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Monday, May 2, 2016

Basic Biittner : Following up Erroneous 'facts'

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

This column is In reference to a column I did last week, which quoted an e-mail I had received, which cited several wrongdoings by U.S. Congressman. In my column, I admitted that I didn't know if the accusations were accurate. Thanks to the website, snopes.com, I can report the following:

The e-mail quoted in my columnn was drawn from a series of of articles that appeared in the on-line publication Capitol Hill Blue, back in 1999. The series ("Congress: America's Criminal Class") included lengthy articles about four specific members of Congress and a finale detailing Congress' "long tradition of corruption and ambivalence."

The original article is now a decade old (having been published in 1999), and even when first published didn't list any names or state when its information was collected, so there's no telling how many of the people referenced might still be in Congress.

The list is long on vague innuendo and woefully short of hard facts. It describes members of Congress who have supposedly been "arrested," "accused," or "defendants," but doesn't mention a single case (anonymous or otherwise) of any of them having been convicted (or even tried) on criminal charges, no matter how minor, or of having been found liable in a civil lawsuit. We're told that "117 members of the House and Senate have run at least two businesses each that went bankrupt, often leaving business partners and creditors holding the bag," but get no detail about who these members were, the nature of the businesses that failed, why the businesses failed, or who was left "holding the bag" (and for how much). We're also told that "twenty-nine members of Congress have been accused of spousal abuse in either criminal or civil proceedings," but find nothing about any of them actually being convicted or ordered to pay civil damages.

Lacking any specific context, some of these claims border on the silly. "Twenty-one [Congress members] are current defendants in various lawsuits, ranging from bad debts, disputes with business partners or other civil matters." How much significance should we place on such a vague statement in our litigious society, where just about anyone can find himself a defendant in a civil lawsuit over the most frivolous of matters (or nothing at all)? And "seventy-one of them have credit reports so bad they can't get an American Express card"? Based on what -- irresponsible overspending, absent-mindedly making a few late credit card payments, or simply being the innocent victim of a credit reporting agency screw-up? Once again, nothing in the original enables the reader to make any such distinction.

While some of our Congressional representatives certainly have less-than-stellar personal records, many of them are of course dedicated, honest, hard-working public servants. Tarring them all with the brush of anonymous, vague accusation does no one any good.

Kudos to my son Aaron for directing me to this site, which I have now bookmarked, and will use the next time I receive questionable information.

And I promise that I won't report such information in the future until I have checked it out and had it verified.

Dan Whitney
Basic Biittner