I was reading this article on Slate about how the whole “terrorist fist jab” meme got started. Basically, this media blogger is talking about how he mistakenly attributed one of the comments in a conservative blog to the author of the blog (since, crazy as conservative bloggers are, they’re not as crazy as the people who read them). Then a few other blogs and news organizations started talking about how conservatives were calling the fist bump a terrorist gesture, which led to the fox news comment.
Basically, we expect rumors to filter upwards from the population and then leak into mainstream media through the blogs. However, this example shows how the entire process can be circumvented by putting the idea that there is such a rumor in a prominent opinion-makers head.
And what better place to get a rumor directly into the national consciousness than using that all-purpose urban legend debunker, snopes.com. It seems that one could send a rumor that one has composed oneself to that repository and then, once it was debunked, the fact that it has been addressed by a prominent news source will lend it credibility. Of course there are alot of people passing this around, or why would there be a need to debunk it. Then, Obama’s website (fightthesmears.com) will be forced to address the rumor, and then the national media will be forced to pick it up.
The real question is, which side does this benefit? Is it good for the democrats to think that Republicans are out there secretly slandering them (to fire up the base and get back a little bit of that “underdog status”)? Or is that benefit undercut by the massive free media attention that the rumor will get? For instance, I doubt many people came away from that debacle thinking that Obama uses terrorist gestures. But it is possible that a little whiff of unpatriotism and alien-ness was attached to him from the whole thing, a whiff that subconsciously influences more voters than the anger over its falseness influences those on the other side.