THE BLOG
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

That Something Is Published Does Not Make It True

I'm not on anyone's list to receive emails or blogs or even solicitations for money from extremely right wing, politically conservative organizations or their counterparts, organizations whose members hold equally passionate liberal views. But a few of my friends are very partisan and actively involved in politics. Lately several of these friends have sent me extremely conservative blogs.

It's important to acknowledge that (1) I would expect the same aggressive tone that I found in the very conservative blogs to be in extremely liberal ones and (2) the kinds of unsubstantiated assertions seen in these blogs are probably most often online where factual validation is not required for publication and publication is usually free.

In the political blogs I've been sent, I've seen inference, innuendo and exaggeration used for character assassination. That's not only distasteful, in my opinion it's downright irresponsible and dangerous. This blog is a call for rational analytic reading. That something is published does not make it true -- especially online.

As an example of the kind of writing that appalls me I'm going to extract passages from a blog which was forwarded to me by my friend Len, a doctor who is politically aware and involved. He sent the article because he wanted to know what I thought of it. The blog is "Obama's Revenge -- Can YOU Handle the Truth," posted by Joan Swirsky on February 15, 2009. http://www.redcounty.com/sarasota/2009/02/obamas-revenge

Excerpts from "Obama's Revenge"
The following paragraphs are excerpts from this blog.
"Once upon a time, a white teenager from Kansas got pregnant by her black Kenyan boyfriend, Barack Obama Sr.., or was it her husband? Whatever. (I say whatever because we've never seen either marriage or divorce certificates).
... we've never seen an authentic birth certificate).
"It didn't take long for Barry's mother to meet and marry an Indonesian native named Lolo Soetoro. They moved to Indonesia, where her child became Barry Soetoro, took on Indonesian citizenship, and was presumably schooled in public, Christian, and Muslim schools. (I say presumably because we've never seen those school records).
"Yet the abandoned and rejected child was lucky. His white-devil grandparents gave him a comfortable life in Hawaii, and an education that apparently qualified him to attend several prestigious schools - Occidental College in CA, Columbia Univ. in NY City, and Harvard Law School in Cambridge, MA.(I say apparently qualified because we've never seen any of his college transcripts).
"When given the opportunity to join one of dozens of churches in Chicago, Barry - who had morphed into Barack - opted for the Trinity United Church of Christ, which was led by the fire-breathing Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose decades-long anti-American and anti-Semitic rants apparently resonated in Obama's rejected and abandoned heart and soul. (I say apparently resonated because in over 20 years of regular attendance, Obama said he heard nothing inflammatory or anti-American, ...).
"Journalist Jack Cashill has credibly speculated that Obama's two memoirs were actually written by his pal Bill Ayers, who was and is a University of Illinois at Chicago English professor, having escaped life in prison on a technicality.
"Or he could be a malignant narcissist, which psychiatrist Dr. Otto Kernberg, a legendary leader in thought disorders, compares to a narcissist on steroids. This variety involves paranoid traits ... and ego-syntonic aggression ...
"Obama's father was a self-aggrandizing narcissist who thought nothing of throwing his son away to fulfill his own ambitions and his mother also threw him away for the same reason. Talk about DNA, ...
"Obama thus signals his intent to bring financial ruin on those who won't accept his cover-up of the circumstances of his birth is a tactical escalation.
"You can be sure that the sad-lonely-angry two-year-old, the jealous-confused-resentful 10-year-old, the self-conscious- cheated-victimized adolescent, and the man who found solace in and identified with his hate-America mentors is now determined to redeem all of his demons.
This is Obama's revenge!"

Here is my response to my friend:Dear Len,
"Obama's Revenge - Can YOU handle the truth?" is Joan Swirsky's challenge to any reader. But my brief review of the material causes me to ask the author, "Can YOU recognize the truth?"

Since I am not politically involved except for knowing the issues, having an opinion and always voting, my answer to your question, "What do you think of this article?" will be confined to a politically neutral position and an analysis of the data-deficient allegations and conclusions.

The observations about how his mother and father treated him and how that impacted Obama's personality, motives and priorities, are based only on inference. While it is true that one can predict outcomes or behaviors of groups of people based on large-scale group statistics, one cannot use data from groups to predict or explain the outcomes of experiences for an individual. For example, confidence and especially resilience are qualities that develop as a result of positive outcomes of negative experiences.

It is, therefore, possible to reconstruct Obama's younger years as constructive -- or destructive. Therefore the damning conclusions about Obama's personality and values are based only on unsupported inferences and gross interpretations by the author and are not supported in any way by data.

Note that I am not able to conclude whether she is right or wrong in her assertions. Rather, the point is she is drawing conclusions where she has inadequate information. She is, for that reason, out of order and out of line.

Len, many of the author's assertions and conclusions are based on the absence of data. Something that is absent cannot be tested and therefore corroborated or dismissed. It is best, therefore, to either see that as the impetus to find the information -- or ignore the assertion. What you cannot do is treat the assertion as a fact. Just look, for example, at the manipulation of the reader in the sentence that begins, "Journalist Jack Cashill has credibly speculated..." and the author then continues the sentence as though speculation means proved.

Even more flagrant, the sentence continues "that Obama's two memoirs were actually written by his pal Bill Ayers, who was and is a University of Illinois at Chicago English professor, having escaped life in prison on a technicality". All the author actually knows is Bill Ayers is an English Professor at a well known university. That's it. But Obama is damned by the author's speculation that someone else wrote his memoirs and that person should be in jail. Talk about damning by imagination... "Gee, if Obama didn't actually write his memoirs, I wonder who did..."

Like the previous paper you sent me, this is an example of conspiracy theory. In my lifetime, beginning with Kennedy's assassination and, with the exception of Nixon and Watergate, (and 9/11) conspiracy theorists have not been able to prove their assertions. It is critical to remember that with a free press - including the internet -- no one person, organization or viewpoint controls the media. At the same time, breaking a really big story is the one certain route to success in every form of media. It is, therefore, far more logical to start from the premise that the absent but inferred devastating information does not exist than it is to assume it is invisible because it has been hidden.

Similarly, the author reaches major political and personal conclusions based on Obama's choices of associates, friends and spouse. While I personally found the choice of Wright as pastor very difficult to understand, I know that if this were a real biography we would have the context of the period of time in which something happened. That is often crucial to having things in an appropriate perspective.