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NewsMax's Urban Legend

Not only does it consider a four-year-old e-mail to be current news, part of it is factually wrong -- not that NewsMax bothered to fact-check it in the first place.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 4/7/2004

Not too long ago, ConWebWatch noted as part of a recent spate of silliness by NewsMax a Feb. 15 article that purports to compare statistics about who voted in the 2000 presidential election.

Turns out those "2000 Election Facts" -- actually, an e-mail that has been floating around for years -- were not just silly, they are also, in part, flat-out wrong.

Here is what NewsMax's article says:

Professor Joseph Olson of Hamline University School of Law, St. Paul, Minnesota, points out some interesting facts concerning the most recent Presidential election:

Population of counties won by:
Gore = 127 million
Bush = 143 million

Square miles of land won by:
Gore = 580,000
Bush = 2,2427,000

States won by:
Gore = 19
Bush = 29

Murder rate per 100,000 residents in counties won by:
Gore = 13.2
Bush = 2.1

The first big error: Olson didn't say any of this. As the urban legend-busting folks at discovered, while there is indeed a Hamline University and a Professor Joseph Olson, he "confirmed that he had no authorship or involvement in this matter." Olson's name apparently got added to the e-mail somewhere along the line.

The statistics on the population of counties and land area appear to be accurate, Snopes reports, but they're irrelevant to NewsMax's headline claim that "Red States Are the Real America." Counties and land masses don't vote; you'd think NewsMax might have noticed that by now.

The murder rate, however, is completely wrong. Snopes computed homicide data by county for 1999 and 2000 from the National Archive of Criminal Justice Data and came up with quite different numbers. According to Snopes, the murder rate in Bush counties was 4.1 and in Gore counties, 6.5. A distinct difference, but not as dramatic as the one NewsMax advances.

This is not the first instance of this legend appearing on NewsMax. To show how old this little legend is, Neal Boortz cited it in a Nov. 29, 2000, column, complete with erroneous reference to Olson and incorrect murder rate statistics, to which he adds: "Ah, those Gore voters. This country needs more of them, right?" Diane Alden also cited it in a Dec. 5, 2000, commentary.

In fact, ConWebWatch wrote about Boortz's column back in 2000, noting where Boortz didn't that Olson was a member of the National Rifle Association board of directors. That's how old this thing is. And NewsMax is treating it as a "current" news story?

The number of states listed is a big clue to the e-mail's age. Note that the numbers add up to only 48. As Snopes points out, this implies the original article was written before the results of the Florida and New Mexico vote-counts were determined; the final tallies were 30 states for Bush and 20 for Gore. So much for copy-editing at NewsMax -- they couldn't even be bothered to add up those obviously incorrect numbers.

That's not the only case of e-mail legends creeping into NewsMax copy. Snopes reports that the stats e-mail usually includes a quote from "Alexander Tyler," an 18-century Scottish history professor, comparing the U.S. to the lifespan of the Athenian Empire of ancient Greece and the following sequence of events in a democracy:

From Bondage to spiritual faith;
From spiritual faith to great courage;
From courage to liberty;
From liberty to abundance;
From abundance to complacency;
From complacency to apathy;
From apathy to dependence;
From dependence back into bondage."

The problem? First, wrong name. Snopes concludes the e-mail is referring to Alexander Fraser Tytler, who was indeed an 18-century Scottish history professor, which brings us to the second problem -- there is no evidence that Tytler said anything about the lifespan of democracies.

Yet NewsMax writers fell for this, too. Miguel A. Faria Jr., NewsMax's resident Castro-basher, got Tytler's name right in an August 2001 article but erroneously attributes the Athenian democracy quote to him. George Putnam cites the bondage sequence in a November 2003 column but attributes it to Ezra Taft Benson, secretary of agriculture in the Eisenhower administration and former president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons).

NewsMax wasn't the only one suckered in. WorldNetDaily's Joseph Farah recited the bondage-to-bondage sequence, credited generically to "historians," in a July 2000 column and again in July 2002 (in fact, both columns are pretty much the same, so instead of plagiarizing others, Farah in this instance plagiarizes himself).

What does it say about NewsMax that it considers an incorrect four-year-old e-mail to be current news? Nothing about journalistic integrity, that's for sure.

* * *

Other recent silliness at NewsMax:

-- The latest Kerry-bashing: NewsMax ran two stories about plans by the Bush re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee against John Kerry's campaign and supporting groups for allegedly illegally coordinating spending of "soft money" in the campaign. Missing from both stories: any reaction from the Kerry campaign.

-- Jon Dougherty Sycophancy Alert: The One-Source Wonder (who, by the way, got suckered by those statistics too way back when) turned in a fine suck-up effort April 5 on William Bennett's new radio show. Typical sentence from the story: "Bennett will have a natural, nationwide audience who like his no nonsense conservative talk."

-- And amidst all this mindless Kerry-bashing, sycophancy and reporting of lies by his employer, NewsMax columnist Phil Brennan wrote a March 31 column attacking (surprise) "the socialist elite who dominate the mainstream media." The headline for his column? "The Truth Is Not In Them." One typical sentence: "The chances are that when it comes to their coverage of the presidential campaign, you are being deceived."

Brennan will never admit it, of course, but the sad fact is that he's talking about NewsMax, too.

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