Thursday, May 6, 2010

How 'Facts' Get Started

As one might imagine, we get virulent calls from dear readers who disagree with our editorial positions, with the opinions of our columnists, with the judgments of our letter writers and with the caustic nature of our cartoonists.

We often imagine the poor caller, sitting alone in the parlor, temples throbbing and teeth grinding. We are grateful for such calls, happy that we live in a society where disagreement is woven into our national fabric. We don't mind the debate, at least up to the point that the caller resorts to throwing the f-word around as though the f-word validates his/her argument and underscores his/her disgust.

Unfortunately, I wasn't in the office yesterday when one particular hostile reader called the desk to vent her spleen about an editorial we carried on Sunday about immigration. Immigration is an issue that sparks the sort of unrefined rage I have not experienced since I was in high school back in the early 70s, when I worked as a loader of bread trucks with a bunch of older white men who became particularly unpleasant whenever the topic of segregation came up, which was often.

Yesterday's spleen venter professed, with a certainty that was absolute, that at least 80 percent of the alleged felons rounded up last week in Operation Knockout were illegal aliens. She concluded that crimes and gang violence would virtually disappear from Monterey County if all the illegals were rounded up and sent back where they belong.

Everyone has an opinion, but I wondered how in God's name she came up with that 80 percent figure, to the point that she was confident enough to assert it as fact. With even my piddling knowledge of Nuestra Familia, the gang organization targeted by Operation Knockout, I was aware that the NF is populated by a multi-generational line of thugs who have been around for decades, and not the newbie gang thugs that only recently snuck across the border.

As it turns out, the percentage claim was a screwy rumor that got morphed into "fact" after someone mentioned it on a television news broadcast last week. The "fact" gained traction among the yammering spreaders of rumor and innuendo who lurk on online comment sites and radio talk shows.

We will be publishing a story Friday that clears up the assertion, a story that uses local law enforcement officers and immigration officials as sources. Jail and immigration officials say they know of only one of the arrestees who is an undocumented immigrant. Forty people were detained in Operation Knockout. That's more like .025 percent.

Unless law enforcement and immigration officials are part of some evil conspiracy to give illegal immigrants a break in the court of public opinion, I'm inclined to believe them.

1 comment:

  1. Joe, fighting ignorance is like spitting into the wind. Once a "fact" has spread, truth is no longer believed.