What is it about human nature that so makes us want to accept conspiracy theories about obvious falsehoods?
Paul McCartney is dead ... Tupac Shakur is alive ... Fluoridated water is a communist plot ... The Trilateral Commission is plotting to create a One-World government ...
The list is really almost endless. And this in an age when accurate information is more plentiful and accessible than ever. Oddly, it's one reason why newspapers are more relevant now than ever.
It was one thing to believe that a couple dozen men and women were practicing witchcraft in Salem, Mass., in 1692, when people had neither facts nor inclinations to dispel their basest superstitions. But, even before Wednesday, when the president of the United States felt compelled to stand before the American public and all but shake his long-form birth certificate before the cameras, any American could go online and see a high-resolution legal copy of the document. Any citizen or non-citizen could go to the morgue of the two Hawaii newspapers that listed his birth among their routine announcements, or just go online to find the announcements in one of numerous stories written about them over the course of more than two years. They could go to snopes.com or truthorfiction.com to find lengthy descriptions of both the evidence demonstrating Barack Obama's birth as a U.S. citizen and the many falsehoods and forgeries circulating about his claim to citizenship.
And still, enough people were skeptical that they could count a quasi-legitimate presidential candidate among their number. The problem is that while facts and truth are indeed plentiful and accessible today, so are falsehoods and forgeries. In the age of the Internet, you can easily find almost anything to support whatever cockamamie notion you wish to conjecture. If you aren't inclined to go out looking for proof of your vilest suspicions about your political enemies or about cultural figures whose ideas you don't like, you can just sit back and sift through your email. No doubt one of your fellow travelers has found something to foment your outrage, and if even that has failed to sufficiently rouse you, spammers will descend upon your email account with a daily onslaught of "facts" that nobody else knows and the traditional news media are deliberately hiding.
Enter your friendly local newspaper.
I will be the first to tell you to be critical of anything you read or hear, here or elsewhere. No information source can be sanitized of bias, however good its intentions. But let me also tell you that the intentions of the Daily Herald and of most legitimate print and broadcast outlets are very good. Our commitment to providing accurate, thorough factual information outweighs any other ideological or personal mission we may have. There's a reason Hosea Paddock listed only "to tell the truth" -- and not a phrase promoting some cause or ideal -- among his newspaper's three aims.
Truth, of course, can be a moving target. Even John Lennon once lectured his ex-bandmate that "those freaks was right when they said you was dead." Nor, much as we in the business would prefer otherwise, is everything true simply because you read it in the newspaper. You have to apply your own rational thought to what you see, hear and read. In the age of information overload, keep in mind that the one source that respects your rational thought above your emotional reactions is right here in your hands. Or on your computer screen or your laptop or your hand-held; you know what I mean.
Jim Slusher, firstname.lastname@example.org, is an assistant managing editor at the Daily Herald. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.