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26 October 2008
How Republican attack e-mails work, part two
Let's stay on the theme of Republican attack e-mails and look at what has probably been the best of the bunch so far. It started life back in October 2007 and in spite of the fact that it has been thoroughly discredited many times over it still manages to keep going.

The smear has its origins in this September 2007 photograph of Barack Obama declining to place his right hand over his left tit when the American national anthem was played. The photograph, which is genuine, caused outrage in the knuckle-dragging section of the American population.

The following month an American political satirist named John Semmens published this very short piece which ridiculed Obama's stance:
Obama Explains National Anthem Stance

Hot on the heels of his explanation for why he no longer wears a flag pin, presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama was forced to explain why he doesn’t follow protocol when the National Anthem is played.

According to the United States Code, Title 36, Chapter 10, Sec. 171, During rendition of the national anthem when the flag is displayed, all present except those in uniform are expected to stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart.

"As I’ve said about the flag pin, I don’t want to be perceived as taking sides," Obama said. "There are a lot of people in the world to whom the American flag is a symbol of oppression. And the anthem itself conveys a war-like message. You know, the bombs bursting in air and all. It should be swapped for something less parochial and less bellicose. I like the song ‘I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.’ If that were our anthem, then I might salute it."
People began to forward this around by e-mail, but without telling the recipients that it was actually a piece of satire.

By September of this year the article was being forwarded as a Washington Post story, written by the fictitious Dale Lindsborg which claimed to be a report of a 7th September television interview on CNN's Meet The Press. Not only was Obama not on the show that day, but Lindsborg isn't even a Scandinavian surname, however that hasn't stopped the mail from going the rounds.

Why are people still circulating it? Partly because it meets the Exile's three requirements for a good, effective smear: it is simple, plausible and interesting. However, there is another factor at work in all these smears that we didn't realise until investigations began to analyse this one: they are not being placed exclusively on political websites.

How these e-mails go viral seems to be due to the fact that they are being posted on discussion boards that have nothing whatsoever to do with politics. Discussion boards that ordinary people read, in other words.

Take the Fishing Buddy website as a case in point. It is a site for fishing enthusiasts, and offers rather nice calenders like this one to its readers. It also has a forum where the fake Lindsborg mail has been posted.

If you search the web, paying particular attention to the sporting sites, then you will find this bit of GOP agitprop, and an awful lot of others to boot.

The Democrats tend to post their versions on political websites where they are only read by people who are interested in politics. The Republicans know that real people have to be influenced, so they target the sites where they congregate.

That also helps to explain why the smears are so difficult to combat. The people who hit these sites tend not to be the types who even know about Snopes.com and its smear debunking activities. They are the people who will read something like this and accept it because it will tie in with their already existing political values, and it meets the simple, plausible and interesting test.

Barack Obama really should count his lucky stars that the economy is tanking because otherwise these smears would be helping to win the election for John McCain.

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