Sometimes all the dithering and cogitation about fake news and spinning the news seems like one really long mobius strip. No matter how you turn it, it has only one side, and that side keeps coming back to the beginning. Or is it the end? But there is no end.
Take the contemplative piece out of The Herald-Sun in Durham, N.C., this weekend. A guest columnist illustrates the art of news spin by recounting a tale about Nevada’s lovable ex-Sen. Harry Reid’s gene pool.
According to the columnist, who credits a North Carolinian blogger for the tale, a genealogist discovered that the former Senate majority leader had a great-great-uncle by the name of Remus Reid, who in the 1800s was hanged as a horse thief. (Sorry, the full story disappeared behind a pay wall this morning.)
But the writer makes the point that the same set of facts can be told in different ways to reach a different conclusion — saying that, when asked about the infamous uncle, Reid’s office replied with something like this:
“Remus Reid was a famous cowboy in the Montana Territory. His business empire grew to include acquisition of valuable equestrian assets and intimate dealings with the Montana railroad. Beginning in 1883, he devoted several years of his life to government service, finally taking leave to resume his dealings with the railroad. In 1887, he was a key player in a vital investigation run by the renowned Pinkerton Detective Agency. In 1889, Remus passed away during an important civic function held in his honor when the platform upon which he was standing collapsed.”
I say the quote is like this, because I refuse to pay the dollar to see the story again, but the above quote is from a 2009 blog post from the Las Vegas newspaper, and numerous other sources from that time period.
While this current iteration makes a nice point about spinning the facts, it is all the more telling, because it is based on a total fabrication — a hoax, a humbug, a canard.
As I recounted in a follow-up blog:
When the e-mail claiming some genealogist had discovered Nevada Sen. Harry Reid had a great-uncle named Remus who was hanged in Montana in 1889 as a horse thief and train robber came in over the electronic transom on Monday, I checked it out on the usual hoax-busting Web sites, fired off what I hoped was a humorous blog posting, and went back to my day job of saving mankind from its customary predilection to gullibility and assorted tomfoolery.
The same photo was used to claim the hanged man was a relative of numerous other politicians, including Hillary Clinton, Al Gore and the George Bushes. But who’d you rather have fall from the family tree? A horse thief or a politician?
These things never seem to die. They just keep spinning and spinning and spinning.
Shouldn’t the name Uncle Remus be a hint?