That isn’t what wrong means

During my lunch break at work I use a news reader to browse articles, and I regularly tweet links to the more interesting ones. One such article I tweeted recently explained how a formerly notorious Holocaust denier had changed his name and hid out in California for about twenty years, being very active in a group called the Republican Party Animals.

His true identity was uncovered recenty, and he’s admitted it’s true, the article said, and his RPA friends have been quick to distance themselves from him, to say he was no longer welcome at their events, and so on.

Some total stranger sent me a message, insisting that the story I had linked got a lot of things wrong, and sent me a link to a story on a right-wing “news” site.

I read the second story and learned that this Holocaust denier had changed his name, moved to California, and became involved in the RPA until his real identity was discovered and they kicked him out.

In other words, every single fact, every one, that was in the article I originally linked was repeated and confirmed as a fact in the second article. The second article did not dispute anything at all in the first.

Which isn’t to say that the articles are identitical. The first article focused on the imposter himself, explaining in some detail his activities before changing his name, then explaining in some detail how he cultivated friendships among the California Conservatives until they learned who he was.

The second article left out a lot of those details, sticking to the broadest facts, and spent most of its words saying again, and again, and again, “but none of us agree with his objectionable opinions.” In other words, it isn’t really a news article, it’s a defensive denial.

It is true that the first article does not explicitly say that none of the others agree with the Holocaust denier. It says that they have all disavowed his views. Which is not really a contradiction. The “disavowal” is a verifiable fact. The other version is at best difficult to prove, since we don’t have mind-reading technology. I suspect that the second one is also a lie: I would be surprised if there weren’t at the very least one or two who secretly holds some of those views, because such people are everywhere, even in liberal organizations.

People throw that word “wrong” around when what they really mean is, “it doesn’t espouse my worldview and priorities” often without regard to any factual content.

For several years I’ve been the editor of a very small science fiction zine, and in every issue I write a short editorial. For many years those editorials were simply essays on some aspect of science fiction or fantasy writing history. Once, in an essay on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s contributions to the genre, I mentioned that Hawthorne, Edgar Allen Poe, and Mary Shelley are sometimes referred to as the “grandparents of science fiction.” That’s the only thing I said about Poe.

One reader wrote in, very upset about the gross inaccuracies I wrote about Poe, and he included an article he had xeroxed out of some magazine. The article was some conspiracy theory nonsense about Poe being involved in some secret behind the scenes war of espionage against some shadowy organization out to destroy democracy. Only one sentence in the entire article even mentioned that Poe was a writer of any sort. Nothing in the article contradicted the one and only thing I had said about Poe. My mention of one fact about Poe’s writing did not, in any imaginable way, disagree with anything in the article.

My mention of Poe was “wrong” because I didn’t make any mention of the insane conspiracy theory. I happened to mention someone that this person had some pretty whacko beliefs about, without furthering the whacko agenda.

That’s the case here. These folks are afraid that people will believe that many of them are Holocaust deniers because one of their buddies has been one. And anyone who doesn’t bend over backward to tell everyone multiple times that none of them feel that way is “getting things wrong.”

No. We’re just not helping you with your damage control. Damage control that would be a lot easier to believe if some of you hadn’t financed a couple of his more recent documentaries that don’t completely deny the Holocaust, but give equal time to the deniers.

But I’m sure you just went along with that because you believe in making things fair and balanced. Right?

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