 AM PDT by Aeronaut (In my humble opinion, the new expression for backing down from a fight should be called 'frenching')
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Apparently this thread needs an occasional bump, seems to be a good number of people who still aren't aware of Snopes.com's liberal bias.
24 posted on 12/29/2003 1:13:46 PM PST by Diddle E. Squat (www.firethebcs.com, www.weneedaplayoff.com, www.firemackbrown.com, www.firecarlreese.com)
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To: Devil_Anse
My wife is a "never wrong"; I'm an "always right".

I'll struggle to make things right, even though that means being "wrong", or being perceived as "wrong". That last is the rub. The struggle for right is not always pretty, and to most "ugly" always seems wrong.

So it's a merit to her that's she's never wrong, and perhaps a demerit to me that I'll accept more abuse and rawness to learn the truth or to right something than a person should take. And she, by being "never wrong" -- a genuine Queen, the princess who was bothered by the pea -- forces me to package up myself and my communications in a pleasant way.

And when my delivery is unpleasant, even honest bad news, delivered without the greatest care, timing and gentIeness, I am held to account for that, and I should be.

25 posted on 12/29/2003 1:30:42 PM PST by bvw
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To: Diddle E. Squat
Apparently this thread needs an occasional bump, seems to be a good number of people who still aren't aware of Snopes.com's liberal bias.</>

Agreed. Bump

26 posted on 01/04/2004 8:35:28 AM PST by FreeAtlanta
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To: FreeAtlanta
Thanks, bump
27 posted on 01/04/2004 10:57:32 AM PST by Diddle E. Squat (www.firethebcs.com, www.weneedaplayoff.com, www.firemackbrown.com, www.firecarlreese.com)
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To: Diddle E. Squat; nunya bidness
If FR had a "quick search" dictionary, this would have to be an entry. I appreciate, therefore I BUMP.

28 posted on 01/04/2004 4:15:10 PM PST by AnnaZ ("And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God..." ~Romans 8:28a~)
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To: AnnaZ
I'm glad to have read this article -- BUMP.
29 posted on 02/22/2004 1:56:26 PM PST by Rightone
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To: Diddle E. Squat
Good one.
I've stopped using them two years ago.
30 posted on 02/22/2004 2:02:44 PM PST by mabelkitty
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To: Diddle E. Squat
*It's-good-to-know-your-sources Bump*
31 posted on 02/22/2004 2:04:55 PM PST by Yardstick
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To: Yardstick
Bookmarked and bumped.
32 posted on 02/22/2004 2:53:06 PM PST by The Grammarian
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To: Tamsey
They are Clinton lovers. Mr. KABC, who bills himself as "the logical liberal", has them on his stupid show all the time.
33 posted on 02/22/2004 4:04:12 PM PST by JohnnyP
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To: JohnnyP
bump! I've always felt this, but never spoke up when Freepers quote them like they are the final authority.
34 posted on 03/04/2004 9:29:12 AM PST by CharlieOK1
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To: Diddle E. Squat
Apparently this thread needs an occasional bump, seems to be a good number of people who still aren't aware of Snopes.com's liberal bias.

. . .bump/update on Snopes.

(Was checking some Obama 'factoids' and was amazed at the obvious bias here. Not the first time, Liberal persuasions noted; but thought I would 'bump' and remind; and see if others have updated experiences here re snopes.

(If nothing else; a good reminder. . .it is frustrating to have someone say. . .of course, Obama was a Professor of Constitutional Law or 'whatever'; just check Snopes!) Worse to see Snopes confirm 'lies(?)misstatements of fact put forth by Obama in his autobiographies. . .confirmed by using same book(s) to make their point. . .

35 posted on 10/08/2008 1:11:47 AM PDT by cricket (America's Freedom Rings! Thank You ~ U..S.A. Military~)
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To: cricket

bumpity bump


36 posted on 04/29/2009 9:47:32 AM PDT by Chiltepe
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To: Chiltepe

Not sure what a bump does but it’s been a while since there was one....


37 posted on 08/28/2010 7:34:26 PM PDT by samgoober
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To: musicman

BFLR


38 posted on 07/26/2011 5:04:47 PM PDT by musicman (Until I see the REAL Long Form Vault BC, he's just "PRES__ENT" Obama = Without "ID")
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To: Diddle E. Squat
I learned sometime ago to just skip snopes. I found some of their so called Urban Legends were flat out wrong.

Everytime you click on their site they earn money...I am not one who has any interest in supporting haters of America.

39 posted on 07/26/2011 5:14:03 PM PDT by shield (Rev 2:9 "Woe unto those who say they are Judahites and are not, but are of the synaGOGue of Satan.")
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To: Aeronaut
Why do you need any organization....I realized long ago it was a worthless site...I found it to be too bias and figured they were part of the American haters of the left. Also, I am not interested in supporting them...everytime you click on their site they make money.

You can easily find what is real and just bs by doing your own searches. I've been doing that for a very long time.

40 posted on 07/26/2011 5:22:41 PM PDT by shield (Rev 2:9 "Woe unto those who say they are Judahites and are not, but are of the synaGOGue of Satan.")
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