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How Barack Obama combats malignant rumors without repeating them

June 11, 2008 | 12:41 am

First, we need to clear the air about our colleague, David Sarno, the clever fellow who writes for The Times' Web Scout blog.

No one has come forward with any proof of the rumors that he's a Chinese sleeper agent sent here to confuse Americans about how the Internet and popular culture interface while his parents aThe truth is Scarlett Johansson has nothing to do with David Sarno's blog item on the internet, except maybe sometimes she uses it. But the actress is an active supporter of Barack Obama and a whole lot easier on the eyes than Sarnore held hostage back home.

None of that is probably true.

As far as we know at The Ticket, David is hardly behind on his taxes at all. Most of the speeding tickets have been paid. And the Hollywood incident never came to court.

So he's perfectly well-qualified to write about what he's writing about today: the damaging power of rumors in politics, their viral spread on the Web and the urgent need to combat them constantly. It's a fascinating column that deals mostly with the efforts of Barack Obama's campaign to fight distorted truths and outright lies.

All candidates have rumor problems and virtually all campaigns experience and/or employ some dirty tricks, some as simple as stealing opponents' lawn signs, others push polling or worse.

It didn't take the speed of the Internet for 19th century political campaigns to spread ugly words about their opponents, things like illegitimate children, for instance. And without widespread photographs, cartoons in partisan papers could distort into ugliness an opponent's visage free of visual refutation.

In 2000, Sen. John McCain ran into a rumor buzzsaw in the South Carolina Republican primary when word was spread that the McCains' dark-skinned adopted daughter from Bangladesh was really -- here we go again -- an illegitimate child of his with a black woman.

This time the campaign against McCain is much more subtle and wrapped in smiles. It's ageism. His opponents spread and encourage all kinds of jokes and stories about his age and mental capabilities, using the cover of humor to try to make acceptable the undocumented planting of doubt.

If the same kinds of "jokes" were told about Sen. Hillary Clinton's, let's say, inability to drive properly because, well, you know women drivers, or her mood swings at certain times during the campaign, people would be quite properly outraged.

But Sarno, who isn't very old for a young person, focuses on Obama's efforts to combat untrue stories of the candidate's Muslim faith. It's a really good and revealing read here, despite what we heard about David's hunting trip to Manitoba.

-- Andrew Malcolm

P.S. Some people may have noticed Scarlett Johansson's stunning photograph here. And they may also have wondered what she has to do with our blog item on David Sarno's blog item on politics and the Internet. That's a good question. To get the answer, place your cursor on the photograph. Also, we warned Ticket readers way back here.

Photo credit: WireImage